A protest march with more than 60 different organizations is set to start as early as 7am on Saturday, directed at the Alternative for Germany party's (AfD) conference being held at a central Cologne hotel.
Some 50,000 demonstrators are expected, with their aim, according to the campaign website, to “block” the AfD from entering their hotel by sitting and standing in the way, as a form of civil disobedience.
Many businesses in the city centre have already posted signs saying they will be closed on Saturday as a result, and the leader of the local trade association told DPA that it’s likely others will decide on the spot to do the same.
Officials are set to block off certain areas around the hotel hosting the conference to prevent the disruption, according to the Rheinische Post (RP), though protesters are also encouraging people to “overcome” any barriers in their way. Businesses in the area were informed about the police barriers early on and police said owners could then decide for themselves whether to remain open.
“But we cannot offer 100 percent protection,” a police spokesman said, according to RP.
Police have also said that they have information to indicate that thousands of left-wing extremists from around the country are planning to participate to try to prevent the party conference from taking place.
Dirk Hansen from the initiative “Cologne against the right-wing” told RP that demonstrators would remain nonviolent.
“We are peaceful,” he said. “There will not be violence from us.”
More than 200 bars, clubs and eateries around Cologne have also signed up to participate in a campaign to dissuade AfD members from sampling the local Kölsch beer.
The demonstration is simple: bars are using beer coasters to make their opposition to the AfD clear, printed with the words: “No Kölsch for Nazis – No room for racism”.
“We want to counter those who endanger our societal unity with campaigns, demonstrations, information evenings, with noise, music and lots of humour,” the campaign website states.
The AfD started in 2013 as a eurosceptic party but has since grown in popularity using anti-immigrant rhetoric amid dissatisfaction with Germany’s open refugee policies. The fact that it won double-digit vote percentages in all five state parliament elections last year – including in the typically liberal Berlin – has opponents on edge given this year’s national election in September.
The party is currently polling at around 10 percent, which is a fall from its peak of 15 percent last year, but easily enough to make it past the 5 percent threshold to gain seats in the Bundestag (German parliament) for the first time.
The Cologne initiative against the party started by handing out 200,000 printed coasters to participating establishments.
“In our house rules it is clear that we do not tolerate racism and homophobia,” said participant Mankel Brinkmann, one of the operators of music venue Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld, to RP.
“Our bars and restaurants reflect all of society. No one would be excluded here.”
Supporters of the AfD, however, have called the effort a “hate campaign”, RP reports.