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Hollywood stars urge pretty German town to spurn ugly politics

Sebastian Wippel of Alternative for Germany (AfD) during local elections campaign on the Marienplatz in Goerlitz, Germany, June 11, 2019. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Germany Jun 14, 2019, 02.55 PM (IST)

With its cobbled medieval streets and beautiful art nouveau architecture, the town of Goerlitz looks like the film set it has frequently been, drawing directors from Wes Anderson to Eli Roth.

Now, Hollywood has turned its eyes on this part of Saxony on the Polish border for another reason: a run-off election on Sunday could see it give the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party its first lord mayorship.

Worried that the city's reputation could be irreversibly tarnished, producer Michael Simon de Normier, who filmed 2008's 'The Reader' there, wrote an open letter to Goerlitzers warning them of the risk.

"Don't give in to hate and xenophobia," he wrote in the letter, which was also signed by Stephen Daldry, the film's director, 'Game of Thrones' actor Tom Wlaschiha and 'Inglorious Basterds' actress Jana Pallaske among others.

Standing in the way of the AfD's candidate, former policeman Sebastian Wippel, is Christian Democrat (CDU) Octavian Ursu, a musician who immigrated from Romania in 1990 to play trumpet in the local theatre.

The 36 per cent of the vote which Wippel won in the first round mirrors the AfD's vote share wins across much of the former East Germany, where billions of euros of investment have failed to reverse population decline and persistently high unemployment.

"It's not just about AfD or CDU," said Ursu. "Do we want an open society in this city? Or do we want to cut ourselves off," he asked.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party has held power in the town for almost three decades, however, and many citizens think that is enough.

"Citizens have got to the point where they say: no, we need a change," said Hajo, a Goerlitzer who refused to give his full name, contrasting Wippel's administrative experience with Ursu's background as a musician.

Ursu was six percentage points behind Wippel in the first round - but with the often reluctant backing of people who earlier supported more left-wing candidates, he might overturn the AfD lead.

"Plague or cholera," was how Rosemarie Trankel, another Goerlitzer, described the choice she was due to make.

Goerlitz's beauty may have brought Hollywood to the city - Ralph Fiennes and Jude Law lived there for months filming 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', but stars' interventions are misguided, Wippel said.

"If anybody is harming Goerlitz's reputation, it's the ones who have encouraged Hollywood to speak out so disrespectfully," he wrote on his website, but added any visiting stars would be welcome to drop by his office for coffee after the elections.

Story highlights

Now, Hollywood has turned its eyes on this part of Saxony on the Polish border for another reason: a run-off election on Sunday could see it give the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party its first lord mayorship.