This Grandmother is Fighting Hate In Her City With A Can Of Spray Paint

She's covering Nazi symbols with ones of love.

As messages of hate and Islamophobia are becoming more and more common, one grandmother in Berlin is trying to replace those messages with ones of love. Armed with nail polish remover, a paint scraper and spray paint, Irmela Schramm, 70, spends about 17 hours a week searching train stations, parking lots and any other place that may have been defaced by harmful messages and images. Whens she finds something, for example, a Neo-Nazi symbol spray painted on a trashcan, Schramm tries to remove the image or covers it with a spray-painted heart.

"The threshold on the misuse of freedom of speech has deteriorated over the last few years," Schramm told CNN. "I think it has now reached rock bottom. People tell me I am intolerant, that I don't respect the far-right's freedom of speech. But I say: Freedom of speech has limits. It ends where hatred and contempt for humanity begins."

A photo posted by @atikacnn on

According to the New York Times, Schramm first took on role of graffiti vigilante one day in 1986 when, while waiting for her bus, she noticed a sticker demanding the release of Rudolf Hess, an imprisoned Nazi war criminal. She thought about the sticker at work all day, and it was still there when she got home. It was there until Schramm used her keys to scrap it off later that day.

Schramm said when she started looking for hateful messages she was shocked at how many she found in her Berlin neighborhood. Over the past 30 years, Schramm has collected and catalogued the numerous bigoted stickers she has removed. She has been assaulted and she has been hugged by strangers. She has been threatened with a fine for defacing public property. But Schramm estimates that she has edited or removed more than 130,000 hateful messages. 

"I have a strong appreciation for human dignity," Schramm told the Times. "When I see someone's dignity being hurt, I feel it myself."

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