German Store Changes Name After Anti-Nazi Protests

PHOTO: Brevik storefront
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A German clothing brand accused of capitalizing on the notoriety of confessed Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik by naming a new store "Brevik," dropping only one letter from the right-wing extremist's last name, has bowed to public pressure and changed the name.

Thor Steinar, a clothing company popular with Neo-Nazis and once banned by the German government for using Nazi imagery, opened its Brevik store in the eastern German city of Chemnitz earlier this week. Thousands of protestors took to the streets to demand the name be changed.

On Wednesday, the company that owns Thor Steinar said the connection with Anders Breivik was unintentional and that the name would be changed. A sign above the front door with the name Brevik has already been removed and replaced with a sign reading Tonsberg, the name of another Norwegian town.

Hanka Kliese, the local politician who led the protests, called the decision a "partial victory."

"We are pleased to have had some impact," Kliese, a representative to Saxony's state parliament, told Reuters. "But we will not stop our protest because a company that considered using such a name and with such an ideology has no place here."

Breivik, who has confessed to twin July 2011 attacks in Norway that killed 77 people, was indicted on terror charges in Oslo today. Breivik said he detonated a bomb and shot nearly 70 people to protest Muslim immigration.

The company had initially defended its choice to name its latest store Brevik by noting that each of their 13 stores is named for a town, and Brevik is a small town in Norway south of Oslo.

Thor Steinar had already used the name Brevik for a store three years before the Norway massacre made the name Breivik synonymous with right-wing violence. In 2008, the company opened and quickly closed an outlet called Brevik in Hamburg.

"The linguistic similarity of the names Brevik and Breivik is awkward but not deliberate and in no way must be seen as a provocation," said Mediatex, which owns Thor Steinar, in a written statement.

The brand also uses other Norwegian imagery in its marketing, including the national flag and other town names.

"We consider it very regrettable," said Anne-Kirsti Wendel Karlsen of the Norwegian Embassy in Berlin, "that Thor Steinar uses Norwegian place names in order to associate Norway as such with Thor Steinar and the extreme right-wing scene. Acting at the request of a number of communities, we have asked that Norwegian town names not be used. But we unfortunately have no legal recourse to pursue it through the courts."

The company has previously been in trouble for the alleged use of Nazi imagery. It was banned by the German government in 2004 for similarities between its logos and SS symbols, but then changed its products to make them legal under German law.

Whatever Thor Steinar's motivation, its choice of Brevik as a store name had sparked outrage in both Germany and Norway.

"Such a thing is shocking and completely unacceptable," Katja Uhlemann, a spokeswoman for the city of Chemnitz, told German media. "For us, as a town, it's clear, we do not want such a shop," she added, saying that all legal possibilities for action against the store were being examined.

A Saxony-based neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Underground hid in Chemnitz and a nearby town for more than 13 years before it was broken up by police in November 11. The cell allegedly killed 10 people, nine immigrants and one police officer, in cities throughout Germany between 2000 and 2006, and several members are awaiting prosecution.

Anders Breivik will go on trial April 16. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 21 years on the terror charge, but can be detained indefinitely. He may not to go prison at all, since prosecutors believe he is psychotic and will seek to have him committed to a mental hospital, where he can also be held indefinitely.

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