German president: New walls have gone up

"There must never be a route back to nationalism," German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a speech to mark the country's Day of German Unity.

(CNN)Germany's president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has warned of the fractures in its society -- highlighted by the electoral success of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) -- on the nation's Day of German Unity.

On October 3, a national holiday, Germans mark the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, following the fall of the Berlin Wall the previous year.
"It is right that we celebrate this day, like every year," Steinmeier told a large gathering of politicians and citizens in Mainz, western Germany. "But something is different this year ... we must not go on as if nothing has happened."
    "Other walls have gone up," he said, "less visible and without barbed wire and death strips, but still walls that stand in the way of our collective 'we.'"
    Steinmeier spoke of walls between cities and rural areas, between rich and poor, old and young, and online and offline communities.
    They are "walls of alienation, frustration or anger" and behind those walls there is "deep mistrust of democracy and its representatives," Steinmeier said.
    Without mentioning the AfD by name, Steinmeier warned that Germany's progress since 1990, becoming a democratic, peaceful and strong country at the heart of Europe, could be lost if politicians and ordinary Germans do not work together to fight the party's far-right ideology and to respond to the concerns of its supporters.

    The appeal of the far right

    The AfD -- originally an anti-European Union and anti-euro party that has since turned its focus to immigration and Islam -- won 12.6% of the vote in the elections on September 24 and became the third largest party in the German parliament, according to preliminary results.
    Like many other far-right parties across Europe, the AfD has branded itself as an anti-establishment party of protest, appealing to those citizens previously disillusioned by or uninterested in politics.
    And their strategy seemed to work: nearly 700,000 votes for the AfD came from former non-voters, according to preliminary data from political polling firm Infratest Dimap.
    Germans celebrate the "Day of German Unity" at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The monument stood in no-man's land, between East and West Berlin, until 1989.