Austrian hotel owners sue German tourist over ‘Nazi grandpa’ online review

The owners of an Austrian hotel are suing a German guest over an online review in which he accused them of decorating the reception area with a shrine to a “Nazi grandpa”.

The guest, who has been named in court papers only as Thomas K, complained in two online reviews that he found a photograph of a man in Nazi-era military uniform complete with swastikas on display with a floral arrangement at the entrance to the hotel.

The hotel owners say the photograph is displayed in memory of a close relative and argue the fact he is wearing German military uniform does not mean he was a Nazi sympathiser.

Thomas K visited the four-star hotel in the Tyrolean resort of Gerlos in August last year. After returning home he posted two reviews of the hotel, one in German on Booking.com and a second in English on TripAdvisor, under the heading: “At the entrance they display a picture of a Nazi grandpa”.

“This made us wonder what the hotel owners are trying to tell us with this image,” he wrote. “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.”

The hotel owners contacted both online platforms and requested the reviews be taken down on the grounds they were defamatory. Booking.com complied but TripAdvisor did not.

Thomas K had posted both reviews under a pseudonym but the hotel owners were able to identify him from the booking number on Booking.com.

Lawyers for the hotel owners argue that the photograph is of a family uncle and was displayed in memory of a dead relative in keeping with local tradition. 

They argue the military uniform he is wearing does not reflect his political views and was worn by soldiers conscripted into the German forces. They say the picture was only chosen because it is the only photograph the family has of him.

It was displayed alongside a photograph of an older man in civilian clothes, who was the owner’s grandfather.

But by researching the photographs Thomas K was able to prove that both men in fact joined the Nazi party, in 1941 and 1943. The hotel has since taken down both pictures. 

Despite this, a court in Innsbruck granted a preliminary injunction against Thomas K, on the grounds the reviews had implied the hotel owners shared their deceased relatives’ Nazi beliefs. The TripAdvisor review has since been taken down.

Legal proceedings in the defamation case continue. In a separate case, Thomas K is suing another member of the hotel owners’ family in Germany for harassment over telephone calls demanding he take down the reviews.

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