DORFCHEMNITZ, Germany — Retired farmer Gerd Mazanec normally votes for one of Germany's mainstream parties. But in last Sunday's parliamentary elections, he cast his ballot for the far-right Alternative For Germany (AfD).
Mazanec's complaint: Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats and its government partners in Berlin aren't looking out for pensioners like him. Paying more than $3 for a beer on a pension of just $800 a month "simply does not work,” groused Maznec, 62.
Nearly half the voters in this village of 1,500 also were discontented enough to vote for the AfD, helping it become the first far-right party to gain seats in the Bundestag since shortly after the Nazis were defeated in World War II.
AfD finished first in the state of Saxony in eastern Germany, where Dorfchemnitz is located, a far better performance than its 12.6% national showing. Merkel won a fourth term but with a smaller bloc in the parliament.
Villagers abandoned the mainstream parties for many of the same reasons rural Americans helped elected Donald Trump president in 2016. They feel ignored by the ruling elites, worry about a flood of immigrants changing the culture and character of their country, and are suffering tough economic times — or worry they will lose what they now have.
Dorfchemnitz is not one of the suffering communities. Its centuries-old woodcarving tradition has spawned a thriving cottage industry and unemployment is only 5.6%.
Mayor Thomas Schurig, a carpenter and locksmith who organizes dog sled races in the winter for tourists, said residents are angry about the lack of funds from the state government for local infrastructure, and the exodus of young people that is typical of villages across Germany.
Dorfchemnitz gets “nothing” from Saxony, Schurig complained.
That opened the door for appeals from AfD, which campaigned against the 1 million mostly Muslim migrants Merkel admitted since 2015 to provide a safe haven from war and poverty.
During a visit here, AfD co-founder Frauke Petry called the tide of immigration a “crusade against our way of living."
“(She) moved the hearts of the people here,” said Schurig.
One of those moved is retiree Ditmar Michler, 64, who says he voted for the AfD because of Merkel’s open-door policy for refugees. “I have a problem with that,” he said.
The new local AfD representative, Heiko Hessenkemper, a university professor from the nearby mining town Freiberg, promotes “Germany first,” Michler said approvingly.
Such attitudes worry local pastor Christine Klement, 33. “The result of the AfD is threatening," much like when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party rose to power in the years preceding the start of World War II, she said. "I wonder, when is the tipping point, when something like 1933 happens again.”