Eastern Germany's youth movement rebelling against the far-right

In the small city of Gera, these activists are fighting for change.

by Juule Kay
|
19 January 2022, 10:00am

Like many other countries in the west, Germany has struggled with a rise in far-right nationalism over the past decade. Although the right-wing party, Alternative für Germany (AfD), dropped about 2% nationally in the federal election back in September, it remains the strongest political force in the east, particularly in the states of Saxony and Thuringia.

Located in the latter state, Gera is one of many cities in the grips of this. With around 93,000 inhabitants, the city mostly makes headlines due to its high numbers of AfD voters, rather than with its youth-led countermovement. German photographer Benjamin Werner wanted to change this. What started as a loose idea of exploring his roots while visiting his mother's hometown close to Gera two years ago, evolved into a portrait series capturing the people rebelling against the city's far-right political norms. 

One evening, Benjamin stumbled across a concert in the middle of Gera square full of brightly dressed young performers sharing the same enthusiasm and energy. "This evening stuck with me," he says. "I wanted to explore the minds of the left-wing youth of this city further." Collaborating with London-based stylist Warren Leech and two casting directors from Berlin, Benjamin tried to track down the performers from that night along with the other incredibly open and creative people rebelling against the norm of their hometown. 

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Maximilian, 25

Are you politically engaged? Yes, I visit democracy events and take part in demonstrations and counterdemonstrations. For example, we played a live gig last September as a counteraction to an AfD rally. I'm also active on social media. What's the difference between your generation and your parents' generation? My parents immigrated from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan shortly after the reunification, so there are a lot of differences. I grew up both Russian and "East German" through my environment. What is the best thing about being young? The opportunity to do things for the first time.

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Laurin, 22

What are your views on the climate emergency? Too little is being done, and countries that don't emit much CO2 suffer more than economically strong ones. I think that's not fair. What is the best thing about being young? You can change things, you are not so stuck or bound to them. What could older generations/world leaders learn from young people? Environmental awareness. 

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Nneka, 36

Are you interested in politics? Yes, I'm interested in gender and racial issues. I read a lot about it, I watch YouTube videos and I listen to podcasts. Is there still an east-west divide in Germany? Yes, you can tell by the way the people talk. What's something you would like to change? People should read more.

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Laura, 19

What's it like living in Gera? More than 90,000 people live here, but sometimes I have the feeling just 100 of them are my age, and 99 of them don't understand me. What could older generations/world leaders learn from young people? Older people could learn to accept flaws. Just because you 'used to do something that way' doesn't mean it's okay today. What is the best thing about being young? Carefreeness and freedom.

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Luis, 21

Are you interested in politics? I'm part of the Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), so I'm engaged in politics daily. Is the fall of the wall still present in your everyday life? Not really; it's only when older generations draw attention to it. Rents and wages are most the present [issues]. Which things do you want to change in the world? Transgender rights, climate crisis, more vegetarians, egoism and the focus on cars. 

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Charlotte, 15

What causes do you believe in? I believe that at some point, karma will give back what everyone deserves. What could older generations/world leaders learn from young people? The older ones should also think of the future of the younger ones and not just theirs. Which three things do you want to change in the world? More sustainability, climate change and equal pay between Eastern and Western Germany.

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Eugen, 27

What's it like living in Gera? There used to be more people here. The city became quieter, so you have to be able to entertain yourself. Are you politically engaged?  Not really. I go to a few demonstrations now and then, but I wouldn't call myself politically active, but fuck the AfD! What is the best thing about being young? Long nights thanks to excess energy.

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Ingo, 60

Are you politically engaged? Yes, I'm an active member of Die PARTEI. What are you excited about in the future? I'm really excited about my pension. What could older generations/world leaders learn from young people? Young and old should learn from each other.

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Collin, 21

What is the best thing about being young? You can experience a lot and make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. What's the difference between your and your parent's generation? The main difference is a type of openness that maybe hasn't existed before. What could older generations/world leaders learn from young people? To see things from a different perspective, through the eyes of others, and to be open to new things. 

Ronny, 40

Are you interested in politics? Yes, I take part in protests and read a lot. Is there still an east-west divide in Germany? Yes, the salaries are especially different. What do you look forward to? Life in general, the small things. Birds twittering, the quiet in the forest, good music and beer. 

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Lukas, 24

Is there still an east-west divide in Germany? Socially, yes! People from Eastern Germany are often confronted with prejudices. Likewise, vice versa. I frequently make ironic jokes about it myself. What's the difference between your generation and your parents' generation? I have very young parents, so the difference is not that big. They were both active in the left spectrum, and the 90s must have been very tough here. What could older generations/world leaders learn from young people? The list is long.

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Jaquira, 19

What's it like living in Gera?  Gera is the largest small town. Rumours spread very quickly. Is there still an east-west divide in Germany? I think the east goes from one bad image to another — corona deniers, for example. The media [attacks] it every time, and rightly so. But this way, we never leave this image behind. Despite the strong right-wing scene, there is also enough resistance and people who actively defend themselves against it. What is the best thing about being young? The unfiltered view of reality. You're less biased, and you have the most energy in your life.

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Oli, 19

What are your views on the climate emergency? People are pigs, climate change is real. What's the difference between your generation and your parents' generation? Wokeness. Which things do you want to change in the world? The relationship between humans and animals in nature, the gap between rich and poor, the world view of right-wing people, illegal whaling and any intolerance. 

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Credits


Concept and photography Benjamin Werner @benjaminawerner
Concept and styling Warren Leech @warrenleech


Casting First Encounters / Lea Gugler and Ilaaf Khalfalla @1st.encounters
Hair Wataru Suzuki @watarusuzukihair
Support Capture3000 @capture3000

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