BERLIN • Berlin prides itself on being hip, multicultural and tough on the racist far-right - but that image could take a beating as an anti-immigrant party eyes election gains in the state legislature tomorrow.
Many in Germany's left-leaning capital are terrified by the likely strong showing for the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is polling at up to 14 per cent. They worry that a win for the Islamophobic AfD - which is especially popular in poor areas of the city's former communist east - will undo Berlin's long struggle against neo-Nazi groups such as the NPD party.
"Careful, Berlin!" Mayor Michael Mueller of the centre-left Social Democrats wrote on Facebook on Thursday, warning of the rise of "Nazis" who "stoke hate and violence". He said laid-back Berlin could not just "shrug off" a 10 to 14 per cent AfD win that would be "seen throughout the world as a sign of the resurgence of the right and of Nazis in Germany".
"Berlin is not just any city," he wrote. "Berlin is the city that has evolved from the capital of Hitler and of Nazi Germany to a shining beacon of freedom, tolerance, diversity and social cohesion."
AfD's top candidate for Berlin, Mr Georg Pazderski, fired back, charging that Mr Mueller was branding "hundreds of thousands of voters" as Nazis with rhetoric that could incite violence against AfD members.
All major parties in the capital have agreed on a "Berlin consensus" against the extreme right and for an "open city with cultural diversity".
Berlin's budget for programmes against the extreme right, racism and anti-Semitism rose from €2.5 million (S$3.8 million) last year to €3.2 million this year.
Berlin's past progress, many fear, could now vanish as the influx of one million refugees and migrants to Germany last year has reignited xenophobic sentiment.
"The political discourse has shifted to the right," said Ms Bianca Klose of the anti-fascist advocacy group MBR. AfD, she said, "benefits from the fact that people with racist ideas have dared to emerge from the shadows and become visible in the streets".
Mr Mueller has warned that the AfD could gain control of "one or two district administrations", the local government units in the city of 3.5 million.
"The AfD would end up with executive responsibility... affecting millions of actions and hundreds of employees."