At the beginning of his concert at the Frankfurt Festhalle on Sunday, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters announced that he would not be wearing a controversial outfit that has led to a criminal investigation in Germany.
Waters is currently being investigated by German police on suspicion of "incitement of the people” — a legal concept often applied to trials relating to Holocaust denial in Germany — for having appeared on stage at Berlin concerts on May 17 and 18 wearing a Nazi-style uniform while firing an imitation machine gun. Glorification, justification or approval of Nazi rule is forbidden by law in Germany.
The singer stated during his Frankfurt performance that his decision to avoid the controversial outfit was out of respect for the history of the concert hall, noting that he knew that the Frankfurt Festhalle played a central role in the deportation of the city's Jews as part of the Holocaust. During the November Pogroms in 1938, more than 3,000 Jewish citizens of Frankfurt were rounded up in the hall and later deported to concentration camps in Buchenwald and Dachau.
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'An unhinged fascist demagogue' character created in the 1980s
After the investigation was launched, Waters defended his stage character by explaining that it was designed as a symbol of resistance: "The depiction of an unhinged fascist demagogue has been a feature of my shows since Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' in 1980," he said in a statement on social media, also noting that his father died in Italy fighting in World War II.
Indeed, the character was already part of Alan Parker's 1982 film adaptation of "The Wall," a musical drama based on Pink Floyd's album from 1979. Portraying in the movie a rock star driven to insanity, singer-turned-activist Bob Geldof wears a similar uniform as he joins a neo-Nazi organisation which he ends up leading. In the film, the delusional rock star thinks he is a dictator, and his concert is a fascist rally.
An attempt to ban the concert
Around 500 people gathered in front of the Frankfurt concert hall on Sunday afternoon to protest against Waters' performance. The mayor of Frankfurt, Mike Josef, was among the protestors. He accuses Waters of spreading antisemitic ideas "under the guise of freedom." For the politician, one thing is clear. "We don't want someone like that here," he said at the protest, the German press agency dpa reported. Referring to the acts of terror against Jews that took place in the festival hall under the Nazis, he added, "it is unbearable that the voice of hatred of the Jews is being raised again in this hall."
Months ahead of the event, the city's authorities had attempted to have the concert canceled, accusing Waters of being "one of the most widely known antisemites in the world." The controversial rock musician took legal action against the ban. Citing artistic freedom in its decision, a court determined that the concert could be held even though it featured different "tasteless" elements and symbols that were openly inspired by the Nazi regime.
Repeated accusations of antisemitism
The 79-year-old rock star was cheered by his fans as he repeated at his Sunday concert that he was not an antisemite, leading him to briefly burst into tears. Waters has repeatedly come under fire in Germany for his support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for boycotts against Israel. The movement has been officially condemned by the German governmentas antisemitic.
In the past, the rock star has also floated an inflatable pig at his concerts. Among other things, it is emblazoned with the Star of David. The pig balloon was part of the Frankfurt performance, but without the star, as was also the case at previous concerts in Germany.
According to a Deutschlandfunk critic, the concert's visuals nevertheless position the pig as a symbol of "evil," and it is set in relation with Israeli weapons' producers and the Israeli army.
The show also includes a segment referring to different victims of violence, such as anti-Nazi activist Sophie Scholl, Jina Mahsa Amini, whose death sparked protests in Iran, African-American George Floyd, and Holocaust victim Anne Frank. The fact that the Jewish teenager's name is listed just before Shireen Abu Akleh's, an Al-Jazeera journalist believed to have been killed by Israeli soldiers during a shootout with Palestinian militants, caused "outrage from Israeli and Jewish activists and officials around the world," according to conservative Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post. It also prompted a tweet by Israel's foreign ministry condemning Waters.
Concerts canceled in Poland
Also contributing to his controversial image is the fact that Waters is an open supporter of Russia's Vladimir Putin. His statements have impacted on his tour in Poland, one of Ukraine's most loyal allies.
Last year, as Krakow city councilors were set to declare Waters a "persona non grata" due to the musician's stance on Russia's war in Ukraine, the musician canceled his concerts in the country.
Author Elizabeth Grenier
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