German activists rally to oppose vaccine skeptics

BERLIN (AP), -- StefanieHoener was home in Berlin one night when she heard sirens wailing in her Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood and anti-vaccine protesters shouting vehement slurs at them as they marched to the Gethsemane Church, a symbol for the peaceful 1989 revolution in East Germany which ended communism.

German activists rally to oppose vaccine skeptics

Hoener, who was standing with 200 other people -- many of them neighbors -- before the red brick church to defend it from anti-vaccine demonstrators glaring from the opposite side of the street, said that "that night these people really crossed the line."

Hoener said that if today, when everyone can express themselves freely and without fear, they would say that we live under a dictatorship. "I am happy that I was vaccinated for free and that the government provided financial assistance during the pandemic.

The actress, 55 years old, is just one of many Germans who are joining spontaneous protests and grassroots initiatives to voice out against conspiracy theorists, vaccination opponents and far-right extremists who have led protests against Germany’s COVID-19 measures.

The new counter-protesters in the country voted in support of the government's pandemic regulations and universal vaccine mandate. This will be the first German parliament debate on Wednesday.

Tens of thousands signed manifestos opposing illegal anti-vaccine demonstrations at cities like Leipzig, Bautzen, and Freiberg. Others have set up human chains in Oldenburg and Rottweil to resist far-right protesters. Several medical students held a silent protest outside a Dresden hospital to protest the rally of far-right vaccine skeptics.

The quiet majority of Germans who have obediently lowered their social contact, vaccinated themselves and looked after each other for nearly two years in order to protect themselves from COVID-19 seem fed up with the loud but small minority of coronavirus denier.

Some anti-vaccine protesters are not outright deniers. Others are afraid of side effects or are frustrated by the pushy attitude of Germany's health authorities. But far-right radicals have attempted to seize control of the protest movement to their own ends.

New counter-protesters believe that radical vaccine rejecters are getting too much media attention and influence over the public discussion about Germany's response to the pandemic.

This week, even the German president called on the country’s silent majority to defend democracy.

"Being the majority does not suffice. Politically, the majority must be recognizable. It cannot retreat. At Monday's panel in Berlin, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated that the silent center must be more visible, self-confident, and louder.

Stephan Thiel, theater director, stated that he initially hesitated to attend the rally in front Gethsemane Church Monday. He didn't want too many people and quickly spreading viruses. He felt that he was forced to voice his opinion, but he didn't hesitate.

"There are many intelligent people who have stayed at home due to the virus. It is also a little difficult to be here. He said that we must be there, but he was hiding behind an anti-virus mask. "We must show them that we are here, and not that they are the majority. I believe that there will be more people coming every day.

Thiel, 51 years old, was raised under communism. Thiel still recalls the 1989 weekly protests by millions of East Germans that brought down the communist regime. He stated that he was particularly offended by the fact that anti-vaccine protesters attempted to exploit the symbolism of the Gethsemane Church as a prominent meeting place for those opposed to the Communist regime.

"I don't like the way they try to use that past. He added that this is also why he came to the United States to take a stand.

Pro-vaccine activists are calling for action at a time when German society is likely to become more divided as the universal COVID-19 vaccination mandate is being discussed in parliament. This issue is divided across parties. The coalition government left it up to the lawmakers to make cross-party suggestions on whether a mandate should be established and how it should work.

At least 73.5% have been fully vaccinated so far in Germany, with 50.8% having received a booster shot.

Hoener has been a part of a neighborhood group that holds weekly vigils in front the church. There's no doubt that Germany should soon introduce a vaccine mandate.

She said, "Unfortunately, in Germany, there aren't enough people who would be vaccinated voluntarily. So I believe it should be mandatory." "We will never eliminate this pandemic," she said.

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