Romanian immigrant elected German mayor after anti-AfD alliance

A 51-year-old immigrant has been elected mayor of a town in eastern Germany after beating a candidate from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in a campaign that drew international attention.

Octavian Ursu, a classical musician who came to Germany from Romania in 1990s, stood for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union party, receiving 55.1% of the vote in Sunday’s election in Goerlitz. Preliminary returns showed his AfD opponent, Sebastian Wippel, an ex-policeman received 44.9%.

Actors, directors and others who made films on location in Goerlitz had called on residents to vote against Wippel. The petition urged voters not to succumb to “hate and enmity, discord and exclusion”.

It was signed by British director Stephen Daldry, who filmed The Reader partly in Goerlitz, actor Daniel Bruehl, who appeared in Goodbye Lenin, writer Bernhard Schlink, among others, according to France 24. AfD condemned the letter as unwelcome outside advice.

The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inglourious Basterds are among the films shot in Goerlitz.

The town, nicknamed Goerliwood, was spared damage by Allied bombing during the second world war, has become a tourist magnet with its spruced up historic city centre nestled on the River Neisse.

The vote was seen as a pointer for German state elections on 1 September in both Saxony and in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg.

The victory gives some respite to Merkel, whose national coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) was shaken by heavy losses in European parliamentiary elections in May.

“It was not a vote for Mr Ursu but more a vote against the AfD candidate, against me,” said Wippel. “The CDU had to rely on support from many groups including from the far-left extremists without whom they would not have made it. Looking ahead to the Saxony state election, we are in a good position.”

Ursu said his victory showed that most residents in Goerlitz were in favour of keeping the town open to foreigners.

“I am happy that a majority has chosen to vote for me, but in the end it is not about two candidates but the orientation of this town to the outside world and that we remain an open society and do not isolate ourselves,” he said.