Despite infections soaring once again in Germany and fears of a potential second wave, thousands of protesters gathered in Berlin on Saturday to demonstrate against coronavirus restrictions.
With few masks in sight, crowds whistled and cheered as they marched from the Brandenburg Gate to the German capital's Tiergarten park.
Demonstrators held up home-made placards with slogans emblazoned across them, such as “Corona, false alarm,” “We are being forced to wear a muzzle,” “Natural defense instead of vaccination” and “End the corona panic – bring fundamental rights back.”
DW's Leonie von Hammerstein, who reported from the scene, said: “At least 15,000 people have gathered for their ‘Day of freedom, the end of the pandemic' as they call it.”
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Von Hammerstein also said there was a counterprotest taking place, with citizens angry at those wanting to break the rules.
“The difference is the counterprotesters are wearing face masks, are keeping the [correct] social distance. Whereas the other protesters are not, they have been shouting ‘the pandemic has never happened.' And there was an interesting standoff between protesters and counterprotesters,” she said in a live report.
DPA reported that some of the counterprotesters, who dubbed themselves: “Grandmas against the extreme right,” shouted “Nazis out” at those taking part in the main protest.
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Protesters from far and wide
DW's von Hammerstein continued: “I talked to many of the protesters here and there is a wide variety of people who have come here from all over Germany. I spoke with a bus driver who drove protesters here from the south of Germany, protesting the coronavirus restrictions that have impacted the tourism industry.
She then described seeing a lot of verbal abuse and attacks, including one man who shouted in her face:
“He believed in conspiracy theories. He believed Bill Gates was behind the coronavirus and wants to forcefully vaccinate everybody and the German government is helping him to do that.”
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Getting tough on rule-breakers
Meanwhile, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said he wanted tougher action on COVID-19 rule breakers.
“Anyone who deliberately endangers others must expect that this will have serious consequences for him,” Altmaier said.
The number of infections in Germany has been on the rise recently. The surge has been attributed to the public becoming negligent on hygiene and social distancing rules, according to the Robert Koch Institute, the German government's disease control and prevention agency.