Thousands of coronavirus skeptics protesting against government-enforced wearing of masks and social distancing gathered Saturday at various points along a 4-kilometer (2.4-mile) stretch between Friedrichstraße and the Straße des 17. Juni.
It was the second such protest this month, and roughly the same size as the one on Aug. 1. Police on Saturday estimated the number of protesters at roughly 18,000 people, although the “Querdenken 771” group that organized the rally claimed that it was a vast undercount.
Just as with the first demonstration, many of Saturday’s protesters and speakers came to Berlin from out of town, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an avid vaccine skeptic who is the nephew of President John F. Kennedy.
One 27-year-old Kassel woman who would only give KCRW Berlin her first name, Gesa, said it was important to come because she feels masks and other coronavirus guidelines should be a choice, not a mandate.
She wore a T-shirt that said: “If injustice becomes the norm, then resistance becomes a duty.”
Gesa added: “The government doesn’t seem to get it or be interested in changing [their approach], but maybe after the second or third protest, they will.”
The city’s sweeping response to Saturday’s demonstration snarled traffic, disrupted public transit and led to repeated convoys of police cars, vans and trucks with lights and sirens barreling down streets in the Mitte district of Berlin.
Berlin police repeatedly threatened to break up the protest at various spots along the route because participants were thronging without observing coronavirus hygiene rules.
The police tweeted as officers were about to shut down one gathering near the Reichstag lawn, because protesters were pushing over barricades. The officers threatened to turn the lawn sprinklers on the crowd.
Vor der Bühne im Bereich der Reichstagswiese wurden Teile der Absperrung umgeworfen. Es drangen Personen in den gesperrten Bereich vor. Dagegen sind wir vorgegangen & werden nun die Anwesenden von der Wiese herunterführen. Gleich gehen dort auch die Rasensprenger an. #b2908
— Polizei Berlin Einsatz (@PolizeiBerlin_E) August 29, 2020
Police later tweeted that they had arrested numerous protesters at the intersection of Unter den Linden boulevard and Schadowstraße for throwing bottles, freeing detainees and committing other crimes. Police said one of those arrested, whom they didn’t name, was the author of vegan cookbooks.
The demonstrators came from across the political spectrum and aired a variety of grievances, including against the German federal and state governments. At least one protester carried a sign demanding Berlin Senator Andreas Geisel step down. The interior senator was the one who was most vocal about banning Saturday’s demonstration.
“The state cannot be fooled,” Geisel said in a statement on Wednesday. He added the decision isn’t against people’s right to assemble, but to protect the public at a time when COVID-19 numbers are climbing.
But he and the police had to back down after the Berlin Administrative Court overturned the ban and accused the authorities of violating the protesters’ constitutional rights. They tried appealing, but it was rejected.