BERLIN — After far-right protesters demonstrating against coronavirus restrictions attempted to storm the Reichstag, the parliament building in Berlin, politicians across the political spectrum condemned the escalation of tensions.
“It is unacceptable,” said Olaf Scholz, Germany’s vice chancellor. Saturday’s protests drew an estimated 38,000 people, including 3,000 far-right extremists or sympathizers, according to officials in Berlin.
The protesters did not gain access to the parliamentary building but were able to climb the stairs of the main entrance before police cleared the area. Several protesters waved flags with far-right symbols.
Officers arrested hundreds of protesters following violent incidents during multiple parallel rallies, which also drew vaccine opponents and other activists.
At a separate rally in the town of Bergisch Gladbach, protesters jeered Health Minister Jens Spahn on Saturday.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier on Monday described the incident, which he said include spitting, as an infringement on “the German constitution,” adding that the protesters had made “an outsider of themselves.”
The protests were not representative of the majority of Germans — 88 percent approve of their country’s handling of the pandemic, according to a recent Pew poll. But Saturday’s clashes highlighted a small minority that is vocally and at times violently opposing what they see as excessive health measures.
Germany has recorded one of the lowest per capita case tallies and death tolls of a major European nation, with 9,303 deaths and about 243,000 confirmed cases. It acted quickly as the virus spread — mandating masks on public transport and shutting schools — but its lockdown measures were still less restrictive than those imposed in many other European nations.
German leaders have defended the restrictions as painful but necessary. Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier this year that “the restriction of civil liberties” by her government was one of her most difficult decisions since she took office.
Germany’s far right has sought to reframe her moves as driven by sinister motives. Many German far-right activists and conspiracy theorists deny that the coronavirus exists or think that it has been exaggerated. During rallies on Saturday, some of those protesters appealed for help from President Trump, whom they believe to be on their side.