Police had to intervene after a small group of about 120 counter-protesters, many of them clad in black hoodies, repeatedly ignored police requests to stay clear of the ‘Vigil for the Basic Law’ rally against the lockdown measures on Saturday.
The counter-demonstrators, who showed up unannounced, lacking any permission from the authorities, argued that the anti-lockdown rally attracted many right-wing extremists. “Against conspiracy fantasies, anti-semites and the right-wing agenda,” one of the posters read.
Although both rallies ended without a major incident, scuffles broke out between police and counter-protesters. A bottle was hurled at the officers from the crowd, police said. One person was arrested but was released later.
The anti-lockdown gathering was greenlit to go ahead after organizers agreed to cap the number of its participants at 750 instead of some 3,500-4,000, as originally requested.
The Hamburg Administrative Court ruled to limit the number of those who could join the rally so police would be able to enforce the social distancing guidelines, imposed to stem the coronavirus pandemic.
Less than 20 minutes after the meeting officially kicked off, at about 3:17 p.m. local time, the maximum allowed number of participants had already arrived, police said, noting that it had to block more people from coming.
The demonstrators stood several feet apart from each other, chanting slogans and holding anti-lockdown banners, some of which read:
“The right to distance instead of a ban on contacts,” “Free accessible tests for everybody instead of the quarantine for everybody” as well as “Stop the corona madness! Basic law now!”
The participants of the rally denounced the government’s response to the outbreak, which has seen some 177,850 testing positive for Covid-19, including 8,216 who have died as a result of the disease.
One of the speakers at the rally argued that more people have died due to planned surgeries being postponed than from the virus itself. There have also been calls to make future vaccinations voluntary, although the authorities have never said that the coronavirus shot would be mandatory.
Several dozen rallies for and against the lockdown measures were also held in Berlin, including outside the Reichstag building, home to the German parliament.
That gathering also prompted a counter-action, with demonstrators branding those opposing the coronavirus restrictions “tin foil hats” and “Nazis.” Some 1000 police were deployed to ensure social distancing.
In the wake of the protests, some 180 people faced administrative and criminal charges for violating the restrictions, including The Infectious Diseases Protection Act, police said.
The rallies have been held weekly since the start of April, swelling in recent weeks to gatherings of thousands in major German cities.
The movement sees the government restrictions to curb the spread of the virus as the beginning of an authoritarian regime or an illegal attack on individual freedoms.
Nearly 30 rallies were held in Berlin, as well as counter-demonstrations, a police spokesman told AFP.
Protests were also held across the country, including in Nuremberg, Munich and Stuttgart, though not as many as in recent weeks, mainly due to bad weather.
Police across Germany made several arrests, including one of the movement’s leading figures, activist Attila Hildmann, who was participating in an unauthorised demonstration of about 100 people in Berlin, according to the German newspaper Der Spiegel.
“This confinement was totally useless,” said Kathrin, a 42-year-old Berlin demonstrator who took part in a rally of about 100 people in front of the capital’s city hall.
“I don’t understand why we can’t return to normal now,” said another protestor, Moritz, 28.
“The coronavirus has killed far less than the flu in recent years,” he added.