By Jen Stout in Germany

Thuringia is dreamy. A little forest state in the heart of Germany with a string of picturesque university towns, it was once home to Goethe, Schiller and Bach. Visitors flock to beautiful Weimar, so symbolic of German literature and culture, and to see the hilltop castle where Luther translated the New Testament. 
But elections are taking place today for the state parliament - and it seems pretty Thuringia is not immune to the toxic political debate and far-right surge which are causing such concern across Germany.
Though the Left-Green coalition that has governed here for the past five years gets favourable reviews - prime minister Bodo Ramelow, from Die Linke, is seen as a reliable pragmatist - the meteoric rise of the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) may now scupper this arrangement. 
The party is expected to double its share of the vote, moving to second place - and this despite its lead candidate here being so far to the right that even parts of the AfD leadership disapprove. The former history teacher Bjorn Höcke has built a large following in recent years, condemning the "heartless political caste", and making easy political capital from anger over wind turbines, immigration and 'political correctness'. 
A hardline revisionist in charge of the extremist 'Wing' faction within the party, Höcke crossed a long-established line in 2017 when he said of Berlin's Holocaust memorial that Germans are "the only people to plant a monument of shame in the capital". His rallies share some characteristics with far-right gatherings across the world: simmering anger and smirking henchmen. 
In Thuringia's capital Erfurt on the eve of the poll, Höcke addressed a crowd of several hundred supporters. "They want to multiculturalise Germany!" he shouts, to a chorus of boos. Karl Friedrich Buch, 51, has travelled from Ulm in south Germany to see his favourite politician speak. "He's a person with a great vision for Germany," he says, "and a lot of people in the west fear him, because he speaks clearly. The press lies about him - changing the meaning of his words." Buch is optimistic about the election. "Twenty-six per cent," he predicts confidently. 
Across the vast Domplatz square another, louder crowd has been held behind a barrier by police. It's a colourful assortment of anti-fascist, Die Linke, and Green party banners, loudspeakers blasting music and chants against racism and fascism. Two young women look up at the sky, correcting the position of their balloons, which spell out 'We love Antifa'. 
One is Lotte Mann, 20, a native of Erfurt. "I'm afraid of what is coming," she says bluntly. "I feel many people aren't taking it seriously - but it makes a difference when the AfD gain votes. Racist attacks are increasing, and things that people only thought before are now being said out loud."
In the past fortnight two lead candidates in Thuringia have received death threats from suspected neo-Nazis. The Green party's Dirk Adams said the email he got warned of a knife attack or car bombing. Mike Mohring, a key ally of chancellor Angela Merkel, posted one of his threats online. It mentions Cologne mayor Henriette Reker, who was stabbed in the neck in 2015 by a man angered by her pro-refugee stance. Reker survived, as did another mayor stabbed in 2017 - but Walter Lübcke did not. The CDU politician was shot in the head outside his home in Kassel, by a known neo-Nazi, in June. 
And fresh in all minds is the Halle attack - the Synagogue shooting in which two people died - less than three weeks ago. Though Höcke condemned the attack, the fact that it was committed by a far-right radical has added to the condemnation of the AfD by politicians and civic groups, who say the party's inflammatory rhetoric is fuelling extremism. 
The AfD's toxicity means it will not be welcomed in to any coalition to rule Thuringia whatever today's result - leading some to argue that the growth of this party is hyped up. Certainly it would be ridiculous to say that all those persuaded to take part in the 'Blue Spring', as the party likes to call its recent growth, are neo-Nazis. In fact the main message of the AfD in this campaign has not been about migration at all, but a call to 'Finish the Change', referencing the Peaceful Revolution of 30 years ago, when east Germans brought down the GDR authorities. 
It's a massively emotive memory and a risky one to appropriate. But despite the loud outrage, the AfD seems to be getting away with it, doubling its vote share in the September elections for two other eastern states. Placards at AfD rallies are often about pensions, pay and privatisation - grievances that persist in the east and seem often to fall on deaf ears in the west. 
In Erfurt's square, with the Gothic cathedral looming over the protests, Lotte Mann admits she'll probably vote for Die Linke - but with no great enthusiasm. "The campaign wasn't very good," she says. "They sound like the people in power before - not giving us any hope for change. And many, many people here are looking for change."