When Tamara Kirschbaum awoke in Berlin on August 29, she had no idea she’d be at the center of Germany’s biggest story in ages by the day’s end. The day before, she had traveled the length of the country — along with her partner, Gunar, and her eldest daughter — to join thousands of other protesters in demonstrating against the government’s COVID-19 mitigation measures. The gathering would end up being one of the biggest COVID-skeptic rallies in the world.
At times on that warm, late summer day, the center of Berlin looked much like a Sixties counterculture music festival. There were longhairs playing acoustic guitars and walking barefoot; large groups sitting cross-legged, meditating; a kaleidoscope of tye-dye shirts and flowers in people’s hair. The protests also attracted school teachers, pensioners, and entire families. Robert Kennedy Jr., an outspoken anti-vaccination advocate and the nephew of President Kennedy, delivered a speech at the event.
Until then, the traditional media had characterized Querdenken as a haven for extremists and borderline fascists. Members of the far-right were indeed present — noticeable by their buzzcuts, combat boots, and old imperial flags. But the striking diversity of the August 29 crowds was hard to deny. Local journalists familiar with protests by AfD and the racist, anti-migrant group Pegida said this was a completely novel phenomenon.
As the day progressed, the Woodstock-style vibes took a dark turn. Late in the afternoon, Kirschbaum, her long blonde dreadlocks trailing behind her, started to march around the crowds near the Brandenburg Gate, yelling into a megaphone. Wearing black sunglasses and dressed in all-black, she called people over to the Reichstag, the historic seat of the German parliament, where a side protest away from the main Querdenken stage was taking place.
With a few new recruits in tow, Kirschbaum headed to the Reichstag. Then, she alleges, a man she identifies as Marcel told her that President Donald Trump was in Berlin, and fellow protesters urged her to go on stage and deliver the news to the crowd. Many German conspiracy theorists and QAnon fans believed that the former U.S. president was one of the few people who could save the country from a totalitarian takeover.
Traditional media had characterized Querdenken as a haven for extremists and borderline fascists. But the diversity of August 29’s crowds was hard to deny.
Around 7 p.m., Kirschbaum finally took the stage, announcing to onlookers that Trump was in Berlin. The crowd roared its approval. Kirschbaum, jumping up and down, then told them to head up to the Reichstag looming behind her, to show Trump that Germany was ready to be set free. As many as 400 protesters easily overran mobile barriers and charged up the steps leading into the Reichstag. There, they jubilantly waved Reichsbürger flags, Q banners, “Corona Rebellen” placards, and the odd Russian tricolor. Kirschbaum says there were flags from many other countries, too, but claims the press edited them out of their photos.
In her original telling, there was no pre-existing plan to storm the Reichstag; after hearing that Trump was in Berlin, she was merely swept away in the excitement of the moment and ended up on stage. She also said the demonstrators were peaceful and did not try to enter the parliament. After a few minutes of protesting at the doors, police cleared them away by deploying pepper spray.
Kirschbaum says she saw children being sprayed in the face with gas. “I have never heard crying like that in my life,” she recalls. “Horrible, horrible, horrible.” Footage of the incident shows protesters hurling objects and abuse at police, who afterward reported that they were struck by bottles and stones.