Over 10,000 protesters take to Berlin streets as Germany marks May 1st

Thousands of people descended on the streets of Berlin and other cities across Germany on Saturday for Labour Day demonstrations, with more than 20 protests in the capital alone.

Over 10,000 protesters take to Berlin streets as Germany marks May 1st
The word 'solidarity' in capitals can be seen in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin where the DGB trade union confederation held an event on May Day. picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Paul Zinken

Amid fears that the May 1st demonstrations planned by left- and right-wing groups could turn violent, 5,600 police officers from nine federal states were deployed to the capital. 

Over 20 rallies were scheduled to be held over issues ranging from rising rents to Germany’s immigration policy and opposition to coronavirus curbs.

Police officers of an Arrest unit (BFE), brought to Berlin for the day from the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, take up a strategic position in front of the “Search and Destroy” skateboard shop at Heinrich-Platz, a flare-up point during Mayday riots in previous years, ahead of the so-called “Revolutionary May Day” protests in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district on May 1, 2021. (Photo by David GANNON / AFP)

The DGB trade union confederation held its traditional rally at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on Saturday morning, marking the start of several May Day events and demonstrations.

The event was much smaller than in previous years due to the pandemic.

The anti-capitalist ‘MyGruni” demonstration in another part of the city took the form of a bicycle convoy through the Grunewald area and attracted around 10,000 participants, four times the number expected, Berlin news site RBB reported.

Despite the higher-than-expected turnout, a police spokeswoman said the event was trouble-free, according to RBB.

Police were under greater pressure this year as protests against the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, many from the far-right, were also scheduled to take place alongside the usual left-wing rallies.

Protesters take to the streets of Stuttgart for a DBG trade union confederation demonstration on Labour Day. (picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt)

However, a demonstration held by critics of Covid-19 measures — the so-called ‘Querdenker’ group — was also quieter than anticipated with around 350 participants compared with the 1,000 expected.

READ ALSO: Germany’s spy agency to monitor ‘Querdenker’ Covid sceptics

Police said the protest was peaceful overall and German daily Bild reported that no “clearly recognisable” far-right extremists were present. 

One protester was reported to have held a banner which read: “This is not a platform for AfD, Pegida, Nazis”.

However, not everyone was wearing face coverings, which are required. At the start of the demonstration, police took more than a dozen unmasked protesters aside to take down their details and issue administrative offence notices.

Police can be seen removing protesters in the below screenshot, one of several clips posted on Twitter.

A few metres away, around a hundred people took part in an opposing event against the Covid-19 critics, but the police quickly put themselves in between the two groups, the Berliner Morgenpost reported.

In the middle of the afternoon, the Berlin police said in a tweet that demonstrations had so far been mostly trouble-free. They said they had issued 59 notices, mainly for Covid-19 breaches.

However, there were still concerns that some of the evening’s protests, including the left and far-left groups’ traditional ‘Revolutionary May 1st Protest’, could turn violent, especially later in the evening, as they have in the past.

Authorities were expecting up to 10,000 protesters at the left-wing Revolutionary May Day march, which was scheduled to start at 6pm.

Unlike last year’s May Day when the number of people who were allowed to gather was restricted, the number of participants is not limited this year. However, people are still required to comply with social distancing and face covering rules.

Berlin Police Chief Barbara Slowik has said that her officers would “act consistently” and that any breaches of Coronavirus regulations would result in demonstrations being quickly broken up, RBB reported earlier

Police officers would even use water cannons if necessary, she said.

State prosecutors were also on standby to sign arrest warrants if required, according to a spokeswoman from the prosecution service, Bild reported.

Elsewhere in Germany, there were clashes at an anti-fascist demonstration in Munich organised by the Revolutionary May 1st initiative, with police having to use pepper spray to break up demonstrators.

This was the second day of violence in the southern city after an anti-fascist protest on Friday also had to be dispersed.

According to Bild, participants didn’t observe social distancing and pushed against the police, prompting officers to use pepper spray.

Meanwhile, in Leipzig, three demonstrations were banned due to pandemic restriction measures, including a rally by the small right-wing Third Path party. A total of twelve demonstrations and bicycle convoys were registered.

A bike with a flag that says “Nazis out!’ at a left-wing bike protest at the Monument to the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig on May 1st. (picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas)

Third Path demonstrations were also banned in the eastern cities of Zwickau and Plauen.

READ ALSO: Why is May 1st a holiday in Germany?

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.