Police said more than 3,000 officers would be on duty in the capital on Saturday as an estimated 18,000 virus skeptics gathered near the Brandenburg Gate.
Some protesters wore T-shirts and waved flags and banners marked with the QAnon conspiracy theory emblem, while others carried the flag of the German Empire before the end of World War I.
Placards depicting Angela Merkel as a prisoner and calling her “Schuldig”, or guilty, were also popular with protesters. Signs of the same design were also faked for Olaf Scholz, Vice Chancellor Christian Drosten, a virus expert who informed the government response to the pandemic, Karl Lauterbach, a leading epidemiologist and politician, and even Bill Gates, who has been the subject of conspiracy theories in part because of his large donations to vaccine research.
Local reports said officials ended the protest around noon, with participants ignoring social distancing regulations despite repeated requests to comply.
Police announced that the protest was to be dissolved by loudspeaker after “several unsuccessful attempts” to impose distancing, Berlin newspaper reported.
The protest was initially banned by police but was allowed after a legal battle unfolded on the side of the organizers. Berlin Mayor Michael Muller defended the ban, citing concerns that protesters did not intend to obey social distancing rules and would no doubt spread the virus at a time when cases were on the rise already.
“The protesters are coming home, they are taking local public transport home, they are going to work, they are going to their families. And all over these contacts they put others at risk again, ”Muller said.
Coronavirus cases have increased in Germany throughout August, reaching daily infection rates not seen since April and leading the government to end the lifting of restrictions.
Andreas Geisel, German Interior Minister, has been called on to resign from the far-right AfD party after expressing support for the ban, which the party’s Berlin chairman said was an attempt to suppress freedom of expression.
After the ban was lifted, Mr. Geisel said: “The decision to [the court] did not change the pandemic situation. So I expect people who demonstrate in Berlin to do everything to protect themselves against infection. ”
Mr. Geisel also expressed his concern about the involvement of the far right in the rally: “I am still very concerned about the European mobilization among right-wing extremists, which took place in advance, regardless of the discussion of the ban. I call on everyone to come together in Berlin without violence. ”