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Coronavirus skeptics vow to 'storm Berlin'

Kate Brady
August 28, 2020

Anti-lockdown protesters in Berlin are planning a large-scale demonstration at the weekend. A court on Friday scrapped the ban imposed by the state's authorities. Police are preparing for all eventualities.

Demonstrators ignoring social distancing at protest in Berlin on August 1
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Soeder

Organizers of the coronavirus skeptics' demonstrations set to take place this weekend expected more than 22,000 people to descend on Berlin, with bus trips organized from around the country.

On Wednesday, however, the capital's authorities had called the whole thing off. 

Andreas Geisel, the interior minister for the city-state of Berlin, had argued the controversial decision was prompted by behavior at a previous protest on August 1, during which demonstrators "deliberately" violated hygienic and distancing rules. Many participants refused to wear face masks and maintain social distance from one another.

Read more: Germany debates curbing freedom of assembly after coronavirus rallies

Police gear up across Berlin

Since the announcement of the ban, police in the capital have been preparing for a number of scenarios, including the possibility that thousands of demonstrators take to Berlin's streets.

According to the city's authorities, thousands of planned rallies have been registered. Supporters have been using social media to encourage people to travel en masse to the capital.

Read more: Germany's growing anti-lockdown movement

Political scientist Josef Holnburger has been closely observing conspiracy theorists, particularly on the messenger service Telegram.

"The general observation seems to be that people are still planning on coming to Berlin. There are also growing calls to use violence," Holnburger told DW.

Police officers standing under a banner at the demonstration in Berlin on August 1
Police are preparing themselves after far-right and other activists called for people to "storm Berlin"Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Soeder

Organizers calling themselves "Querdenker 711" ("Lateral thinkers 711") are indeed adamant that the protests will go ahead. 

The Stuttgart-based group is calling for the immediate removal of the German government and the termination of all coronavirus protection measures. 

Far-right calls to 'storm Berlin'

Right-wing extremists in particular are calling for protesters to "storm Berlin." A hashtag by the same name, #SturmaufBerlin, was trending on Twitter throughout Thursday. Opponents of the demo quickly hijacked the hashtag, however, and began posting it with photos of cake.

Previous demonstrations have attracted an extreme mix of critics, including COVID-19 deniers, anti-vaxxers, far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) politicians, conspiracy theorists, and several groups from the far-right extremist scene.

Read more: Germany's Reichsbürger movement out to delegitimize the state

Demonstrators at protests against coronavirus restrictions in Berlin
Demonstrations attract a mix of COVID-19 deniers, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, and the far-right extremist sceneImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. MacDougall

Observers of the scene had warned ahead of this weekend's planned demonstration that it would turn into the largest gathering of right-wing extremists since dayslong protests in September 2018 in the eastern city of Chemnitz, which turned violent.

Jürgen Elsässer from the right-wing extremist "Compact" magazine said he considers Saturday the "most important day since 1945," referring to Germany's watershed moment — the end of WW2.

The controversial move to ban the demonstration had been largely supported by Berlin politicians.

Members of the far-right AfD, however, called on people to mobilize. They said the decision to ban the protest showed how the Berlin Senate is "trampling on basic rights," said regional AfD leader in Berlin Nicolaus Fest.

Tents and banners in park in Berlin
Protesters are camped out behind banners demanding German politicians be 'locked away'Image: DW

Protesters await verdict on appeal

Political scientist Jasmin Riedel says the decision to ban could be seen from two perspectives: legally and politically.

Read more: Germany imposes tougher measures to curb coronavirus

"On the one hand there is the possibility to limit open-air gatherings, but corona has left us in a unique situation," she told DW. "Before anything can be banned, it would be important to check if special requirements like face masks and social distancing can be upheld."

As that was not the case at the August 1 protest, Berlin state authorities came to the conclusion that coronavirus prevention measures would not be upheld at this weekend's demo.

From the political perspective, however, Riedl said it was "extremely clumsy" of Berlin's interior senator Geisel to add that he didn't want Berlin to be used as a 'backdrop for coronavirus deniers, Reichsbürger and right-wing extremists.'

"In doing so, he "gifted the protesters an extra line of argument," Riedl said.

Test concert in Germany