The killing of a German national in the early hours of Sunday triggered clashes in the once thriving industrial city, in the formerly communist side of eastern Germany.
With tension simmering over Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to allow 1.3million migrants into the country, the killing prompted thousands of far-right activists to take to the streets to vent their fury.
Outnumbering police officers ten to one, neo-Nazis rampaged through the city’s winding streets, giving the Hitler salute — illegal in Germany — and hurling bottles and fireworks.
Anyone who looked “non-German” was apparently set upon.
In Wismar, northern Germany, a Syrian migrant was attacked with an iron chain by three men, while further protests have sprung in Munich and Dresden.
As a so-called “pogrom mood” sweeps across the country, Chemnitz is bracing itself for more violence today, with more than 10,000 expected to descend on the city.
Last night, shopkeepers and bar owners were boarding up their windows in anticipation of fierce protests, the like of which they have not seen since the communist German Democratic Republic fell in 1989.
Locals say there is one thing to blame for the divisions that have now broken out into open warfare — the government’s controversial immigration policy.
Property worker Sonja Unsold, who lives in Chemnitz, told us: “You can feel the tension in the air and it’s escalating.
“The politicians thought they could just open the door to all sorts of people but they haven’t managed the integration process very well.
“They like to pretend there’s no problem but any ordinary person knows it’s a very intense problem indeed.”
Sonja, 54, says the clashes were inevitable, especially in such declining areas as her home town, where locals feel like they are losing out to migrants when it comes to homes and jobs.
She added: “What’s happening in Chemnitz was always going to happen. I hope other countries learn from it.”
The horrifying events over the past week are a stark warning to the rest of Europe, showing how rapidly a single crime can spill into mass riots and violence.
They began when Daniel, a married dad of Cuban descent, was stabbed during a fight after a festival to celebrate the city’s 875th anniversary. A 22-year-old Iraqi and a 23-year-old Syrian were held on suspicion of murder. Yesterday, a German prison guard admitted leaking the arrest warrant for the Iraqi suspect.
Daniel Zabel, 39, who has now been suspended, said: “I wanted the truth and only the truth to reach the public.” The leak was shared among far-right groups online.
Within hours, thousands of protesters, from all over Germany, had mobilised and were on the Chemnitz streets.
They chanted Nazi slogans, including “Wir sind das Volk” (“We are the people”), and some openly flashed the Nazi salute.
At least 18 people were injured on Monday when far-right extremists clashed with counter-protesters.
Footage showed skinheads hurling bottles and chanting: “Deutschland den Deutschen, Ausländer raus!” (“Germany for Germans, Foreigners out!”).