By Sylvia Cunningham and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
At least 15,000 people gathered in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz on Saturday for a “Nein zu Rassismus” or “No to racism” rally held in solidarity with other demonstrations around the globe protesting against police brutality.
The demonstration in the iconic square was one of many held across Germany, including in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart. There were also protests in London, while French officials banned three rallies that had been planned in Paris, citing concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
In the Berlin demonstration, participants wore black and many carried signs that said: “Black Lives Matter,” “Racism is not getting worse: it’s getting filmed,” and “Deutschland, du bist nicht unschuldig,” or “Germany, you are not innocent.”
There were chants of “I can’t breathe,” in reference to the words uttered by George Floyd as a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the 46-year-old black man’s neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25.
Germany, like much of Europe, has been transfixed by what’s happening in the United States since Floyd’s death. Critics have used the public outcry to turn a spotlight on police violence here.
“I just want to go out and come back alive, and I also want to raise my kids in peace,” said German protester Eunice Aduhene, 32, who came with several friends.
Aduhene told KCRW Berlin she’s already navigating how to have difficult discussions with her young children after her 6-year-old daughter came home from her Berlin kindergarten, upset after a classmate called her “chocolate.”
“She’s not at that age where she understands racism, so I just want to make sure wherever she goes or when she starts primary school that she feels comfortable,” Aduhene said.
Earlier this week, Berlin became the first state in Germany to pass a law allowing people to sue for compensation if they feel they’ve been racially profiled or otherwise discriminated against by police or state officials.
Berlin police spokeswoman Anja Dierschke insisted the police brutality the protesters were chanting about doesn’t happen here, telling KCRW Berlin: “We have no racism problem.”
“We are a diverse city with diverse police officers,” she added.
But Berlin Justice Senator Dirk Behrendt of the Green Party told public broadcaster rbb on Thursday that one of the reasons the anti-discrimination law is needed in Berlin is to stop police here from racial profiling.
Protesters and the hundreds of Berlin police officers dispatched to the rally interacted peacefully for much of Saturday, although there was one clash later in the afternoon that was captured on video.
— KLASSE GEGEN KLASSE (@KGK_News) June 6, 2020
Police tweeted that bottles and stones were thrown at them and that they had made arrests.
Earlier in the afternoon, Berlin police tweets lauded demonstrators for adhering to COVID-19 hygiene rules like social distancing and wearing masks. But that quickly turned to pleas to arriving protesters to stay away from the 50,000-square-meter plaza — nearly 539,000 square feet — because of the size of the crowd.
This was the view, captured by Lisa Khanna, as her S-Bahn rolled into #Alexanderplatz on Saturday afternoon. @PolizeiBerlin_E estimate at least 15,000 people gathered for the #NeinzuRassismus demonstration. #blacklivesmatterberlin pic.twitter.com/pOtHzlNp3G
— KCRW Berlin (@kcrwberlin) June 6, 2020
Police also tweeted that officers removed protesters who’d taken over the abandoned “House of Statistics” at the edge of the square.
Another large, anti-racism demonstration is being planned here for June 27 with more than 6,200 people indicating on Facebook that they plan to attend.