On 21st April, 8000 anti-lockdown demonstrators protested in Berlin's Tiergarten against proposed further lockdown restrictions which include a 10pm-8am curfew in Corona hotspots. The movement, known as 'Querdenken' has been prominent across Germany since last year, often escalating into violent clashes with police and counter protestors. B57C founder, Dom, gives a report on the day and what he believes is fuelling the movement.
It has been a year since I first attended an anti-lockdown demonstration in Berlin. There’s only one major thing that has changed since the first protest: the formation of the cultural movement ‘Querdenken’ or ‘Lateral thinking’. It has united what was initially a fractured, dichotomous scrabble of far-right and alternative lifestyle ideologies with little in common apart from distrust in the government. Yet, ‘Querdenken’ is more than just an ideology; it is an identity. There are shared chants, theme songs (MJ’s ‘They Don’t Care About Us’) and even mascots like the yellowed caped Captain Future. But more than anything else, ‘Querdenken’ is fun.
In stark contrast to the rest of the population, they are free to do what they like. In any other time, Wednesday's demonstration would have felt like a welcoming party. Thousands shed their masks and danced, drank and enjoyed the warm April sun. Creative banners, drummers and some genuinely humorous costumes added to the festive feeling, and for a brief moment I was transported back to pre-pandemic Berlin. But then I became conscious of the thick N95 mask sticking to my face and was swiftly sucked back into reality. As I lingered around a particularly vibey mini rave, complete with a man on stilts, I was envious of them. I wanted to take my sweaty N95 off, dance and relapse back into the good old days.
However, there was something dangling in front of my eyes that I couldn’t ignore. A giant cardboard ‘Q’ held by a young man wearing a MAGA hat; a reminder of the dangerous reality that many demonstrators had fallen in to. I’ve written about QAnon plenty last year, which has persisted like a stubborn weed in the post-Trump era. Many of them truly believe a narrative that they are oppressed, and embroiled in a Biblical fight of good vs. evil. Although not all 'Querdenken' protestors follow Q, they feed off related sources and follow a similar narrative.
Protestors accuse the police of being Nazis, fascists, and anti-German, whilst they, the oppressed, indignantly protect and uphold democracy. In fact, some are keen not to associate with the extreme right, but instead as ‘normal people’ fighting for their freedom. At one point, the procession weaved its way through the Tiergarten towards Brandenburg Gate, darting and changing course to confuse the police officers. Like the taunting of the police, the costumes and the singing, it felt like a game. Humour is such a key part of what makes ‘Querdenken’ attractive. Couple that with the freedom fighter narrative and it’s clear why this movement shows no sign of dissolving. It’s providing people with three things so lacking at
the moment: identity, purpose, but most importantly, fun.
The great irony is that the ‘Querdenken’ movement accepts genuine Nazis and far-right parties like the AfD, which have turned the protests into a political marketing campaign. The far-right have commandeered the ship for their own benefit, edging out any soft lockdown critics that might have remained. As such, outsiders and media often label ‘Querdenken’ far-right, which turns off most left-wing lockdown critics from joining, thus allowing more space for the right-wing to operate in. I’ve heard journalists have been threatened and past incidents show a strong and sometimes disputatious disdain towards journalists outside of the alt-right sphere. Although I didn’t face much harassment myself, there were a few comments thrown my way, presumably because I was wearing a mask.
The German Imperial Flag
However, it’s redundant to label all ‘Querdenken’ as fascists or Nazis. I think that the numerous LGBTQ+ flags and messages of love and peace are genuine in many cases, but there is an extremist undercurrent trapping the movement in a pernicious riptide that contrasts with the freedom loving ‘regular Joe’ image. It didn’t take long before clashes broke out, and many protestors were comfortable with the level of violence they encountered, happily throwing punches at police and lobbing bottles indiscriminately whilst wearing goggles to protect against pepper spray.
Sven Liebich, a known Neo-Nazi figure and Putin fan.
People have every right to be angry at the government, and I will always support the right to protest, but the involvement of the far-right undermines any pro-democracy argument ‘Querdenken’ puts forwards, as well as its supposed fun, light-heartedness. The AfD blatantly benefits from stirring up confrontation and anti-government sentiment. I can’t help but see the protestors as myopic, readily playing into the hands of despots who keenly point to the protests as a flaw in Western democracy. There’s a reason Kremlin funded media has covered the demonstrations extensively over the last year and found an audience amongst anti-lockdown supporters. In the end, these protests do more harm to democracy than good, and it just feels like an opportunity to pop shots at the government more than anything else. By the end I was left with the same question I had a year ago; if the government decided from the start to keep everything open, would these same people protest for a lockdown instead?
Former AfD member Heinrich Fiechtner