BERLIN (AP) — Around 65,000 revelers marched for LGBTQ rights at Berlin’s annual Christopher Street Day celebration on Saturday, more than three times as many as expected.

It was the biggest demonstration in Berlin since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The parade started with a call from Klaus Lederer, Berlin’s senator for culture, to make the city a “queer-freedom zone” in response to deteriorating safety for gays and lesbians in Hungary and neighboring Poland.

“LGBT-free zones” have been declared in parts of Poland, while Hungary recently passed a law banning the depiction of homosexuality or gender reassignment to minors that has been denounced as discriminatory by human rights groups.

Lederer said the situation in the two EU members “sends shivers down my back.”

The senator also noted that the pandemic had been particularly hard for some gays and lesbians at home as shelters were closed. He said “there is still much work to be done.”


Police spokesman Martin Dams initially told The Associated Press that an estimated 35,000 people were taking part in the parade, but this figure was revised upwards later Saturday. Organizers put the figure at 80,000.

They had been expecting around 20,000 people amid social distancing rules and a ban on alcohol to combat the risk of new coronavirus infections.

There was no parade last year due to the pandemic so many people took advantage of the warm sunny weather and relatively low rate of infections to take part in the last major gathering for Berlin’s Pride month.

Nearby, the United States embassy flew a rainbow flag under the American flag.

The parade was led by five trucks that were spaced apart to give demonstrators more room as they danced their way to techno beats past the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate. Organizers made repeated calls for revelers to put masks on and keep their distance – though it wasn’t always possible due to the sheer number of people.

The celebrations were preceded by an apparent homophobic attack on a male couple in a Berlin subway late Friday. Police said the men were sitting in a train when they were approached by a stranger who insulted them and then punched one of the men several times. Other passengers intervened and he was apprehended after fleeing briefly.

Also Friday, Bishop Christian Stäblein asked during a service at Berlin’s Marienkirche for forgiveness from the LGBTQ community for the suffering caused to them by the evangelical church.