The owners of a four-star hotel in Austria are suing a German man for posting online reviews in which he criticized them for displaying a portrait of a “Nazi grandpa” in a uniform adorned with a swastika in the hotel lobby.
The man, named in court documents as Thomas K, and his wife stayed at the hotel in the village of Gerlos in the Tyrolean Alps last August. After checking in, they saw two portraits hung on a wall near the entrance. One displayed a young man in uniform with an eagle and swastika badge, the other an older man.
Using a pseudonym, the man posted reviews on Booking.com and TripAdvisor a week after his visit, one in German and one in English, under the heading: “At the entrance, they display a picture of a Nazi grandpa.”
The German couple was understandably disgusted. “This made us wonder what the hotel owners are trying to tell us with this image. This incident speaks volumes about the current state of affairs in this region of Austria. Sadly, our desire to visit this mountain region has disappeared completely,” he wrote.
An Austrian court has ruled that a German tourist who took exception to a World War II portrait in an Austrian guesthouse had no right to complain about it on travel sites, the hotel owner's lawyer saidhttps://t.co/tjyG7nLQi0— AFP news agency (@AFP) September 6, 2019
The owners of the hotel contacted both sites and asked them to remove the reviews claiming that the description “Nazi grandpa” was libelous and defamatory since the men — a grandfather and an uncle of one of the owners — had only been members of the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945.
Booking.com, based in the Netherlands, deleted the post, but TripAdvisor, based in the United States, refused to delete the post. Using the Booking.com number listed under the pseudonymous review, the hotel owner contacted the man and filed a lawsuit against him in Innsbruck, Austria.
The owner’s lawyer said the portraits were a tribute to late relatives, which apparently is customary in rural areas in Austria. He also claimed that the picture of the uncle in a Nazi uniform is the only one the family has in its possession and that although the Wehrmacht was affiliated with the National Socialist regime, it did not mean the men could be defamed as Nazis.
After researching the identity of the two men at the German National Archives in Berlin, the man was able to prove that both had been members of the Nazi party, in 1941 and 1943 respectively. The hotel’s owners stated they had not been aware of their relatives’ membership.
German tourist sued for complaints about hotel's Nazi portraits https://t.co/Q3mgK88yTt— The Guardian (@guardian) September 6, 2019
The Innsbruck court has granted the hotel a preliminary injunction against the man, arguing that his review suggested that the hotel owner shared or sympathized with the Nazis. The hotel owner’s interest in protecting her reputation takes precedence over the man’s right to freedom of expression, the court ruled.
The trial is expected to continue until the end of this year. Meanwhile, the man has sued a relative of the owner’s family for harassing him on the phone. As a result, the TripAdvisor review has been deleted. The lawyer for the hotel said the family has finally decided to take down the portraits.