Great metallic wolves leer at passers-by in Germany’s Chemnitz. Their claws are outstretched, their mouths open in a snarl, their bodies are sinewy and taut and their eyes ever hungry. Some give Nazi salutes.
It is an unsettling image, and the effect is likely the one artist Rainer Opolka was going for. The exhibition, “The Wolves Are Back,” is intended to highlight the dangers of xenophobia and racism.
It has been traveling around Germany since 2016, prominently displayed in central parts of Berlin, Potsdam and Dresden. The full piece is comprised of 66 wolves. Some point pistols at onlookers. Others sport eye coverings, apparently blind. All are menacing.
Now in response to ongoing far-right rallies in Chemnitz, Opolka has spontaneously brought 10 of his wolves to the eastern city, many of them raising their hands in a ‘heil Hitler’ salute.
The sculptures have been placed before the famous Karl Marx bust in downtown Chemnitz, along with signs warning that extremism is “exploiting our fears” and identifying radicalism as “the mother of all problems,” according to a report by the BBC.
“What will happen when the structures of order and solidarity break down, and xenophobia spreads like a virus?” Opolka asks on the exhibition’s website. When moral and ethical rules cease to apply, and society is increasingly shaped by fear, violence and brutalization? When blind nationalism takes hold? … What happens when people become wolves?”
Chemnitz has been shaken by far-right rallies in recent weeks. Thousands of demonstrators had answered a call by the far-right party AfD and the Islamophobic PEGIDA street movement to march over the fatal stabbing of a man, allegedly by asylum seekers, in late August.
Groups of mostly white men were filmed chanting “national socialism, now, now, now” — a reference to the Nazis’ declared ideology — according to footage circulating on social media. Some were accused of making Nazi salutes.
On the sidelines of an August 26 protest, masked men threw stones and bottles at a kosher restaurant in the city yelling “Jewish pig, get out of Germany.”
German laws prohibit displays of the Hitler salute, the swastika, and other Nazi symbols, and authorities have said they’re investigating dozens of cases.
On Wednesday Chancellor Angela Merkel assured parliament she takes seriously Germans’ concerns about crimes committed by migrants and pledged a strong response, but condemned recent demonstrations as “hateful,” saying there was “no excuse” for expressions of hate, Nazi sympathies, or violence in response.
Alexander Gauland, a leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany party whose members marched alongside the neo-Nazis in Chemnitz, defended their participation, saying they were exercising their “democratic right to freedom of assembly.”
“There were a couple of aggressive idiots among the demonstrators who were yelling ‘foreigners out’ and who gave the Hitler salute, nobody disputes that,” he said. “That is distasteful and criminal, but it was a minority who were neither representative of the demonstration as a whole nor able to delegitimize the majority of the protesters.”
AP contributed to this report.