Outside the eastern German city of Wittenberg, a corrugated iron fence welcomes the “Königreich Deutschland”, the Kingdom of Germany, a move that is as shocking as it is disturbing to the authorities and neighbors.
Those who cross the fence to access a set of nondescript buildings enter “another country”, with its own flag, its own laws, its own currency and its own identity documents.
The “Kingdom of Germany” was founded in 2012 by Peter Fitzek, 58 years old, a former karate teacher, who proclaimed himself king in a coronation ceremony where no crown or scepter was lost.
Sovereign Peter and his subjects belong to the “Citizens of the Reich” (“Reichsbürger”), a heteroclite movement that includes right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists born in the 1980s. Their common part is that they rejected the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Long considered harmless, the group has become radicalized over the years and has drawn increasing concern from authorities.
Before 2012, Fitzek was a candidate in the elections for deputy and mayor but without success.
He then decided to establish his own State to counter the “great manipulation” that, in his view, was plaguing German society. Since then, his “kingdom” has spread to different parts of Germany and has more than 5,000 citizens.
These are people with a “pioneering spirit” who “want to bring positive change to the world,” Fitzek said at an AFP meeting.
“We are open to everyone who has their hearts in the right place,” he explained, sitting on a salmon-colored sofa in a modest office.
Vegetarians and anti-vaccine
In Wittenberg, the cradle of his kingdom, there are several administrative buildings, a carpentry workshop, a souvenir shop and a canteen that only serves vegetarian dishes. A community of about thirty people lived there. All of them are non-smokers, teetotalers and have not been vaccinated against covid-19.
Arriving from the Munich region, Laina and Roland, aged 47 and 50, settled there a year ago with their three children aged 6, 9 and 12.
“We are not very satisfied with our situation,” explained Roland, a former manager of a teleshopping chain, who did not want to give the name of the family.
“And then the pandemic came, with all the restrictive measures, and we felt real discomfort,” he continued.
For Laina, a graphic artist, finding a better balance between private and professional life is above all else.
Their children do not go to school, which is illegal in Germany. They can learn at their own pace, without being “imprisoned in a place where they are told: ‘You have to learn this now,'” their mother reasoned.
According to the German intelligence service, the movement “Citizens of the Reich” will have about 23,000 members in 2022, two thousand more than last year. And the number of them considered to be potentially violent is from 2,100 to 2,300.
Law enforcement forces have increased operations against small groups of this movement, suspected of wanting to attack democratic institutions.
On Wednesday there were raids in five regions, including the “Kingdom of Germany” in Wittenberg itself.
The authorities suspect that eight people founded and managed a health insurance company and conducted banking transactions without the necessary permits.
The most spectacular case involving this group erupted in December 2022. The authorities dismantled a small armed group that set out to overthrow democratic institutions.
They include an aristocrat, Prince Henry XIII, former elite soldiers and a former far-right MP.
Another group made headlines for planning to kidnap Health Minister Karl Lauterbach to protest against restrictions imposed during the pandemic.
Fitzek himself had problems with the law, which sentenced him to prison for illegal insurance transactions.
He was recently sentenced to eight months in prison for the attack, but he appealed the sentence and remains free until the final decision.
Reich Citizens represent “a real danger,” said Jochen Hollmann, head of the internal intelligence agency of the state of Saxony-Anhalt.
With the expansion of the movement, “there is a risk that (…) others feel called to act against public order,” Hollmann explained to AFP.
Some in Germany are worried about the progress of this movement.
In the village of Halsbrücke, near Dresden, many residents formed an association to oppose the project to build an organic farm in the Fitzek “kingdom”, and managed to get the authorities to deny it.
“At first glance, all of this seems harmless,” said Jana Pinka, a 60-year-old engineer and councilor.
However, “we see at the same time a rejection of the state, and even the borders of Germany, and the fact that people are trying to be closer to the right-wing populist groups. And that scares us a little. ”
Hollmann points out that in Saxony-Anhalt only 8% of Reich Citizens are considered, strictly speaking, to be extreme right-wing.
What they have in common is that they come from poor social backgrounds, especially former communist East Germany.
“People are looking for a strong leader, which unfortunately we already see in Germany,” Pinka said.
In Wittenberg, in the buildings of his “kingdom”, Peter Fitzek proudly showed visitors the environmentally friendly heating systems, and the press set to produce his “new German marks”.
In the same city where the cleric and theologian Martin Luther put his “95 Theses” in 1517, the founding text of the Protestant Reformation that marked his break with Catholicism.
Fitzek dreams that his project will grow in such a way that “the old order (…) will simply dissolve peacefully.”
“And we will never regret that loss, because we have a better order,” he said with a wide smile.