It’s a Monday morning in Berlin and the mood is upbeat at the headquarters of Germany’s newest political party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which as the name suggests is meant to offer an alternative for Germany.
It may only be 18 months old but AfD already has three significant regional election victories under its belt and its momentum, I’m told, is mounting.
Georg Pazderski manages AfD’s campaign strategies and its grassroots efforts across the country. He enters the boardroom I’ve been asked to wait in and greets me cheerily. His hair is closely shaven, a reminder of a career previously spent in the German military perhaps. He shakes my hand firmly as we take our seats in front of a large blue screen emblazoned with the curling red dash of the party’s logo. “Germany, politically, is developing in a direction we cannot agree with,” he says.
AfD was founded in 2013 as a protest of sorts against Angela Merkel’s steering of the Christian Democratic party (CDU) away from the right and into the centre ground of politics. AfD was a one-issue party campaigning with the argument that Germany – saddled with the debts of crippled economies in southern Europe – should leave the euro.
This was an idea that took commentators by surprise: a populist, reactionary stance to uncertain economic times, many said. Yet it is an idea that has struck a chord with many voters, primarily those in the former East Germany, but also those in the former industrial heartlands and more affluent urban areas in the west of the country.
AfD has broadened its repertoire over the past year and a half, carving out an agenda that covers areas ranging from policing to education, welfare to foreign affairs. But during the summer several high-profile members of the party quit; citing a move away from liberal ideas to a more conservative, more Christian voice.
There is speculation that AfD is ultimately becoming an anti-immigration, anti-diversity party, which is increasingly attractive to less palatable elements of the far right. There is a concern, too, that candidates who might be unable to secure electoral victories by themselves may well turn to AfD in order to gain power.
Georg Pazerdski politely dismisses this. “We are a democratic project,” he says. AfD is squeezing out the extreme right, offering an alternative and energising those who have not voted before. Early next year that statement will be tested as elections in Hamburg and elsewhere measure the broadness of AfD’s appeal.
Before I leave AfD’s headquarters, I ask Georg Pazderski where he was when the Berlin Wall fell – the anniversary of which is some three weeks away. He was a soldier in the West German Army. “My feeling was, ‘I have to do something’,” he says.
As unification took root and he climbed the ranks to battalion leader in the new German army, he recalls that he felt he was able to help create something. Pazderski pauses, smiles, and says, “And that is exactly what we are doing now with the Alternative für Deutschland.”
Tomos Lewis is a producer for Monocle 24.