How a former history teacher led a far-right surge in eastern Germany

Alternative for Germany's Thuringia state leader, Björn Höcke, during the election campaign.

(CNN)Just two weeks shy of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an election in the east German state of Thuringia has highlighted the deep divisions still gripping the country.

Centrist parties -- including Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU -- were bumped into third place after the left-wing Die Linke and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) surged ahead.
Incumbent Die Linke took top spot with 31% of the vote, a slight increase on the last state election five years ago.
    But it was the phenomenal rise of the AfD, which came in second place with 23.4% of the vote, that raised serious concerns, particularly among Jewish leaders, in the wake of a shooting outside a synagogue earlier this month.
    The AfD, led locally by controversial party figure Björn Höcke, more than doubled its share of voters since the last state election.
    Anti-immigrant former history teacher Höcke has previously called Berlin's Holocaust memorial a "monument of shame." He is considered an extremist by the country's intelligence service.
    "He's not a typical party politician," said Egbert Klautke, a cultural historian at University College London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies.
    "This character comes from the west (of Germany) and then uses the east German state (of Thuringia) as a stage for fairly radical and extreme right-wing views," said Klautke.
    He added that Höcke, who is simultaneously awkward with the media and at ease addressing rallies, uses "language that hasn't been heard in public since the early 1950s, when there were still proper old Nazis around."
    Even within his own party, Höcke has faced criticism for his radical views, Klautke added.
    Thuringia's election comes at a delicate time in German politics, just weeks after a far-right attacker went on a shooting rampage outside a synagogue in the eastern town of Halle.
    Höcke condemned the Halle attacks. But his party was nonetheless accused of inciting a culture of hatred by Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Jewish community in Munich.
    Following the AfD's success in Thuringia, Knobloch warned on Twitter that its voters had "supported a party that has been preparing the ground for marg