Page last updated at 15:32 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 16:32 UK

Germany opens 'Nazi' gnome case

Ottmar Hoerl gnome in Nuremberg gallery
The artist says his gnomes ridicule, rather than glorify, the Nazis

A garden gnome giving the Nazi salute has landed a German artist in trouble with the authorities in Nuremberg.

Prosecutors are investigating whether the gnome, which went on show in one of the city's galleries, breaks the strict law banning Nazi symbols and gestures.

The Bavarian city is particularly sensitive about the Nazi era because Adolf Hitler used it for big rallies and leading Nazis went on trial there.

The artist, Ottmar Hoerl, says his gnomes poke fun at the Nazis.

"I'm astonished that a single garden gnome, in what is for me an obscure gallery in Nuremberg, has unleashed such a public discussion because of an anonymous denunciation by someone," Mr Hoerl said.

The 59-year-old artist has been president of Nuremberg's Academy of Fine Arts since 2005.

"I didn't put it in the art gallery. Someone must have bought it and put it there. But I don't know what all the fuss is about.

"With my gnomes I'm highlighting the danger of political opportunism and right-wing ideology. I get the feeling that this gnome has reopened an old wound," he said.

It's a comical figure - all kinds of people have made that gesture
Erwin Weigl
Gallery owner

The results of the investigation are expected in a few days, the BBC's Berlin correspondent Steve Rosenberg reports, adding that the 40cm (15.7-inch) figure still reminds Germans of a terrifying past.

Last year hundreds of Mr Hoerl's "Nazi" gnomes went on show in the Belgian city of Gent, in an exhibition called "Dance with the Devil".

He said that Belgians had well understood the political meaning "when one portrays the master race as a garden gnome".

"In 1942 I would have been murdered by the Nazis for this work," he said.

A spokesman for the Nuremberg public prosecutor's office, Wolfgang Traeg, said "we're checking to see if garden gnomes fall into the same clear category as posters that show the swastika crossed out".

He said the aim was to establish whether the artist and the gallery owner had intended the gnome as an endorsement of the Third Reich or as a rejection of Nazi ideology.

Mr Traeg referred to a previous case: a swastika which had been graffitied onto a wall. No prosecution was brought because the picture featured a fist smashing the Nazi symbol.

The gallery owner who put the gnome in the window maintains he has done nothing wrong.

"I think it's quite harmless," Erwin Weigl told the BBC.

"It was sitting in the window for two weeks and no one complained. It's a comical figure. All kinds of people have made that gesture. Julius Caesar did it. Even Barack Obama does it now. To me, it looks a bit like when you gesture to a dachshund to jump up to your hand."

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