Far-Right Candidate Narrowly Beaten in Germany After Film Industry Petition

SEBASTIAN KAHNERT_AFP_Getty Images
Octavian Ursu

Voters in the eastern town of Gorlitz, where films such as 'The Reader' and 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' were shot, rejected an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim candidate for mayor, instead re-electing Romanian immigrant Octavian Ursu.

Voters in the eastern German town of Gorlitz have rejected a far-right candidate for mayor after a campaign that drew attention, and condemnation, from the film industry within and outside Germany.

Sebastian Wippel, an ex-policeman and candidate for the far-right anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD), lost out to 51-year-old Romanian immigrant Octavian Ursu, who was re-elected mayor of the picturesque historic town near the Polish border. On Sunday's runoff election, Ursu, who stood for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union party, received just over 55 percent of the vote. Wippel received just under 45 percent.

The election was closely watched in part because Gorlitz has become a favorite shooting location for international film productions. The town, nicknamed Gorliwood, played the backdrop for such features as Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, Stephen Daldry's The Reader and Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.

Ahead of Sunday's vote, several prominent members of the German and international film community who had made films in Gorlitz called on the town's residents to vote against Wippel, who ran an anti-immigrant law-and-order campaign. Inglourious Basterds actor Daniel Bruhl, The Reader director Daldry and others, including best-selling author Bernhard Schlink and Game of Thrones actor Tom Wlaschiha signed a petition urging voters not to succumb to “hate and enmity, discord and exclusion.”

The vote in Gorlitz was also seen as a bellwether for upcoming German state elections Sept. 1 in the eastern German states of Saxony and Brandenburg. The AfD is polling first or second in both states.

While the film industry petition received substantial media attention, it's unclear if it had any real impact on Sunday's vote. Ursu was widely expected to win the runoff election after other parties that oppose the AfD decided not to run candidates and instead throw their support behind him.