Thousands of protesters rallied across four big German cities – Berlin, Cologne, Stuttgart and Dresden – on Monday to denounce a recent series of demonstrations by the nationalist PEGIDA group directed against immigration and the “Islamization of the West.” The counter protest movement that drew a crowd of as many as 10,000 in the capital city was aimed at sending a message to the wider world that the Germans endorse tolerance while urging the latter to reject the right-wing nationalist ideology of PEGIDA, which means ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West’. Ignoring appeals from Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German leaders, the rallies organized by PEGIDA group drew 18,000 people in the eastern city of Dresden, up from the around 17,000 that joined its last march in the city just before Christmas.
As the provost of Cologne’s famous cathedral, Norbert Feldhoff, told the Associated Press, “You’re taking part in an action that, from its roots and also from speeches, one can see is Nazi-ist, racist and extremist.” An anti-Islamisation march in Cologne was called off because of a strong local opposition because, as the city’s mayor, Juergen Roters, stressed, “there is really a democratic sign being sent” when many of its residents voiced their opposition against the anti-immigration demonstrations. As another symbolic, yet really powerful gesture, highlighting the widespread opposition against PEGIDA’s anti-immigration and anti-Islam agenda, Cologne’s landmark gothic cathedral dimmed its outdoor lights and Berlin turned off the lights at the Brandenburg Gate. Following the similar protest act carried out by Dresden’s Semper Opera House last month, Cologne’s city hall and other public and historic buildings also switched off the outdoor lights, plunging the old town into darkness.