Russia invaded Ukraine on the 24th of February, which led to worldwide protests. One of the many protests took place in Berlin, organized by the German non-governmental organization Campact. It organized multiple protests following the invasion, but the one on the 27th of February struck out because of the high number of participants. According to Campact, more than 500.000 people took part in the demonstration that day in Berlin. The police of Berlin spoke of “a low six-figure number”. After a closer analysis, the number of participants seems to be exaggerated. The claim by Campact turns out to be false.
The first news item regarding the protest appeared the day of the invasion, the 24th of February. Campact posted a press release announcing a rally on Sunday the 27th of February at 1 pm on Straße des 17. Juni. Campact demanded the Russian government to restart negotiations and wanted to urge European leaders to take action against the invasion.
Campact is a non-governmental organization in Germany with almost 700.000 followers on Facebook. According to their own website, over 2.2 million people subscribe to the newsletter. The main goal of the organization is to create political pressure through mass mobilization such as protests. However, it was not only Campact organizing the rally. It was also supported by other (smaller) organizations such as the Peace Cooperative Network and Pax Christi.
According to the official website of the Capital Region Berlin, 20.000 participants were expected. On the Facebook event created by Campact only 4.000 people were said to be attending. However, not everyone is on Facebook or registers their participation through Facebook.
Campact mentioned on Twitter, its official website and on Instagram that 500.000 people participated. They released this number whilst the protest was still going on. EUFactcheck.eu contacted Campact to get more clarity on their claim, but received no response.
Police of Berlin
The police released a statement through the official website of Berlin and spoke of a “number higher than 100.000” and “a low six-digit number” in this press statement. It didn’t give an exact number, but one can assume that it ranges between 100.000 and 300.000; a significant difference from the 500.000 stated by Campact. Therefore, EUFactcheck.eu contacted the police of Berlin. It has confirmed their statement but did not provide a more exact number.
Our own estimation
To assess who’s right, EUFactcheck.eu decided to make its own estimation based on videos and images from the protest. According to Campact, the protestors were located in an area that stretched from Brandenburger Tor to Siegessäule, as well as in the adjacent Tiergarten park.
The screenshot below is taken from a news report by the German news broadcaster Der Spiegel. The camera is located on top of Siegessäule, and at the end of the road, straight ahead, is Brandenburger Tor. What the screenshot also shows is that the protest mainly took place on the Straße des 17. Juni towards Brandenburger Tor, and didn’t stretch out onto the Spreeweg (on the left) and the Große Sternallee (on the right).
However, not all protesters stayed within this space. This YouTube video shows some protestors standing still or moving towards the Straße des 17. Juni. at the other side of the Brandenburger Tor on the Pariser Platz. Another video shows protestors walking on the Unter den Linden, but they seem to be moving at a faster pace towards the area the protest takes place than the protestors who are already on the Straße des 17. Juni. So that video may conclude that the area where protestors come together starts on the Pariser Platz at the Brandenburger Tor. This can be confirmed by the screenshot below, where people can be seen standing underneath the Brandenburger Tor and on the Pariser Platz.
On the other end of the Straße des 17. Juni, at the Siegessäule, protesters seem to be standing on the whole roundabout surrounding the statue, as can be seen in the screenshot below.
There seems to be no footage or photos that show the other side of the Straße des 17. Juni from the Siegessäule towards the Charlottenburger Tor at the other end of Tiergarten park. So EUFactcheck.eu assumes that the protesters stayed in an area that stretched from Pariser Platz to the roundabout at the Siegessäule.
Footage and images also show some of the protesters stretched out into the park. This photo underneath by Greenpeace confirms that protesters stretched out into the park, but they did so near the stage on the roundabout. It’s uncertain whether attendees stretched out further into the park. But some video footage closer to the Brandenburger Tor shows that people mainly stayed on the road.
How big is the area where the protest took place?
In order to make an estimation of the attendees, EUFactcheck.eu needed to calculate the total length and width of the road. This was done using the measuring tool of Google Earth, but for copyright reasons the maps below are taken from openstreetmap.org. The Straße des 17. Juni from Siegessäule to the square in front of Brandenburger Tor has a total length of almost 1,7 kilometres and has a width of more or less 38 metres. This means the road has a surface of 64.676 square metres.
The roundabout at the Siegessäule has a width of approximately 190 metres by 176 metres. By calculating the surface of an oval this means the area is 26.263 square meters large. However, the statue itself has a width of 27 metres by 27 metres, meaning the statue is 729 square metres large. So the total area people can be standing on this roundabout is approximately 25.534 square metres large. From photos it can be concluded that protestors were also standing on the grass around the statue, so EUFactcheck has included this in the calculations.
The Pariser Platz and the square on the other side of Brandenburger Tor is approximately 15.000 square metres large.
According to these calculations the total area is 105.210 square metres large. This is not an exact number, but an estimation. The Tiergarten park also makes it more complicated to measure the exact width of the area protestors came together, as there is no clear visual image that can show how far protestors stretched out into the park.
How dense was the crowd?
In order to measure the crowd density, it’s important to know how fast people are moving or whether they are standing still. A crowd that moves takes up more space and is larger than a crowd that stands still. Footage near the stage at the Siegessäule shows attendees standing still. Footage from the Strasse des 17. Juni shows particpants walking, but at a very slow pace meaning the area is dense. However, there is a lot of footage that also shows open areas in the protest.
Pariser Platz (left) & Straße des 17. Juni (right)
But then other images show a more dense crowd where there’s almost no room for movement. This can be explained by the images taken at different times during the protest and people leaving the protest before the end of the protest. Another explanation that shouldn’t be forgotten, is that the Siegessäule and Brandenburger Tor are touristic hotspots and there is a possibility tourists got caught up in the protest without planning to do so.
According to professor and crowd density expert Keith Still from the Manchester Metropolitan University, people can walk smoothly and stable when there’s one person in every square metre. If there’s more people within a square metre it is harder to take a normal step, and as a result people walk slower.
By analysing this video of Der Spiegel people can be seen moving a bit slower than usual from 0:50 to 1:22. But from 0:06 to 0:31 there’s a crowd that is not moving at all.This video of an attendee standing near the Brandenburger Tor also shows a crowd moving slower than usual. Another video from public broadcaster Phoenix shows similar crowd movement near the middle of the Strasse des 17 Juni.
This website from Keith Still shows visual images of what a crowd looks like when there are one to four people per square metre. According to these visual representations, we believe there were approximately two attendees per square metre at the protest in Berlin on the 27th of February 2022. This means there would have been a maximum of 210.420 protestors in the area between Pariser Platz and the Siegessäule. This number can be slightly lower as there are areas within the protest where the crowd is less dense, meaning in certain areas there are less than two attendees per square metre. The estimation of 500.000 attendees from Campact seems therefore exaggerated and very unlikely.
The claim that there were 500.000 protestors is false. Campact seems to have exaggerated the number of participants. EUfactcheck’s estimation is closer to the one of the police.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE Lukas Emmerechts and Rik Tuinstra, Thomas More University, Belgium
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