A Consistent Phenomenon: Nazi Chic in Asia

Would you buy a Soldatenkaffee?

Ancient Hindu Symbol, the swastika, on statue at crossroads, Sanur, bali, Indonesia
The swastika is besides the nazi symbol as well a symbol for hindu. Sheldon Lewis-Photolibrary@gettyimages.de

In some Asian countries, there is a phenomenon that seems very odd to most Germans: It’s grounded in a strange view and handling of the Third Reich. It seems that in countries such as Mongolia, Thailand and South Korea, there is quite a market for Hitler or Nazi goods. A recent finding, that went viral in German social media, was a World War II Nazi action figure from China, bearing a strong resemblance to German soccer star Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Notably, the toy is also called, “Bastian.” But the fascination certain Asian countries share for Hitler’s regime goes further than that. And it is not even that new.

 

Taking it to the next Level: the Fifth Reich and other Oddities

Running for more than ten years, a bar in Seoul, South Korea, skipped the Fourth Reich and directly created the Fifth. It’s a Nazi-themed pub that makes the visitor feel like entering the set of a Hitler movie. Apropos Hitler, the mass-murdering Führer of the Third Reich is actually lending his name to another bar in the South Korean city of Busan: The “Hitler Techno-Bar & Cocktail Show.” Now, none of these places seem to have any ties to local Neo-Nazi-groups or even a political message. They are just trying to profit from the sensation that surrounds the Nazi era – and from the Nazi style. In Indonesia, a Nazi-themed café called “Soldatenkaffee” (Soldiers Café, named after a Wehrmacht-hangout in Paris) had to close in 2013, about two years after its opening.

 

India is home to a well-working market of Hitler memorabilia and his hateful book “Mein Kampf” a returning bestseller. In Germany, the sale of “Mein Kampf” is still prohibited. From January 2016 on, the author’s copyright will expire, leaving anyone to do with the material as they please. Many people fear what might happen when the book enters German stores.

Others believe an openly accessible “Mein Kampf” will weaken its hold over the German NS-debate – powers they attribute to the fact it is not freely available and thus remains mysterious. Similar curiosities as in India can e.g. be found in Cambodia, Japan or Thailand.

 

Nazi Chic and Third Reich Fashion

But Thailand is not just another place one could easily obtain Nazi memorabilia. It seems a lot of Thai people have a strange deep-rooted fascination for Hitler and Nazi Chic. When it comes to fashion, it’s not only an obvious admiration for the Wehrmacht’s tailors. Nazi symbols and, very often, depictions of Adolf Hitler are found on T-Shirts, bags or sweaters. There also is an interesting trend to turn the Führer into some kind of cartoon character. One of the weirdest illustrations of him is showing a Hitler in a panda costume. According to many blogs and visitors, numerous people can be seen wandering the streets of Bangkok, wearing Nazi or Hitler-themed clothes. Pop groups, like the pop band “Slur”, set the suiting examples, dressing up as Hitler in one of their videos.

 

But Third Reich Fashion is not limited to Thailand. In Hong Kong, China, for example, a fashion corporation released a whole line of products adorned with Nazi symbols.

As late as 2014, a Korean pop group performed in outfits, very much looking like SS-Uniforms (The SS or “Schutzstaffel” –Protection Squad –, was one of the most feared and ruthless Wehrmacht-brigades, responsible for some of the most heinous war crimes committed by German forces.). The fact that it still seems quite common for Korean youth to attend costume parties dressed as Nazi soldiers proves that this is not a very exceptional incident in Korea.

 

A Disconcerting Phenomenon

Even though most of the fashion designers, memorabilia vendors or café owners claim to either not really knowing much about Nazis or Hitler, or at least not wanting to offend anyone, the phenomenon itself remains highly disconcerting. People from Europe, the USA or, more so even, Israel could easily be offended by the likenesses of Hitler, being used as the logo for a restaurant, or a parade of teenagers, dressed up as the SS.

Of course, one should never forget the huge cultural differences of some Asian cultures, opposed to those of what is usually called “The West.” Though after looking at some of the pictures of Asian youth, one could come to the conclusion the cultural gaps might be larger than they actually are. More problematic are the attributes or “virtues”, that are taken away from the Third Reich or its Führer in some countries – meaning the people, that are fully aware of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, while still praising the Nazi’s discipline or vigor. 

Hitler and the Nazi Regime of course still have a strong hold over Germany: since scholars started to debate the country’s past in the 1960’s, it remains a constant issue in our everyday lives. Still, it is hard to fathom the somewhat non-reflected fascination some Asian countries have for Nazi Chic.