Despite the city’s attempts to ban the event citing public health concerns, mass demonstrations against Germany’s coronavirus restrictions took place on Saturday (29 August) in Berlin.
While the majority of protests were peaceful, violence broke out in front of the Russian Embassy and a group of protesters stormed the Reichstag building.
The day before, on Friday (28 August), Berlin’s administrative court ruled that the protests could take place, throwing out the ban imposed by the city earlier last week and claiming that the demonstration did not pose an immediate threat to public safety.
The Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg confirmed the decision early Saturday morning.
Official estimates put attendance at 38,000 among them right-wing extremists, Reichsbürger (a movement of anti-Semitic right-wingers that do not recognise the current German state) and anti-vaxxers. Demonstrators displayed the flag of the German Reich and other Nazi symbols, and very few wore masks or adhered to social distancing guidelines.
Things escalated in the evening, as a group of hundreds stormed the parliament building with only three police officers standing before between them and getting inside. The police disbanded the protest shortly afterwards, and 300 people were taken into custody.
Police spokesperson Thilo Cablitz explained that “we cannot always be present everywhere” and claimed that the group had “used exactly this gap” to get onto the stairs of the Reichstag.
Politicians from across the political spectrum quickly condemned the incident in the strongest terms.
“The Reichstag building is the seat of our parliament and thus the symbolic center of our liberal democracy. The fact that chaos and extremists abuse it for their own purposes is intolerable,” said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU).
Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD), for her part, called the image “intolerable,” adding it “must not be repeated – not in front of the parliament and never in parliament.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also issued a statement on Sunday (30 August) condemning the protests.
“Reich flags and right-wing extremist vulgarities in front of the German Bundestag are an intolerable attack on the heart of our democracy. We will never accept this,” he said. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)