Germany has had some of the weakest lockdowns in Europe since the beginning of the pandemic, yet some of the loudest anti-restriction protests.
In late November, people gathered in the tens of thousands to protest new Covid-19 restrictions like enforced social distancing, mandatory masks, and the closing of non-essential stores. Alongside the massive demonstrations were targeted attacks. One poorly made explosive detonated near the building for an association of scientific institutes. A note ordering the restrictions come to an end laid near the building. Protestors threw other crudely made molotov cocktails at the Robert Koch Institute, the agency in charge of curbing the spread of Covid-19.
The people who attend these rallies are diverse. Some follow far-left ideologies, others align with the far-right Alternative for Germany party. They carry rainbow flags and balloons shaped like hearts, or don themselves in all black clothes and masks. Far-right flags also fly high, like that of the German Reich pre-1918.
During a protest at Berlin’s BrandenBurg Gate, police resorted to spraying water cannons at stubborn protesters. They protected themselves in riot gear as they charged through thousands of people to push them away from the landmark.
Now, as cases continue to rise, Germany is considering new measures. These measures are moderate compared to other countries. As of now, no more than five people can gather privately, except during Christmas, when that number rises to 10, not including children. Schools and stores are open nationwide, while bars and restaurants are temporarily closed.
In one federal state, Baden-Württemberg, there is now a curfew for non-essential travel between 20:00 and 05:00. The curfew is set to expire in four weeks. The state is discussing other measures, like limiting shopping and closing all non-essential stores, right before Christmas.
As the government debates new restrictions, renewed or stronger protests seem inevitable. A common thread that holds the protestors together is the belief that Covid-19 is a hoax. Some protestors are moms who are wary of a rushed vaccine. Others have ties to extremist groups and radical conspiracy theories like QAnon.
No matter what, those who attend these rallies or concoct the molotov cocktails share a belief that threatens public safety: they gather, maskless and pressed tightly together, to protest restrictions that save lives.
If the measures in Germany have thus far been arguably meager, and the reaction was still so intense, what will happen if states enact new, stronger ones?
Cases in Germany are climbing, and new restrictions seem necessary. But, the threat of more restrictions may seem especially draconian and unconstitutional in the eyes of an opposition so loud and so willing to cause harm.
Hopefully, Germany will be able to stop the spread of the virus without inciting more protests. Considering the way Covid-19 has provoked a bitter refusal of science both in Germany and around the world, though, the protests will probably continue until all life can return to normal.