According to national authorities, around 250,000 people took to the streets across several cities in Germany, to denounce the AfD and right-wing extremists’ deportation goals.
Holding placards and banners condemning the far-right Alternative for Germany or AfD party, tens of thousands rallied across Germany, chanting slogans such as, “Never Again is Now,” “Against Hate” and “Defend Democracy.”
The large crowds were the latest in a series of demonstrations that have been gaining momentum in recent days.
Police said a Saturday afternoon protest in Frankfurt drew 35,000 people. Demonstrations in Stuttgart, Nuremberg and Hannover, among other cities, also drew large crowds.
A similar demonstration Friday in Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city, drew what police said was a crowd of 50,000 and had to be ended early because the mass of people led to safety concerns.
Additional protests planned for Sunday in other major German cities, including Berlin, Munich and Cologne, are also expected to draw tens of thousands of people.
Protests sparked by mass deportation talks
The catalyst for the protests was a report from the media outlet Correctiv last week on an alleged far-right meeting in November, which it said was attended by figures from the extremist Identitarian Movement and the AfD. A prominent member of the Identitarian Movement, Austrian citizen Martin Sellner, presented his “remigration” vision for deportations, the report said.
The AfD has sought to distance itself from the extremist meeting, saying it had no organizational or financial links to the event, that it wasn’t responsible for what was discussed there and that members who attended did so in a purely personal capacity. Still, one of the AfD’s co-leaders, Alice Weidel, has parted ways with an adviser who was there, while also decrying the reporting itself.
The widespread anger over the Correctiv report has prompted renewed calls for Germany to consider seeking a ban on the AfD. On Saturday, the Brandenburg chapter of Germany’s Greens voted at a party convention in favour of pursuing a potential ban to help prevent the rise of “a new fascist government in Germany.”
However, many of the AfD’s opponents have spoken out against the idea, arguing that the process would be lengthy, success is highly uncertain and it could benefit the party by allowing it to portray itself as a victim.
Elected officials from across the political spectrum, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz, expressed their support for the protests.
Growing concern over the popularity of the far-right in Germany
Although Germany has seen other protests against the far right in past years, the size and scope of protests being held this weekend — not just in major cities, but also in dozens of smaller cities across the country — are notable.
Saturday’s crowds were a sign that the protests seemed to be galvanising popular opposition to the AfD in a new way. What started as relatively small gatherings have grown into protests that, in many cases, are drawing far more participants than organizers expected.
The demonstrations also build on growing anxiety over the last year about the AfD’s rising support among the German electorate.
The AfD was founded as a eurosceptic party in 2013 and first entered the German Bundestag in 2017. Polling now puts it in second place nationally with around 23%, far above the 10.3% it won during the last federal election in 2021.
Last summer, candidates from the AfD won the party’s first-ever mayoral election and district council election, the first far-right party to do so since the Nazi era.