Fascist Fashion in Berlin

There was nothing thinly-veiled about it. When Tønsberg set up shop in central Berlin, they meant to get right up the people’s nose.

Tønsberg stocks a variety of clothes that incorporate neo-Nazi insignia. One of their brands, Thor Steinar (above), has been punished under new anti-racism legislation and litigated by the Norwegian government.

So pitching up on Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße, the street bearing the name of Germany’s great Marxist revolutionary, was a clear blue-eyed stare of intent.

Shop owners, social activists and artists have responded. At the tip of the road you’ll find a clear manifesto (above – click to read the detail).

Tønsberg’s presence on this liberal fashion strip is misleading to consumers. It’s bad for the street’s reputation. And, if reports of a “resident baby pitbull bred to eat baby Jews” are true, it could be a direct platform for hate crime.

Two aspects of this story grabbed me as I walked down Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße a few days ago.

Firstly, the well-campaigned and well reasoned response of the Left. But secondly, more compellingly, was the creative assault against the neo-Nazis.

Slap bang on the doorstep of Tønsberg, there’s a silo dedicated to anti-right street art. The posters and paintings get regularly refreshed. Some of it’s not great, of course. But the better bits get the brain-cogs turning faster than any well-oiled manifesto.

And Mitte Gegen Rechts are as strong online as they are in the field.

With an efficient search you’ll find their blog and various Flickr pools. It’s got press in The Economist and in-depth coverage at Gridskipper.

There’s even a slick docu-spot for Watch Berlin posted on YouTube (in German).

So – an insidious weave from the neo-Nazis gets a swift media jab from the Left, right?

Keep hold of your ticket stubs, mein freund. The sum of the bricks is less than the whole, and the finish isn’t as fast as the smart bet might have it.

In this ciy of love and reunification, the clash has yet to end in a kiss.

Tønsberg still stands on Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße. Just more battered and splattered than before.

Campaigners have taken to smashing their windows and hurling paint.

This happened larger in Leipzig not long ago when another shop opened. The video of the riot has been stripped from YouTube, and it must have got ugly.

Well-reasoned, multi-platform, creative campaigning for a noble cause. Ends in violence. Can’t get history off repeat after all.

So: the challenge. How would you campaign to stop Thor Steinar?

13 comments so far

  1. gustaf on

    As not being German I’m chocked over the political correct madness around this shop and brand. Actually I feel for them and supported their store by buying a shirt, even thou it was a bit too pricey. 🙂 The Scandinavian theme is pretty cool, I like it. No where in the shop I could find any political propaganda or message what so ever, so what is the problem?

    Nazi’s drink milk? Should we ban milk?

  2. guy bingley on

    The problem is not Nazism, or neo-Nazism, per se.

    It exists around the world – and it has a right to do so. Just as the extreme Left has the right to exist.

    I’m sure both hardened Communists and neo-Nazis drink milk, but in neither case is it symbolic of their politics. Even if it were, it would be an individual form of expression. Which, again, isn’t a problem.

    Wearing clothes with a certain label, design or style is another form of individual expression. Correct?

    So if you choose to wear Thor Steinar, and you’re aware of what that means as a political statement – that’s fine. That’s you. That’s your choice.

    The problem is that many people would be buying those clothes, and wearing a political statement, without any knowledge they were doing so.

    As you say, “no where in the shop could I find any political propaganda or message”.

    But the insignia have been judged as political. Statements from the owners show they are similarly political.

    If you didn’t know the Swastika meant Nazism, and Swastika jumpers were for sale, you might buy one. You might wear it around town. You might get your head kicked in for it.

    You wouldn’t know why, as you lay in your hospital bed. Because you never knew what you were endorsing.

    That’s the real problem, to my mind.

  3. David on

    Hi There. I don’t understand where is the problem. I will definitely keep buying Thor Steinar’s clothes, although I know what the brand is said to represent, but I really like their designs, that’s all. I also wear high shoes in winter, to prevent myself from the cold – should I wear sandals just to show the others that I’m not a nazi supporter? Bollocks.

  4. guy bingley on

    If you know what the Thor Steinar brand represents, and you want to wear their clothes, then I’m happy for you.

    But your logic after that, my friend, is “bollocks”.

    You’ve confused brand and product.

    Thor Steinar clothes may be warm and durable. But there are other clothes that are warm and durable.

    No one’s asking you to jeopardise your health by freezing in the cold. But that’s not a question of brand/ symbolism. And that’s what’s being discussed here.

    I guess your implication is that “high shoes” are associated with Fascism. Which may be true. But to suggest that the only alternatives are sandals does not follow.

    It smacks of an old political thought. That the only alternative to right-wing politics is a weak liberalism. What a funny coincidence.

  5. Wihtahousu on

    Is Thor Steinar really made by right-wing for the right-wing? Can anyone proof it?
    Nobody can´t deny the fact that boneheads wear these clothes ´cos it´s scandinavian theme. But they wear many other brands as well.
    So, is Thor Steinar right-wing brand only because antifa says so?

  6. guy bingley on

    The first Thor Steinar logo was ruled illegal in 2004 because of its overt reference to neo-Nazism:

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,587746,00.html

    The current logo is not illegal, although the Norwegian government have tried to prosecute:

    http://www.thelocal.de/national/20080214-10321.html

    “We want our national flag, a symbol of a democratic Norway, to no longer be connected with the right wing milieu,” Andreas Gaarder, Norwegian ambassador to Germany.

    There is no doubt of the right-wing intentions of Thor Steinar – although I don’t think they are strictly “made by right-wing for the right-wing”.

    Thor Steinar is on general sale to the public. I’m sure they’d be happy to make money from anyone buying their product – right-wing or not.

    But that doesn’t change their core intentions.

  7. Wihtahousu on

    “There is no doubt of the right-wing intentions of Thor Steinar”

    That is absolutely true, no doubt about that.

    Still, it´s sad that Thor Steinar has been labelled as right-wing brand just because they use runes and other nordic symbols and I think it´s not fare that just because third reich used some runes, those are now labelled as “nazi” signs. Red stars and other symbols which left-wing uses should also be banned if we use the same logic.
    When I look at the old logo, all i see is just two runes combined. If it would have had two sig-runes next to each other, then I´d have seen the nazi connection.

    Of course I understand that Germany has it´s past and it´s reasons to try to get rid of neo-nazis.
    But at the same time Germany should be a democratic country. And this kind of hunt for people who dress in the wrong way is not democratic behavior.
    It´s just stupid to believe that someone is a nazi just because Antifa says so. Everyone who does not agree with them is a fascist to them.

    Would you believe that some of Thor Steinar´s customers could have bought those clothes just to support freedom of speech and democracy?

    Btw, would Norwegian goverment try to prosecute Napapijri if some bonehead is seen wearing their clothes?

    Ps. I think left -and right-wing are both clueless.

    Greetings from Finland

  8. Wihtahousu on

    “I think left -and right-wing are both clueless”
    And they have their right to be clueless, that´s part of democracy.

  9. guy bingley on

    Hello in Finland! And thank you for raising some interesting points.

    Firstly, I don’t advocate a witch hunt. The events in Berlin that I reported were raising awareness about what Thor Steinar stood for. They wanted a particular shop – Tonsberg – to stop trading.

    That’s quite different from persecuting individuals who wear the brand, and that’s not something I could agree with.

    You make a good point about left-wing iconography. From the hammer and sickle down to Che Guevara t-shirts, there are many left-wing symbols used in fashion.

    There is, however, a difference.

    These symbols are universally recognised and their meaning has changed with time. Very few people who sell Che Guevara t-shirts would be encouraging their customers to literally start a revolution. The symbols have undergone a cultural transformation and no longer represent “action”.

    Thor Steinar is a relatively new company and the evidence suggests they are actively involved in an aggressive right-wing ideology. This is a statement of “action”.

    As a consumer, you can transform the meaning of any brand or logo. If Thor Steinar means “freedom of speech” to you, then you have created your own personal meaning. That’s a good thing.

    But no person is capable of free speech unless they understand a language. I hope that people understand the language of Thor Steinar – and understand how other people will interpret it.

    If you’ve read this post, and others online, I don’t think you can plead “cluelessness”.

  10. Wihtahousu on

    Hello again,

    there´s few thigs in your post which i´d like comment about.

    “They wanted a particular shop – Tonsberg – to stop trading”

    Firts of all, I´d say it´s wrong to ruin someone´s business just because people with shaved heads from one sub-culture wear their clothes. I´m pretty sure that other stores near these Thor Steinar stores have suffered also financially because of these protests and not so much because of these “right-wing” customers.
    I bet every skinhead in the world has got a Fred Perry shirt. How come those stores aren´t paintbombed?
    And how does these protest help to eradicate the “nazi problem”? Would it be better if they´d look like John Does…out of sight, out of mind?

    “there are many left-wing symbols used in fashion.
    There is, however, a difference.
    These symbols are universally recognised and their meaning has changed with time”

    Yes, but that does not change the fact that communism has app. 100 million victims, so i´d say those shirts are far from cool.
    On the other hand, it makes me laugh when I see kids wearing these Che-shirts. Good olde Ernesto would turn in his grave if he´d see how much money the capitalist culture, which he was trying to crush, has made with his image 🙂

    Maybe that “clueless” was not the right word.
    What I meant was, both wings are only good in protesting against each other and the authorities. They just demand impossible things, which even themselves can´t make happen. The latest examples of left-wing´s problem solving are from Athens and Malmö, Sweden.

    There´s one thing which i´d like to ask you.
    How do you define “right-wing radical” or “right-winger”? Can you just say nazi or fascist? I mean, what´s so right-wing about those?
    NationlSOCIALISM? sounds pretty leftist to me.
    Yeah, I know. Those are the terms of which people use. But still, I just see two groups with different symbols on their red banners.
    Two socialist groups, others with the national – and others with the international version.

  11. guy bingley on

    I don’t imagine any branch of Fred Perry has a “resident baby pitbull bred to eat baby Jews”.

    Whether or not that brand is cherished by the extreme right, the intent behind the brand is not extremist – or racist – agitation.

    That meaning has come through in the way groups have chosen to interpret or co-opt the brand. The same is not true of Thor Steinar/ Tonsberg – the extremist intent is there from the start, AND interpreted by consumers. Which makes it a potentially dangerous brand for a consumer to buy IF they are unaware of the political meanings that lie behind it.

    You’re exactly correct about the merchandising of left-wing symbolism. And that’s a major reason why it has lost the political potency of its original meaning.

    I think I understand some of your last point, in that both extremes are bottom up/ grass roots movements. They are popular movements.

    Some of the answer to your question is in the last sentence:

    “Two socialist groups, others with the national – and others with the international version.”

    There is a problem with the term “national”. If “national” excludes residents from their own nation because of race, religion or sexuality it can, to my eyes, be interpreted as extremist.

    An equivalent on the left is the totalitarianism of “political correctness” – a danger in its own respect, but not one that tends to cause any violence against individuals.

    What happened in Athens and Malmo?

    And do you wear Thor Steinar yourself?

  12. Wihtahousu on

    “I don’t imagine any branch of Fred Perry has a “resident baby pitbull bred to eat baby Jews”.”

    Me neither.
    I tried to look that up. Did the cashier say that the pitbull is trained to eat jews or did it just look like it could eat them? Those pitbulls are nasty looking creatures.

    “If “national” excludes residents from their own nation because of race, religion or sexuality it can, to me eyes, be interpreted as extremist.”

    Yes, every “-ism” has it´s burden and for some people “nationalism” can mean ethnic cleansing.
    If week look at the crimes against humanity which were made by two imperialistic states, third reich and soviet union, there´s only one difference. The nazis killed because of etnicity and the soviets eradicated the unwanted class.

    My opinion is that, “radical left” causes a bigger threat to society on these days. And no, I don´t support the other radical side.

    Malmö:
    http://www.thelocal.se/16458/20081219/

    Athens:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28090788/

    And yes, I have some Thor Steinar clothes.
    The first reason I bought those was it´s “nordic” designs because i´m pretty interested in history, especially in viking-age. Now it´s also some kind of a statement, not for any “-ism”, but against this madness of political correctness. Haven´t wore those on my trips to Germany though 🙂

    • guy bingley on

      I’m not questioning that Stalin and Hitler were tyrants. And as I’m no historian, I wouldn’t attempt to compare the genocides they perpetrated.

      But that’s really not what we’re talking about here.

      Thank you for sending the links. It helped to understand your perspective better, but also made the question murkier.

      In Athens there have been anarchist riots because of a mistake by the police (an institution) – not too different from Paris in 2006.

      In Malmo, a community of Muslims had one of their institutions removed and it provoked rioting. They had a place of worship removed.

      I don’t see how you consider these events, sad that they are, to be the work of a “radical left”. They weren’t even politically motivated acts.

      But I’m with you on -isms. And I appreciate your reasons for wearing Thor Steinar.

      As you say, it’s the boneheads we need to worry about.


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