When Markus Koschlik, a former Bundeswehr officer and now professor of civil engineering, returns to his native Thuringia, he experiences a “culture shock”. In order to slow down the growing influence of Björn Höcke and the AfD, he is now choosing a special path.

“Slogans are chanted that are reminiscent of darker times in German history,” says Markus Koschlik. The 41-year-old talks about the current time in Thuringia, his old homeland, to which he recently returned with his family. “Some things remind me of the early 90s, when neo-Nazis used similar slogans. “They’re coming back now,” he reports to the “Frankfurter Rundschau.”

Koschlik did not live in Thuringia for a long time. At the beginning of the 2000s he joined the Bundeswehr, became an officer and took part in operations in Afghanistan. He then studied and is now a professor of civil engineering. Now he is back in Meiningen, his hometown in Thuringia, and is worried.

A new state parliament will be elected in Thuringia in September. The AfD and top candidate Björn Höcke are at the top of the polls with almost 30 percent. Koschlik wants to change that and stop the party and its state leader, which the Office for the Protection of the Constitution has classified as “proven right-wing extremist”. He doesn’t want to name them, as his post on Linkedin shows – there he talks about the “A*D” and “Hö*ke”. His path is definitely a special one.

The 41-year-old wants to run for the city council in Meiningen as a non-party on the SPD list in order to be committed only to his conscience instead of “any party-political things”. But his plan goes further. Koschlik wants to talk to people and find out why they are considering voting for the AfD.

In Koschlik’s opinion, this is also a legacy of the Corona period, when many people were angry about requirements that no one understood. When conspiracy theories and fake news emerged – also in Meiningen. “Back then, a huge crack really went through the city, like in many other cities in Thuringia,” the professor told the “Frankfurter Rundschau”.

Even if the “City Talks” format that has existed in Meiningen for some time is not necessarily successful, Koschlik believes in the path of dialogue. “People often no longer have objective discussions,” he says, emphasizing how important it is for him to have direct conversations with potential AfD voters. Koschlik is convinced that discussing objective solutions can change something – and is pushing this.

“With one exception, Linkedin, I avoid social media. The debates there among mostly anonymous users often escalate too quickly for me,” explains the 41-year-old. He has now published an offer there: Anyone who wants to can talk to him about topics on which he has professional expertise. Rent prices, vacant buildings in cities, the construction of more bus stops. The addressee: “By that I mean above all people who are perhaps skeptical about the democratic parties and are toying with the AfD,” says Koschlik to the “Frankfurter Rundschau”.

That works. Thousands of people share his posts on Linkedin and press “Like” – but that should only be the beginning. Koschlik also regularly plans appointments online “where people can talk to each other. Where you can have objective discussions. If in doubt, also anonymously.”

He isn’t really afraid of attacks himself – he only worries about his two children. This could also be because he was deployed in Afghanistan for twelve years. “I feel resilient.” His position as a tenured professor also helps, as he doesn’t have to focus primarily on acquiring orders like an entrepreneur who acts like that.

Koschlik also sees his duty as a democrat. “The AfD is totally anti-science, anti-business and anti-democratic,” he tells the “Frankfurter Rundschau”. “And that’s why it’s a goal for me that a party like this has as little influence as possible.”