BERLIN — Thousands of people took to the streets of Berlin on Saturday, demanding an end to the government measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that they argue violate their constitutional rights.
But before the march reached its final destination in the Tiergarten, the police shut down the protest, saying that demonstrators were not following social distancing rules. That came an hour after the police decreed that protesters would have to wear masks.
Officials estimated that 18,000 people had turned out to demonstrate.
Although Germany has been celebrated for its ability to manage the pandemic, allowing schools to reopen and its economy to show signs of rebounding, many Germans who have found themselves out of work or furloughed are angry and afraid they would not survive a second lockdown.
“This is the second demonstration I’ve taken part in my lifetime,” said Thomas Dausend, 64, from southwestern Germany. “I’m here for my children and my grandchildren.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that she believes that the pandemic will get worse as colder weather drives everyone back indoors.
“We have all enjoyed the freedoms and relative protection from aerosols in the summer, which is possible through life outdoors,” Ms. Merkel said during her traditional summer news conference. “We must expect that some things will be even more difficult in the coming months.”
German health authorities registered 1,571 new infections in the past 24 hours on Friday, a slight dip from a recent high point last week, when more than 2,000 new cases were registered in a single day, according to a New York Times database.
The group that organized the protest, based in the southwestern city of Stuttgart, is angry over the economic damage caused by the monthslong lockdown in the spring and restrictions imposed on public life that have led the German economy to shrink by 9.7 percent and caused millions to lose their jobs or be furloughed.
For the AfD, the demonstration provided a chance to highlight criticism of Ms. Merkel’s government, which has enjoyed widespread success and made Germany the envy of many countries for its handling of the virus.
Berlin security authorities sought to ban the protest over fears that participants would violate laws intended to prevent the spread of the virus. But supporters of the demonstration assailed the ban as an attempt to stifle citizens’ freedom and a violation of their constitutional rights.
“The decision is a victory for freedom over the established parties’ antidemocratic, ideology-driven policy of prohibition and paternalism,” said Tino Chrupalla, a spokesman for the AfD, which is the largest opposition party in Parliament.
Earlier this month, the police broke up a similar protest after an estimated 20,000 demonstrators, defying orders that they wear masks and keep a distance of at least five feet from one another, marched along the same route demanding an end to the restrictions.
Berlin’s top security official, Andreas Geisel, cited behavior during the Aug. 1 demonstration in welcoming the initial decision to ban Saturday’s protest, a decision that was later overturned. Nevertheless, Mr. Geisel said he was “not prepared to accept that Berlin is abused a second time as a stage for corona deniers” and “right-wing extremists.”