As Europe struggles with a massive influx of refugees and asylum-seekers from parts of the Middle East, the chorus of anti-immigrant rhetoric has gotten louder. Some worry that the language is becoming eerily similar to hateful speech used by the Nazis during their rise to power in the 1930s. Now, a German brewery has pulled one of its beers from the market in the face of accusations that the labeling uses Nazi and anti-immigrant symbolism.
The beer in question is “Grenzzaun halbe,” which translates to “Borderfence Half,” a reference to the ongoing debate of whether to Germany should seal its borders for refugees from countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few. The Röhrl Brewery, which made the beer, is located in Bavaria where the debate over asylum-seekers is particularly heated, Alex Swerdloff reports for Munchies.
“When the refugee influx surged, we wanted to point to all of Bavaria’s good and positive traditions, to urge that we please do not forget, despite all willingness to help, what makes our Bavaria beautiful and good,” brewery owner Frank Sillner told the German public broadcaster BR, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports.
Germany is one of the most popular places for refugees to seek asylum thanks to its open-door policy towards refugees. Last year alone, more than 1 million refugees entered Germany, mostly through the Bavarian border, sparking tensions among some conservative Germans in the region, the AFP reported in December.
The beer label controversy doesn’t stop with its name. Several customers noticed strange things about the beer’s packaging: it featured chest-thumping phrases and words like “the homeland needs beer,” “protect,” “defend,” “preserve,” “diligence,” “loyalty” and “discipline,” Swerdloff reports.
For many, these echo the nationalism and xenophobia stirred up by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis during the 1930s and World War II. Customers also noticed that the price of the beer was set at €0.88 – a number frequently used by neo-Nazis as code for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the German alphabet. And round the controversy out, the expiration date listed on the beer bottles was November 9, the anniversary of Kristallnacht, a massive attack on Jews arranged by the Nazi government in 1938, the AFP reports.
Sillner admits that the beer was named in reference to the Bavarian border debate and the larger refugee conflict, but he has vigorously denied any use of Nazi imagery on the bottles, calling the numbers a sheer coincidence. According to Sillner, the price changes once sales tax is applied, and the sell-by date is calculated by a computer program, the AFP reports.
“We have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with rightwing extremism,” Sillner told German news agencies, according to the AFP.
The Röhrl Brewery has since recalled the controversial beer and apologized for any “hurt feelings.” Though the Nazi symbolism may have been an honest mistake, at a time when xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise, the beer serves as a timely reminder of the uglier side of European history.