Thousands of people, packed close together and not wearing face masks, protested in Berlin on Saturday against official measures intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Police said they would file charges against the organizer of the gathering as demonstrators had not followed hygiene rules such as maintaining social distancing or wearing a mask covering nose and mouth.
Some 17,000 people took part in the demonstration at its peak, according to police.
The gathering was organized with the title “The end of the pandemic — day of freedom.” Some demonstrators chanted “the biggest conspiracy theory is the pandemic,” according to German media reports.
A Stuttgart-based organization called Querdenken 711 — which roughly translates as “thinking outside the box 711” — organized the rally.
The interior minister for the city of Berlin, Andreas Geisel, said on Friday that neo-Nazi organizations had also called for people to participate in the march. German media outlets noted that “Day of Freedom” was also the name of a Nazi propaganda film documenting the party’s 1935 party congress in Nuremberg.
One banner at the march called for politicians such as German Health Minister Jens Spahn, Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder, Chancellor Angela Merkel and leading Christian Drosten to be “locked away.”
Protesters also “aggressively asked” journalists to remove their masks by protestors, newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reported. A video by Querdenken 711 before the march said the group was peaceful and called on attendees to be polite to journalists.
Sawsan Chebli, a senior official in the Berlin city government, called the protest “a disaster.”
“I just came from abroad and see these pictures. Many look to Germany, and admire us for how we have dealt with corona. Such pictures are a disaster. They destroy everything. They endanger human lives and destroy livelihoods. They scare me,” she tweeted.