Idyll in danger: The Uckermark - retreat for "Reich citizens"?

Between "It will take care of itself" and "We don't want them here": The people of Uckermark are resisting the takeover of their area by "Reich citizens".

Idyll in danger: The Uckermark - retreat for "Reich citizens"?

Between "It will take care of itself" and "We don't want them here": The people of Uckermark are resisting the takeover of their area by "Reich citizens". For a long time now, constitutional protection officers have no longer considered the "Reichsbürger" to be just harmless charlatans. Villagers and authorities are fighting back.

Capitals have long since discovered the sparsely populated Uckermark as a natural idyll, Brandenburg forests and lakes to relax in. The raftsmen's town of Lychen, which is still a little in hibernation, is considered an Eldorado for paddlers in summer. The small street village of Rutenberg, which belongs to Lychen, also welcomes tourists and stressed-out Berliners to their weekend cottages. But now there could be a retreat for "Reich citizens". The unrest has been great since it became known that the organization, which calls itself the "Kingdom of Germany," might also want to settle in Brandenburg. Most recently, the group, which rejects the current legal and constitutional system in the Federal Republic of Germany, bought two castles in Saxony.

The Brandenburg Office for the Protection of the Constitution warns of dangers to internal security and fears that supporters of the self-proclaimed monarch "Peter I." also gain a foothold in Rutenberg. The citizens want to fight against a "völkisch land seizure", as it was called on leaflets, and join together in a citizens' initiative. "It's uncomfortable when you know that there are people with such nonsense on their minds," says Martin Hansen, who lives next to the medieval church in Rutenberg. "We can only prevent it from increasing."

The "Kingdom of Germany", which was proclaimed in Wittenberg in Saxony-Anhalt in 2012, advertises on the Internet with a "golden future" and its own national territory. In 2022, the kingdom had grown significantly, says the group's spokesman, Marco Ginzel, in a video. Self-sufficient "common-wealth villages" are to be created, which has made constitutional protection officers in Saxony vigilant for some time. Peter Fitzek, head of the group, says: "My vision is that we can create a self-sufficient village where we can actually do everything that is difficult to do out there." Does Rutenberg in Brandenburg on the north-western corner of the Uckermark play an important role in this?

Fitzek, who also calls himself Son of Man, was discovered in the wide fields on the outskirts of the village, as can be seen in a video and article in the ARD magazine "Contrasts". Above all, a straw man kept an eye out for land and real estate for the "kingdom" according to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. In Rutenberg, it is primarily about more than 40 hectares of land that belongs to an agricultural cooperative "Am Eichengrund". A member of the cooperative runs an agricultural farm and, according to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is a supporter of the group. In addition, one - albeit unfinished - website in connection with Rutenberg can be read from the "state enterprise in the KRD".

The spokesman for the "Kingdom", Ginzel, responded to questions in writing: "The Kingdom of Germany, a public welfare state, is interested in initiating food supply projects with various cooperation partners that enable constitutional food production to supply the people in the Kingdom of Germany." It is organic farming. He thinks the fears of the people in Rutenberg are unfounded, but the organization is available for talks.

Experts warn against dismissing the group, which is not only striving for projects in eastern Germany, as cranks and harmless esoterics. The Leipzig specialist for conspiracy ideologies at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, Benjamin Winkler, speaks of a "cover-up tactic". It is stated that the community only wants to produce food and try out alternative living concepts.

The "Kingdom of Germany" is pursuing a perfidious strategy, says Jörg Müller, head of the Brandenburg Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Fitzek, who is clearly anti-Semitic, wants to make people psychologically dependent and makes a living from ripping people off financially.

The security authorities speak of a sect-like structure and "pseudo-legitimate parallel structures". They attributed a total of 23,000 people to the milieu of "Reich citizens" and "self-administrators" in Germany in 2022 - that was 2,000 more supporters than in 2021. In Brandenburg it should be around 650. According to the report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the unifying element in the scene is the fundamental rejection of the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany and its legal system. Especially in times of crisis, such groups could attract more people who are looking for meaning, believes the expert at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, Winkler. "You pick up on people's mental problems and offer them a supposedly better life."

The artist and photographer Marieken Verheyen, who lives in the 180-inhabitant town of Rutenberg, is outraged by the enemies of democracy. "The village doesn't want it that way," she says. Long-established residents have been living there for a long time together with newcomers. Farm shops with organic food, chickens, sheep, horses are part of the typical picture. Residents are also concerned that dozens of "Kingdom" supporters could overturn the entire village community. Rainer Dewies, who has a farm about 2.5 kilometers from the village center and comes from the Rhineland, says: "I'm not worried." He believes that such projects will not be successful in the long term. "At some point they always fall out."

In any case, the authorities in the Uckermark seem to have been shaken up, although the possibilities to intervene are probably limited. "We cannot prevent a 'Reich citizen' from buying a building," says constitutional protection officer Müller. Rather, the authorities are trying to become active through building and regulatory law. At a "round table" in February, experts want to discuss further dealings with the "Reich citizens" with those responsible from the city of Lychen and ministries. District Administrator Karina Dörk from the CDU says that compulsory schooling for children who are withdrawn from state institutions should finally be enforced. "But we have to make our decisions completely independently of how sympathetic or unsympathetic, how understandable or crude their theories are. We have to evaluate and decide according to the applicable law. That's what we do."

(This article was first published on Monday, February 13, 2023.)