Fears of serious violence at Berlin May Day protests prove unfounded

Fears that this year’s May Day protests could see a return of violent street protests in the German capital proved unfounded as police were able to report a minimum of disruption at a left-wing demo.

Fears of serious violence at Berlin May Day protests prove unfounded
Protesters hold pyrotechnics on a balcony in Friedrichshain. Photo: DPA

Berlin police reported on Thursday morning that demonstrations against gentrification and rising house prices that took place in the east of the city passed without escalating out of control.

But some 30 officers were injured as protesters threw bottles from inside the crowd and close to one hundred arrests were made. Police chief Barbara Slowik said that while the incidents of violence were serious they were nothing that the police could not handle.

“Our strategy worked in its entirety. For the most part we have witnessed peaceful demonstrations,” Slowik said.

Authorities had been braced for an uptick in violence after left-wing groups announced plans to hold the demonstration in Friedrichshain, a neighbourhood the symbolizes the rampant pace of change in Berlin’s housing market.

SEE ALSO: Berlin fears resurgent May Day violence as protest moves east

The decision to move the demo was also motivated by a desire to separate it from the music festival that has been held in recent years in Kreuzberg, where violent clashes between protesters and police regularly erupted in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the days preceding the protest posters were plastered into walls around Berlin’s leftwing neighbourhoods calling on locals to emulate France’s gilets jaunes protesters and use violence against the police.

But the left wing demonstration remained calm until the early hours of the evening when some people started to throw glass bottles at the police officers guarding its perimeter. Berlin had brought in thousands of officers from across the country to help control the streets in the event of an escalation of the violence.

Complaints of 'massive police violence'

In other cities May Day protests also passed without serious incident. Hamburg, another centre of the radical left scene, witnessed a small march the passed peacefully.

In Duisburg in North-Rhine Westphalia, extreme-right movements called a protest on the traditional day of the workers,calling among other things for the release from jail for a well-known Holocaust denier.

Left-wing movements organized several counter-demonstrations. At one of the marches, police reported that they had to quell violence as 200 left-wing demonstrators tried to break through the police barricade. The demonstration organizers complained on social media of “massive police violence.”

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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.