Thousands commemorated the bombing of Dresden and spoke against far-right extremism on Monday, the anniversary of the Allied air assault that devastated the eastern city. Police escorted a march of up to 1,000 neo-Nazis.
Over 13,000 people were part of a human chain on Monday to mark the Allied bombing of Dresden in February 1945 and make a statement against far-right extremism. The chain stretched 3.6 kilometers (two miles) through the city center.
Locals also lit around 10,000 candles in front of the city's Frauenkirche, which was destroyed during the bombing of the city and rebuilt after German Reunification. In what has become an annual gesture in Dresden, the candles were arranged to form what was called a "candle of reconciliation."
Earlier, politicians, local leaders, Jewish community members and church representatives took part in the main memorial services for the roughly 25,000 victims of the bombings at the Heidefriedhof cemetery, where many of the dead were buried.
In a speech remembering those who were killed in the war, Dresden Mayor Dirk Hilbert called on locals to be part of the human chain to express their rejection of far-right extremism.
"We will not allow the commemoration to be abused," he said. "We don't want far-right extremists here.
Hilbert was referring to plans on the part of neo-Nazis to hold a torch-lit march in the city after nightfall.
Police protect extremists
Up to 1,000 neo-Nazis showed up, half the number organizers had expected. Police cordoned off the extremists from a counter-demonstration, whose participants were close enough to be heard and seen chanting "Out with Nazis."
Nearly 6,000 police officers were sent to Dresden to ensure that the far-right extremists' march remained peaceful.
Far-right extremists have been holding marches to commemorate the Dresden anniversary for several years. Counter-demonstrators have in the past formed blockades to keep the neo-Nazis from making much headway.
"The freedom for [neo-Nazis] to gather and demonstrate rubs painfully on the limits of the rule of law," said theologian and civil rights activist Friedrich Schorlemmer on Monday.
Hundreds on Nazi-crimes walk
Numerous religious and commemorative events took place throughout the day in Dresden.
Over a thousand people took part in an organized walk to recall the perpetrators of Nazi crimes and the places where those crimes took place in Dresden. The group "Nazi-free Dresden", which put on the event, said the idea was to point out that the city was "part of the Nazi system and not its victim."
Just months before the end of the war, on February 13-15, 1945, British and US forces launched an air assault on Dresden that left the city in ruins.
ncy/dfm (DAPD, dpa, epd)