Vaccination opponents in bavaria : believing in nature among the treetops

They come with candles: In Bavaria, people from the middle class take to the streets. Many of them believe in esotericism and homeopathy.

Demo in the dark

Unannounced demonstration by anti-vaccination activists in Murnau, late December Photo: Alexander Poh/imago

BATH ToLN/MURNAU/WOLFRATSHAUSEN taz | A Monday in January, about seven in the evening. Around 700 people march along the slightly sloping market street of Bad Tolz, along the magnificent merchants’ houses decorated with Luftl paintings. They go in a circle, counterclockwise, up and down again. Many carry grave candles or lanterns in their hands, some have put strings of lights around themselves. They go without a mask, without distance. Lots of crochet hats and outdoor clothing can be seen, with some participants wearing striped knit cuffs over jeans. Down quilted jackets, loden coats and sturdy footwear, neo-traditional knit hoodies and hipster beards. The bourgeois middle with eco-touch.

He was here to protest "forced vaccination" and the "hooding of our children," says one man. Then he adds, "I know something about health, I’m a hiking guide and meditation teacher, and for years I’ve helped people strengthen their immune systems!"

One accessory almost all of these people wear on their faces: a superior-looking smile. It is for the counter-demonstrators who have gathered in the lower part of Marktstrabe.

A few months ago, most of the citizens of Upper Bavaria would have laughed if someone had predicted that whole crowds of people would soon be staging light processions in the province between Munich and Garmisch. But since the beginning of December, the demonstrations, called "silent walks," have spread through the Upper Country in a manner similar to the omicron variety. People protest in picturesque small towns like Murnau, Mittenwald, Wolfratshausen or Bad Tolz, with paper hearts and candles.

Seemingly peaceful, but still quite belligerent

But just how great the aggressiveness is among these opponents of vaccination becomes apparent as soon as they encounter opposition. A Tolz counter-demonstrator had created printed posters and postcards calling for vaccination. "I’ve been called names by ‘walkers,’" she says. "They told me I belonged to be shot and hanged."

In Wolfratshausen, 40 kilometers south of Munich, more than 900 "walkers" face about 450 registered counter-demonstrators in the main shopping street one evening. The latter belong to the newly founded "Wolfratshauser Menschenkette" (Wolfratshaus human chain), which promotes solidarity during the pandemic. Their participants have lined up on one side of the street. They wear masks and keep their distance from each other.

On the sidewalk across the street, the caravan of anti-vaccination protesters marches in silence. One of them breaks away, approaches the counter-demonstrators, films their line in a pointedly obvious manner, as if to gather evidence. "I found it threatening," says later a young woman who is one of the counter-demonstrators.

In Mittenwald, a "walker" dumps hot candle wax on the back of a photojournalist’s jacket. And in Murnau, a demonstrator asks a cameraman working for the Jewish Forum Berlin: "What business is it of the Jews what is going on here in Murnau??"

The wind drives snowflakes across the Blaue Land, the hilly foothills of the Alps near Murnau am Staffelsee, which once attracted the free spirits and artists of the Blaue Reiter. Joachim Loy sits in his office at the Murnau police station. Loy is First Chief Superintendent of Police and regularly leads operations at anti-vaccination demonstrations in the region.

"A lot of the people who go along with this have an anti-democracy attitude in them"

He has experience with extremist tendencies through his many years of work with the State Security Service. Loy does not regard the unregistered meetings of the anti-vaccination activists as harmless or apolitical – not only because he repeatedly recognizes representatives of the Reichsburger scene there. For him, the "strollers" are not simply helpless victims taken by surprise by the right wing. "Many of the so-called normal citizens who go along with it already carry an anti-democratic attitude, which we in the police call a security threat," says Loy.

"Showing up the state is part of the calculus of these "walk-ins," commissioner says. "According to the right of assembly, there must be an assembly leader at every rally, who ensures that conditions are met. But if no one has this role officially, the police must take this leadership role to ensure safety. Thus it succeeds to the inoculation opponents to harness the police also still for their project."

Demonstrators in Murnau

Also in Murnau vaccination opponents go with candles on the road photo: Alexander Poh/imago

The fact is: In Bavaria, the big Corona demonstrations in the cities turned out from the beginning to be an alliance of convenience between right-wing extremist groups and representatives of an alternative, esoteric spectrum. And also the "walkers" in the countryside have their string-pullers and cues from the right-wing camp. The neo-Nazi party Der Dritte Weg explicitly calls for the weekly demonstrations in Bad Tolz, Geretsried, Lenggries, Penzberg and Wolfratshausen. Their slogans like "German children are needed by the country", "No German blood for foreign interests" or "Stop the flood of asylum seekers" reveal which brainchild this party is.

Andreas Wagner from Geretsried, until recently a member of the Bundestag of the Left Party for the constituency of Bad Tolz-Wolfratshausen, had declared on Facebook, "There is something wrong with a demo when conspiracy ideologues and right-wing extremists call for it." Afterward, he found a sticker in his mailbox that read: Good Night, Left side", the graphic on it shows a gun muzzle pointed directly at the viewer. In addition, the politician received an unsolicited mail, which was sent to Andreas Jehuda Wagner was addressed.

An Eldorado for Esoterics

What kind of milieu is it that goes on the streets with right-wing extremists in the affluent south of Munich and denies having anything in common with them?? Matthias Pohlmann can provide information on this subject. The Weltanschauungsbeauftragte of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria has been observing the alliances between esoteric and right-wing open currents for more than 25 years. He says: "The foothills of the Alps are an El Dorado for esoteric providers, homeopathy and naturopathy fans." This can be seen, for example, in the regional advertising papers. "There you often find offers like energy work or Far Eastern inspired, body-oriented treatments" – therapy concepts that attract an audience that has money and time for such things. "This milieu sometimes rejects evidence-based medicine as part of science and generally tends to be dismissive of the state," says Pohlmann.

As a pastor, Pohl-mann has spent a lot of time dealing with the thought worlds of these people who have drifted into alternate realities: "Conspiracy believers often have a supposed super-knowledge that, from their point of view, is accessible only to enlightened people."With it these uberwisser, as Pohl man calls them, considered themselves as elite. "They position this claim of superiority over evidence-based science."

Typical for this is the spiritualization of disease. "In this scene, according to an esoteric understanding, suffering is considered to be self-inflicted, from which man is supposed to learn."The problem: woven into the idea of disease as a "test" is the idea of selection, that is, the selection of the weak from the strong. "This is nothing other than social Darwinism, and it forms the bridgehead over into right-wing thought," says Pohlmann.

Medical historian Malte Thieben from Munster is familiar with the pronounced vaccination skepticism in southern Germany. He sees two reasons for this. "On the one hand, there is a tradition of self-determination in the Alpine region, which is defined by the rejection of the state," explains the historian on the phone. "A state-organized vaccination is understood as an intrusion of the state into one’s own living space and one’s own body as the battlefield on which one pushes back the influence of the state."

Secondly, suburbanization from the 1960s onward ensured that middle-class self-optimization concepts and often anthroposophically influenced ideas migrated from the city to the countryside. "This has imported a second wave of vaccination skepticism into rural regions."Both schools of thought, however, include a retreat into one’s own ego, i.e. egocentrism.

A ban is more than difficult

Last week, the Wolfratshausen group of vaccination advocates appealed to the district administrator to stop the "walks" by general order, in order to strengthen the back of civil society engagement. Indeed, it is difficult for local authorities to impose legally unassailable general injunctions against assemblies. As long as there are no violations of the law during these gatherings, as happened in Munich, the Bavarian courts rule in favor of freedom of assembly.

Thus it is called then also in the recent press release of the district administration Bad Tolz Wolfratshausen that "in principle the missing announcement of a meeting does not represent a reason for dissolution and this is protected by the fundamental right of the freedom of assembly". The principle of proportionality is the guiding principle of official action and the primary goal is to act in a de-escalating manner.

The former member of the Bundestag Andreas Wagner thinks that the policy is in a dilemma. "Politicians and police want to avoid confrontation so that, if possible, there are no images of police violence against assembly participants. But this is exactly the kind of image the extreme right wants to provoke – even in the countryside."

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