It was a rare sight to see thousands in Berlin, Germany, protest against measures taken by the government against the novel coronavirus, such as face masks and vaccines, on Saturday.
Police put turnout at around 17,000 — well below the 500,000 organisers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” against the coronavirus restrictions.
Despite Germany´s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over recent weeks and politicians took to social media to criticise the rally as irresponsible.
“We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists as they converged on the Brandenburg Gate, demanding “resistance” and dubbing the pandemic “the biggest conspiracy theory”.
Few protesters wore a mask or respected the 1.5-metre (five-foot) social distancing requirement, an AFP journalist reported, despite police repeatedly calling on them via megaphone to do so.
Berlin police tweeted they had launched legal proceedings action against organisers for not respecting virus hygiene rules.
“If physical distancing cannot be applied we shall continue to talk to the organiser of the event and that could lead to the event being called off,” warned police spokesman Thilo Cablitz.
A handful of people held a counter demonstration. Dubbing themselves “grandmothers against the extreme right”, they hurled insults against “Nazi” protesters.
The protest´s “Day of Freedom” slogan echoes the title of a 1935 documentary by Nazi-era film-maker Leni Riefenstahl on a party conference by Hitler´s National Socialist German Workers´ Party.
Several politicians condemned the demonstration as Germany seeks to minimise transmission of a virus which had claimed just over 9,000 deaths as of Saturday — a far lower toll than its neighbours.