Anyone wandering around Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on Saturday would have thought the long-abolished Love Parade—Germany’s annual techno-rave that began in the late 1980s—was back from the dead.
But instead of celebrating wildly in the afternoon sunshine, some 20,000 people streamed past the 18th century landmark to protest against curbs on their behavior, designed to ward off the coronavirus. This was billed as a “Day of Freedom,” with the demonstrators chanting: “We are the second wave!”
Given that nobody appeared to be wearing a mask or keeping a safe distance from each other, that may unfortunately prove to be all too prophetic. (To be fair, it’s been illegal here for protesters to cover their faces since 1985, though that has more to do with concealing one’s identity while making mischief.)
The event was in every sense one of the biggest demonstrations in Europe of the “prevention paradox.” It’s based on the idea that government intervention, be it through mandatory masks, social distancing or other preventive measures, can achieve health benefits for whole populations, while appearing to offer only minor advantages to each individual. People who remain healthy but may have lost their job or business to the lockdown are prone to feel the measures have been overdone.
Such discord is a small price, but Germany is paying it for keeping deaths and infections below those of several other European countries. The fact that Saturday’s event attracted people from across the country—you could tell by their personalized banners—shows that it’s not just Berliners who are aggrieved by a government that, in most people’s eyes, has done a relatively good job.
Needless to say, neither Mayor Michael Mueller nor members of Angela Merkel’s cabinet were impressed by this show of defiance. “Yes, it should still be possible to demonstrate during a pandemic,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a tweet. “But not like this.”
Maybe Spahn and his colleagues should take protests like this as a backhanded compliment. It suggests that at least for those who have the health and energy to protest, policies to control the virus are having the desired effect. Even if some don’t appreciate it.—Andrew Blackman