Berlin - Police on Wednesday used water cannon to break up a 10,000-strong demonstration protesting as federal politicians agreed changes to the Infection Protection Act that made many corona regulations law. Although no attacks against police were seen, officers sprayed water on demonstrators for several hours in what is the most aggressive action against a demonstration in years.
Several protestors were also able to enter the Reichstag building and acost parliamentarians, including economy minister Peter Altmaier.
"An order to disperse was given several times over loudspeakers. If the demonstrators don't obey the orders, coercive measures may be taken. At that point, the use of water cannon can no longer be ruled out," a police spokesperson said. Since few demonstrators followed the orders, police decided to turn on the water cannon.
Most of the protestors also refused to wear masks and social distance, police said.
"The water cannons create a shower or rain to make it uncomfortable for the demonstrators. No one is hit by a solid, direct beam," police said. Pepper spray had also been used sporadically because of isolated attacks on emergency personnel - a protestor reportedly tried to set a police vehicle on fire in Ebertstraße but witnesses contact nearby police, who extinguished the fire.
Some protestors came prepared and donned rain jackets but the efforts still pushed demonstrators away from the Reichstag in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate. Many of the main agitators left the demonstration and police halted use of the cannon, though it was unclear why - the five water vehicles may have simply run out of water.
A total of 10 demonstrations were registered with authorities but by evening just a fraction, or about 1,000, protestors remained at the Brandenburg Gate.
Demonstrators began arriving for the various demonstrations at 9am, leading police to close Straße des 17. Juni between Brandenburger Tor and the Siegessäule as well as Unter den Linden. Extreme rightwing groups and rightwing politicians were also part of the crowd.
Protesters who refused to wear masks were repeatedly arrested during the demonstration, including alleged Holocaust denier and self-appointed people's teacher Nikolai N. AfD parliamentarian Karsten Hilse was also arrested for not wearing a mask, according to an AfD Twitter account which showed a video of the purported arrest.
"We are expecting a difficult operation today. On the one hand, because we want to guarantee freedom of assembly and, on the other, because we have to enforce infection control," police spokeswoman Anja Dierschke told the Berliner Zeitung on Wednesday morning.
The interior ministry on Tuesday banned the originally planned location in front of the Reichstag. Officials feared the demonstrations could ultimately block access to the government building and keep parliamentarians from voting on the updates to the infection protection law.
Protestors in the run up to Wednesday's vote and demonstrations had called for just that on the internet.
Some 2,200 officers were on-duty on Wednesday and the demonstrations have permission to run until 10pm.