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Nazi link sparks sweatshirt ban

Germany: An innocuous British clothing brand has been outlawed in Berlin schools, reports Yojana Sharma

A COURT has ruled that British-made "Lonsdale" sweatshirts are illegal in Berlin's schools.

The sweatshirts and T-shirts, manufactured by the non-political sports-goods company, are favoured by neo-Nazis because when worn under an unzipped bomber jacket only the letters NSDA are visible - echoing the acronym of Hitler's Nazi party (NSDAP).

A large number of specified Nazi symbols and insignia are banned by law from being worn in public. However, this is the first time a non-specific symbol adopted by neo-Nazi groups has been deemed illegal in schools.

A pupil took the case to court claiming an infringement of personal freedom after the Knobelsdorff school in Berlin's Spandau district suspended him for two weeks for wearing the Lonsdale garment, which was forbidden by an internal school regulation.

The Berlin administrative court backed the school and said in its summing up: "A ban on brand-name clothes which are used by members and sympathisers of neo-Nazi groups as a secret symbol, can contribute to a tolerant school atmosphere free from fear."

The court has not ruled on other brands but a precedent is clear. "It depends on the intensity of the symbolic value of a brand-name.

"That is more difficult to prove in the caseof other firms than with Lonsdale," said presiding judge Hans-Peter Ruess.

This would mean that brands such as "Consdaple" (with the letters NSDAP) would almost certainly be banned but other neo-Nazi favourites such as "Whitelaw" and "Pitt Bull" are in a grey area. And a blanket ban on clothing favoured by neo-Nazi groups is unlikely.

The ruling comes as schools are debating whether to ban items of clothing used by neo-Nazis as a virtual uniform.

In Brandenburg, a ban on jackboots with steel-tips is already in force, with schools minister Steffen Reiche circulating a letter to schools earlier this year recommending a ban on other items of clothing such as combat boots and bomber jackets.

In Berlin, the schools authority is reluctant to prescribe a dress-code and has left it up to individual schools.

Hans Grade school in Berlin's Treptow district banned jackboots and bomber jackets in January. "Our aim is to put limits on an outwardly visible right-wing to prevent it from being a role model for younger kids," said principal Manfred Halbrehder. He said both parents and pupils had accepted the ban.

Headteacher at Knobelsdorff school, Heike Piepe, said: "We decide on the suitability of clothes on a case-by-case basis."

Families minister Christine Bergman said: "Such bans are not about fashion but the mind-set."

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