Huge crowds gathered in Dresden for a free concert promoting tolerance and 'diversity.' The event sought to provide a counternarrative to the anti-Islamization PEGIDA group.
So many thousands of people gathered in front of Dresden's Frauenkirche, the city's central baroque church, for a concert promoting "tolerance and diversity" on Monday evening that police and event organizers were forced to close the square and direct would-be concertgoers to the nearby Schlossplatz.
The event - "Open and Colorful - Dresden for Everyone" - was set up to counter the idea of Dresden as the city of PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West). The umbrella group has been holding weekly marches since October 2014 to protest against it sees as the increasing influence of Islam in Germany and Europe, driven by lax immigration policies from the government.
Choosing Monday night was strategic: PEGIDA normally holds its rallies on Mondays, and switched to Sunday this week because of the concert. Many PEGIDA members are thought to have attended both events.
"We want to show that Dresden is cosmopolitan, tolerant and diverse, and we endeavor to be warm, chiefly in our hearts," said Gerhard Ehninger, a member of the organizing group, "Dresden - Place to Be."
Most of the performers have shared messages of tolerance and engagement with foreigners, rather than criticize PEGIDA directly. However, the band Yellow Umbrella did comment, after playing their song No PEGIDA.
"It is difficult to have a conversation with PEGIDA," lead singer Jens Strohschnieder said. "People say: 'The world is round.' But the PEGIDA member then says 'but not according to my opinion.'"
Event managers said the crowd that had gathered on Monday outnumbered PEGIDA's biggest rally, on January 12. It followed the Islamist massacres in France and some estimates said more than 35,000 people took part.
Big name artists perform
The free concert, organized by the group Dresden - Place to be and financed by the city, has brought some of Germany's most-beloved artists to the stage.
The biggest name was Herbert Grönemeyer, who international audiences might know from his starring role in Wolfgang Petersen's war epic Das Boot. His 2002 pop album Mensch is also the best-selling record of all time in Germany.
Sharing top billing was the band Silly, which was one of East Germany's top musical acts, and has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years with actress Anna Loos as its lead singer.
All of the artists performed free of charge, according to the organizers.
In between performances, videos with messages from Dresdeners, refugees, and immigrants are being shown.
Placards bearing flags from all around the world were passed around, and the audience gladly waved them aloft, reported regional newspaper Sächsische Zeitung.
es/kms/sgb (AFP, dpa)