“Greta is cool, she is inspiring,” 16-year-old Maxima from Brandenburg said moments after the Swedish teen activist urged the crowd of more than 20,000 people in Berlin to keep up the fight against climate change.
Maxima was one of many young people who had chosen to skip school to attend the Fridays for Future rally. In total more than 300,000 young people went on strike from school across 230 cities in Germany, the Fridays for Future group said.
Carrying creative signs with slogans like: ‘There is no Planet B’, ‘The planet is getting hotter than young Leonardo DiCaprio’ and a Harry Potter-themed ‘Even Voldemort knows this is wrong’, young people marched through the German capital.
With loud music and chants, there was a party atmosphere in the air. But it was more than that: there was a serious message behind it.
The crowd became silent as anticipation for Thunberg’s appearance grew. As soon as the activist was introduced, those who had sat down cross-legged sprung up and phones went into the air to record the moment.
Although only the people who had made it to the front of the crowd could see Thunberg, her message was clear: “Today we are at least 25,000,” she said. “Thank you so much for coming. The older generations have failed tackling the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.
The demonstration on Friday. Photo: DPA
“When we say to them we are worried, they just pat on our heads and say everything will be fine, don’t worry.
“But we should worry, we should panic. And by panic I don’t mean running around screaming. By panic I mean stepping out of our comfort zones because when you are in a crisis, you change your behaviour.
“I once again want to thank all 25,000 of you for being here today. We have gathered here today; we share a common will, we want a future. Is that too much to ask for?
“But we still haven’t seen anything yet. This is only the beginning of the beginning. Trust me.”
With that the crowd erupted.
'Politicians aren't doing anything'
Earlier in the day, the march had gathered at a city centre park. “We are the generation that can do it,” said Luisa Neubauer of Fridays for Future Berlin as she rallied the crowd.
Three Berlin students Luisa, Emma and Dilara were part of the march that ended at Brandenburg Gate at around 1pm.
Emma, 14, said: “We are here because the politicians say they are doing something but they are not doing anything.”
At their school teachers allow them to be absent for the demonstrations, they explained.
“All of our teachers are very understanding,” said Luisa. “You have to bring an excuse and they sign the certificate for you.”
The students said it’s mainly older children who join the demo but they also spotted a teacher from their school attending the event with kindergarten pupils.
Emma, 14, from a different Berlin school was with her friends Alex, 15, and Justus, 14. She was there because “it’s our future” and “we have to live with the consequences”.
Emma, Alex and Justus at the event on Friday. Photo: Rachel Loxton
The teenager said “it is a problem” that so many students miss out on lessons. “But we don’t have a choice, the politicians are not listening.”
However, Emma said she understood if students wanted to stay in classes and not demonstrate on Fridays. “It’s up to each individual student to decide,” she said.
Since December, teenagers across Germany inspired by Thunberg's climate fight have been marching weekly instead of sitting in classes.
Earlier in March, Thunberg joined over 4,000 students in Hamburg as they gathered in front of the city's town hall on a cold and cloudy day.
Emma said: “Greta is very inspiring, she’s doing something, she’s being heard.”
However, Emma said she understood if students wanted to stay in classes and not march.
“It’s up to each individual student to decide,” she said. “We hope it makes a difference.”
It wasn’t just young people at the event. As The Local reported, in Germany there is also a growing “Oldies for Future” movement in which pensioners join their much-younger counterparts every Friday.
There were people from other age groups and backgrounds too. Brianne Curran, 35, from Australia, described the young people’s power as “awesome”. “It’s so cool because they’re not following what they’re told they have to do at that age,” she said.
“They’re going against the system. They’re saying: 'We’re small and it doesn’t matter'.”
Carrying a sign that said ‘Water is life’, Curran said she also drew parallels with a demonstration in her home country which aims to raise awareness of what colonizing has done to the land and aboriginal people in Australia.
Meanwhile, music at the demo continued with one band changing the lyrics of Queen’s 'We Will Rock You' to “we want, we want change now”.
'If you're too young to vote ask your parents'
A series of speakers from different countries took turns to urge the crowd to be politically active and call for change.
One speaker from France said: “If you’re too young to vote (in the European Parliament elections), ask your parents and grandparents to vote.”
Some of the signs at Friday's march. Photo: DPA
Another speaker pleaded: “We are going to keep on striking until they (politicians) are listening.”
And her message to politicians? “Listen to the scientists. We are asking you to stand on the right side of history.”
As older people with zimmer frames listened to the speeches, babies were being carried by their parents and nursery children were running around.
A poster that read: ‘Oma, was ist ein Eisbär? (Grandma, what’s a polar bear?)’ popped up from the swarm of people.
Angelina, 30, said there was a great atmosphere. “It’s just amazing with the kids here doing this. I go to a lot of climate change demonstrations but I’ve never seen energy like this at one before.
“It’s very impressive.”
'We want to keep this world'
After Thunberg's speech the organizers thanked the crowd for coming and said they'd see them next week.
Maxima and her friends Julia, 14, and Niklas, 15, said they would continue to strike on Fridays, even though at their school they have to take a day off and are not encouraged to do it.
It's caused controversy in Germany with politicians, such as Economy Minister Peter Altmaier urging students not to skip school.
Niklas (l), Maxima (second left) and Julia, with their friends at Friday's demo. Photo: Rachel Loxton
“We live in this world and we want to keep this world,” said Maxima.
“We think it's very important for children to come to these demonstrations,” added Julia.
Both agree that they are inspired by the work of Greta Thunberg. “She is brave and I am impressed,” said Julia.
Maxima added: “Greta makes a difference.”