The rally, estimated by police at 17,000, included libertarians, constitutional loyalists and anti-vaccination activists. There was also a small far-right presence with marchers carrying the black, white and red imperial flag of Germany.
Protesters danced and sang “We are free people! To the tune of Queen’s rock band ‘We Will Rock You’. Others marched with signs saying, “We are making noise because you are stealing our freedom!” and “Think! Don’t wear a mask! “.
“Our demand is to return to democracy,” said one protester who refused to give his name. “The mask that enslaves us must disappear.”
The protests follow a rallying call from Michael Ballweg, an entrepreneur and political foreigner who has organized similar rallies in Stuttgart and is running for mayor of the southwest city.
Police have filed a complaint against the organizer for failing to ensure the protesters were wearing masks and keeping their distance. Mainstream politicians criticized the protesters, with Social Democratic co-leader Saskia Esken calling them “covidots”.
“They not only endanger our health, but also our success against the pandemic,” tweeted Esken, whose party is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner.
After Germany’s initial success in fighting the pandemic, infections are on the rise again. More than 200,000 people have contracted COVID-19 and nearly 1,000 have died.
Most Germans have adhered to measures that include wearing face masks in stores, while the government has just imposed mandatory testing for vacationers returning from high-risk areas.
But a vocal minority is angry with the restrictions.
“Only a few scientists around the world who follow the government’s lead are heard,” protester Peter Konz said. Those with different opinions “are silenced, censored or discredited as defenders of conspiracy theories.”
Reuters TV reporting, written by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Giles Elgood
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