Police criticised for inaction; arrests on second day of protests

Hundreds of protestors gathered at the Siegesäule for an unapproved demonstration while an approved protest at the Brandeburger Gate dissolved under rain.

Protest rained out.
Protest rained out.Eric Richard

Berlin-Police in Berlin Sunday had to break up several illegal demonstrations, making arrests and issuing summonses for refusing to comply with the country’s corona regulations, as criticism rained on the force for allowing protestors – some carrying right-wing flags – to gather on the stairs of the Reichstag Saturday.

A few thousand people gathered at the Siegessäule (Victory Column), the site of Saturday’s main protest speeches, for an unapproved demonstration Sunday morning, police said. The 200-strong force also prohibited protestors from setting up tents in the adjacent Tiergarten park.

Police also had to force organisers to dismantle the stage and video screens used for the speeches. When people milling about the area refused to leave, the police began arresting protestors and issuing the summonses.

Protestors that gathered again at the Siegessäule in the afternoon walked to an approved demonstration at the Brandenburg Gate, which dissolved as the afternoon rain began.

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More than 1,000 protestors lost their chance to protest at the Victory Column Sunday.  
More than 1,000 protestors lost their chance to protest at the Victory Column Sunday. Eric Richard

The Sunday actions follow a protest Saturday where a broad range of protestors marched briefly in Mitte and then listened to speeches against the government’s corona restrictions. The Saturday protests peaked when participants were able to dismantle fencing and run up the steps of the Reichtsag.

“We will never accept that,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) said Sunday. “My understanding ends when protestors unfurl their banners in front of the trucks of enemies of democracy and political agitators.”

He said police acted calmly despite the difficult situation.

Three officers kept the protestors from entering the building but criticism is building about a police plan that allowed access at all.

Arrests were made.
Arrests were made.Eric Richard

"We can't always be present everywhere, and it was precisely this gap that was used to cross the barrier here, to break through it, and then to get to the stairs in front of the Reichstag," Berlin police spokesman Thilo Cablitz said.

In addition to the Reichstag, about 2,000 protestors also gathered in front of the Russian embassy on Unter Den Linden Saturday, including a spectrum of "violence-prone and violence-seeking" hooligans and right wing activists, Cablitz said. The police here used teargas and made arrests after bottles were thrown and officers attacked.

Former Berlin police director Michael Knape said the protests were mostly calm but the police strategy was weak.

“A clear operational concept was difficult to see,” Knape told the Berliner Zeitung. It was this lack of a strategy that left the home of Germany’s parliament vulnerable, he said. The police appeared taxed and sometimes uncoordinated. They would clear streets only to see them fill up with protestors minutes later or they would block off a street and leave sidewalks free.

At the Russian embassy, the police would move their cordon back and forth. Knape also criticised the decision to halt a planned march through Mitte at Oranieburger Tor: "If you reduce the area, then the distancing regulations can automatically no longer be maintained.”