BERLIN - The political establishment has dismissed Germany's new anti-euro party as a fear-mongering populist aberration that could implode even before a looming federal election.
But the first congress of the "Alternative for Germany" (AfD) showed that the movement, launched only a few months ago by a group of renegade academics, journalists and businessmen, is striking a chord with voters and may prove an influential force come September.
Over 1,500 AfD supporters from across Germany packed into the Intercontinental Hotel in central Berlin on Sunday to elect the party leadership and formally approve a policy programme that has one objective above all: an end to the euro and return of the deutsche mark.
The meeting was not without the sort of hitches one would expect from a new party that is virtually devoid of experienced, professional politicians.
A speech by party founder Bernd Lucke was interrupted at one point by a man waving a German flag. And delegates interjected repeatedly to remind AfD leaders gathered on the stage about proper protocol as motions were voted on.
Still, the mood in the vast conference room where the congress was held bordered on the euphoric at times. And the attendees - mainly older men in suits with a sprinkling of middle-aged women - said they were amazed at how much interest the party was generating among friends and family members.
"There is huge potential," said Alexander Gauland, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) for 50 years before he defected and signed up with the AfD a month ago.
"What has become clear over the past weeks is that there are many people who feel they are not being heard by the big parties, especially when it comes to euro zone bailouts."