Germany’s health minister was jeered, spat at and targeted by homophobic abuse as the countrywide protests of a vocal minority of people against coronavirus restrictions has taken on an increasingly aggressive tone.
The Conservative politician Jens Spahn, a key figure in Germany’s handling of the pandemic, on Saturday tried to confront a crowd of protesters outside an event ahead of local elections in North-Rhine Westphalia.
A video of the encounter in Bergisch Gladbach shows Spahn, who is gay, taking off his mask to speak to demonstrators only to be drowned out by audible shouts of “shame”, “go away”, and “gay pig”.
A campaign event in Münster scheduled for Monday night was moved to an indoor venue at short notice.
Speaking at an event on Monday afternoon in Bottrop, where local media reported a similarly hostile atmosphere, the minister criticised those who “stay inside their Facebook and WhatsApp world, get ever more aggressive and no longer seek contact to those with a different opinion”.
Spahn, whose popularity ratings in Germany have risen as he has become a hate-figure among coronavirus deniers and lockdown sceptics, indicated his government would seek to avoid a second lockdown in spite of rising infection numbers.
“With the knowledge we have today, I can tell you we won’t need to close hairdressers and shops again”, the CDU politician said. “That won’t happen again. We won’t need working bans in care homes again.”
The febrile atmosphere at a protest against coronavirus rules in Berlin over the weekend, attended by a politically heterodox mix of rightwing extremists and anti-vaxxers, has troubled politicians across the political spectrum.
On Saturday evening, protesters rushed the steps of the Reichstag building, reportedly after being egged on by rumours that the US president, Donald Trump, had flown into the German capital to support their demonstration.
Several polls show that the approximately 30,000 people who attended the protest represent a minority opinion among the German public.