Stefanie Hoener was at home in Berlin one night when she heard police sirens wailing through her Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood and anti-vaccine protesters shouting angry slurs as they marched down to the Gethsemane Church, a symbol of East Germany’s peaceful 1989 revolution that ended communist dictatorship.
“Those folks definitely crossed a line that night,” Hoener said Monday as she stood in front of the red brick church with 200 others, many of whom were neighbors, to protect it from anti-vaccine protestors on the opposite side of the street.
“If today, when everyone is free to express themselves without fear of retaliation, they stand here and declare we live in a dictatorship,” Hoener told The Associated Press, “I can no longer take it.” “I, for one, am grateful to have gotten free vaccinations and financial assistance from the government during the epidemic.”
The 55-year-old actress is one of an increasing number of Germans who have joined grassroots movements and spontaneous rallies to speak out against anti-vaccine activists, conspiracy theorists, and far-right extremists who have spearheaded protests against Germany’s COVID-19 regulations.
New counter-protesters have emerged around the nation in support of the government’s pandemic limits and a universal vaccine mandate, which will be considered for the first time in German parliament on Wednesday.
Manifestos opposing unlawful anti-vaccine demonstrations have been signed by tens of thousands in places including as Leipzig, Bautzen, and Freiberg. Others have created human chains to push back far-right protestors in Oldenburg and Rottweil, and hundreds of medical students recently conducted a silent vigil outside a Dresden hospital to oppose a rally of far-right vaccine doubters.
The silent majority in Germany, who have faithfully limited their social connections, gotten vaccinated, and kept an eye on each other for over two years to protect themselves and the most vulnerable from COVID-19, appears to be fed up with the small but vocal minority of coronavirus skeptics.
Anti-vaccination demonstrators in Germany are not all open skeptics of the epidemic; others are merely concerned about vaccine side effects or believe that the country’s health officials have been overly aggressive. Far-right radicals, on the other hand, have attempted to hijack the protest movement for their own goals.
The new counter-protesters believe that the extreme vaccination refusers have gotten too much media exposure and have too much sway over the public debate in Germany about how to tackle the epidemic.
This week, even Germany’s president urged the country’s quiet majority to speak up and defend the country’s democracy.
“Majority status isn’t enough. The majority must establish a political identity. It can’t back down. At a panel in Berlin on Monday, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated, “The quiet center must become more visible, more self-assured, and also louder.”
Stephan Thiel, a theater director, said he was afraid to attend Monday’s gathering in front of Gethsemane Church because he didn’t want to mix with too many people because of the rapidly spreading illness. At the same time, he felt compelled to voice his viewpoint.
“Because of the virus, a lot of reasonable people are staying at home.” Being here is also troublesome for me. However, we must be present,” he remarked, speaking under a black anti-virus mask. “We need to demonstrate that we are here and that they do not represent the majority.” And I’m hoping that as time goes on, more and more people will show up.”
Thiel, 51, grew up in a communist country. He recalls how weekly rallies by millions of East Germans brought down the dictatorship in 1989. He was particularly angered by anti-vaccine demonstrators’ attempt to capitalize on the Gethsemane Church’s significance as a well-known meeting site for opponents of the Communist rule, he added.
“I don’t like how they attempt to manipulate history in this way.” That’s also why I’ve come here to make a statement,” he continued.
The pro-vaccine campaigners’ appeal to action comes at a time when Germany’s society may become even more fragmented as parliament debates a universal COVID-19 vaccination mandate. Those divisions cut across party lines on that subject. The coalition government has delegated the task of drafting cross-party suggestions on whether a mandate should exist and how it should be structured to MPs.
At least 73.5 percent of Germany’s 83 million citizens have already been properly vaccinated, with 50.8 percent receiving a booster dose.
For Hoener, who has joined a local effort that holds weekly vigils in front of the church, a vaccination requirement should be implemented as soon as possible.
“Unfortunately, there are not many individuals in Germany who would be vaccinated freely,” she stated, “therefore I believe it should be made necessary.” “Otherwise, we’ll never be able to eradicate this pandemic.”