Europe

Udo Voigt loses fight for right to hotel room

A court in eastern Germany has ruled that a local hotel was within its rights to ban the leader of the German far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) from taking a room.

Image caption Mr Baumeister said his main concern was the well-being of other guests

It is easy to see why people love to come to the Hotel and Spa Esplanade.

With its softly bubbling pools and tranquil massage rooms, it sits right on the shore of Lake Scharmuetzelsee in the idyllic small town of Bad Saarow, just 45 minutes' drive south-east from Berlin.

In the roaring 1920s Berliners came out to lush green Saarow to summer by the lake, and today the recently built Esplanade boasts high-profile guests like Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But when Udo Voigt, leader of the far-right NPD, tried to book a holiday there last November, the hotel said "no".

The NPD is a legal party, but has known links with neo-Nazi groups, and stands accused of racism and inciting hatred.

"Given his political opinions, and what he and his party represent, we could not guarantee the well-being of our guests should he stay with us," explains Heinz Baumeister, general manager of the Hotel Esplanade.

Voigt would not take no for an answer, however, and sued the hotel for discrimination. The irony is not lost on Mr Baumeister.

After all, a few years back the NPD leader was found guilty of inciting racial hatred himself.

"There is a debate to be had," Mr Baumeister admits. "Should you discriminate against those who are guilty of discrimination? It's an interesting subject, but in the end decisions have to be made."

'Misunderstood'

The hotel manager can rely on the support of most of his guests, like Anne-Dore Krohn, who is here for the first time.

"For me it would definitely be a strange atmosphere to swim in the same pool as Mr Voigt, or to sit in the sauna next to him," she says.

Just 70km away, in Koepenick, a slightly run-down area in Berlin's east, I find Udo Voigt at party headquarters.

It is a rather unimpressive looking, small two-storey building with no party sign, but with double steel doors and a police car parked outside.

"It's scandalous and a violation of my basic rights," Mr Voigt says about the hotel ban.

Asked about the matter of his own, well-documented discrimination against others, he claims he has always been misunderstood.

"We have nothing against foreigners," he says.

"We do welcome guests in Germany and don't discriminate against them. We just don't want them to stay indefinitely. I didn't intend to stay indefinitely at Mr Baumeister's hotel."

The problem for Mr Voigt is that German anti-discrimination law does not regard political persuasion as something that deserves protection.

The NPD wants to change that, and sees the case against the Hotel Esplanade as a welcome opportunity.

"German legislators specifically excluded the element of political belief when they implemented European anti-discrimination law, because they didn't want to give any legal protection to the far-right," says Klaus Michael Alenfelder, law professor and president of the German Society for Anti-discrimination Law.

"So, when a private contractor decides not to do business with someone whose political opinion he doesn't like, he's perfectly free to do so."

Even though the NPD is represented in two regional parliaments, its share of the national vote is just over 1%.

And given Germany's past, neither politicians nor the courts are interested in changing that, Professor Alenfelder believes.

Even so, the case has prompted many Germans to ask themselves how intolerant they are prepared to be in order to protect a tolerant society.

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