Most of those wanting to protest against the pope’s Berlin visit were moved away from the Brandenburg Gate, where they would have been closer to his address to the Bundestag.
But they were relegated to Potsdamer Platz, several hundred metres away, with their array of flags, banners, one oversized papier-mâché model of a of nun bearing a stick with which to beat unruly children, and a group of bare-chested men in chains who pretended to beat a man dressed as a priest.
Just one family remained at the Brandenburg Gate, holding up signs reading, “The pope is the Antichrist and the Devil’s apostle.” Puzzled tourists milled around them, confused by the heavy police presence and traffic-free roads.
Erik Konrad, 58, told The Local he had travelled up from near Stuttgart to make his point. He said he didn’t have anything against Joseph Ratzinger -using the pope’s civilian name – but opposed the papal institution.
“You aren’t allowed to think anything or feel anything except what the (Catholic) church prescribes…This is the worst thing that Germany has experienced – for the pope to have such a reception here… The pope means two things: force and death.”
Down the road, thousands of people from 68 organisations demonstrated together under the motto ‘The Pope is Coming’, marching through the centre of the German capital in an initiative led by the Lesbian and Gay Association of Brandenburg-Berlin (LSVD).
The groups included gay and straight people, women’s rights groups, sexual education associations, humanist groups, Aids help groups, trades union, former Muslims and members of the Social Democrats, Greens and socialist Link – believers and atheists, gathered on Potsdamer Platz.
Jörg Steinert, manager of the LSVD told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, “We do not come out of one corner of society, rather we mirror society.”
“We are demonstrating against the discrimination and persecution of homosexuals, against the unfair treatment of women, against the condom policy and other kinds of degradation due to the pope,” he said.
But he stressed that the grouping did not want to attack pious Catholics or injure their feelings. “We are addressing the policies of office-holders and the church as an institution,” he said.
At least 30 people there were members of the Association of Former Members of Children’s Homes, who lived in Catholic-run homes during the four decades between the 1950s and the 1980s, when abuse, sexual and physical was often rife.
Horst Peter Schäfer Aron, 56, a member from Marburg, told The Local that many of the children in the homes were abused and that parents – when around – were distracted and the state refused to intervene.
“When Herr Ratzinger was a priest himself, he also sacrificed children (to mistreatment)… as pope, he knows that priests and nuns hit children, but it’s been hidden. He hasn’t done what was promised, and that’s why we are accusing him here.”
“I’m protesting against the ignored child sex scandal,” said Wolfgang Selinger, 62, who held up two large signs depicting children caught in church-related abuse. “The other (reason) is that we need to finally have a clear separation between state and church, such as what has been shown to us in France… Are our politicians too lazy or too cowardly to tackle this?”
Before he even landed at Berlin’s Tegel Airport, the pope had said he could understand that some people had left the Church as a result of the abuse scandals.
“I can understand that in the face of such reports, people, especially those close to victims, would say ‘this isn’t my Church anymore’,” he told reporters on his plane.
He also said that protests against his visit were, “normal in a free society marked by strong secularism.”
“One can’t object,” to such protests, he said. “I respect those who speak out.”