Berlin - The guards are perfectly dressed in German military camouflage. The guardhouse is familiar from embassies around the capital and the billboard surrounding the munitions return box mimics the design of recruitment ads from the Bundeswehr, the national army.
But the installation right outside Angela Merkel's chancellery in central Berlin is anything but sanctioned by the Bundeswehr. Instead it's an installation by the Zentrum für politische Schönheit (ZPS), an activist artist collective known as the Center for Political Beauty. The group wants to call attention to the arsenal that has gone missing from the Bundeswehr and are feared to, at least in part, be in the hands of rightwing extremists.
A website on the ZPS' installation (unsere-waffen.de) lists the supposedly missing items which include 60kg of plastic explosives, 16,377 9mm bullets and 7 Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifles. The site offers a reweard of €1000 to anyone with information that leads to the return of weapons and links with the Bundeswehr's intelligence agency, the Militärischer Abschirmdienst, or MAD.
"For years, rightwing extremist networks have stolen ammunition and weapons from the Bundeswehr with impunity in order to start a civil war," a video that accompanied the action states.
The artists regularly draw headlines with political installations. In 2017, the group bought a piece of land adjacent to extreme rightwing AfD politican Bernd Höcke's house in Bornhagen, in the state of Thuringia, and erected a model of Berlin's Holocaust Memorial. Last year they installed a column in front of the Bundestag which it said was made from the ashes of Holocaust victims, drawing criticism from politicians as well as Jewish organisations.
The Bundeswehr itself has been reserved on the whereabouts of the missing arsenal. To know if the missing weapons have actually been stolen or otherwise lost, the army must first determine who last had them, a press officer told Berliner Zeitung. Investigators recently found a stolen sub-machine gun at the home of a former special forces official who was also a member of a rightwing chat group.
Regardless of who has the weapons, the ZPS has a solution. The installation includes two clothing donation boxes where repentant ex-soldiers can return their stolen arsenals.
"What at first glance looks like solidarity with your comrades is in reality a breach of loyalty to your fatherland," the installation tells rightwing soliders.
The action also includes language that hearkens back to the antisemitic rhetoric of the Weimar Republic and Nazi era. The alleged theft of weapons from the Bundeswehr arsenal highlights the fundamental problem of the overlap between neo-Nazis and the military.
After a number of rightwing extremist incidents within the armed forces, MAD was tasked in 2017 with screening new candidates for extremist convictions. MAD security personnel reviewed 1,137 applicants and rejected 63, including 21 who were neo-Nazis or so-called "Reich citizens."
And Stephan E., who is being tried for the assassination of Hesse politician Walter Lübcke (CDU), allegedly had target practise with reservists.
Will the ZPS action create a greater dialogue on neo-Nazis and the Bundeswehr? Will the German military follow in the footsteps of the police and conduct a study on far-right tendencies in its ranks?
It would certainly be welcome.
More from the Berliner Zeitung English Edition.