Faces and Facets of the German-Speaking Corona Opposition

An account of events from March to September 2020

Owing to a set of personal circumstances, I was able to closely follow the first half year of Sars-CoV-2 and COVID-19 in Canada in comparison with Europe. Over there, Germany, and to a lesser extent Austria and German-speaking parts of Switzerland, produced some of the earliest skeptical voices who put the virus’s threat into perspective. Germany also has perhaps the broadest spectrum of critics of the government response measures globally. In the interest of open discourse and exchange of ideas, I offer this subjective overview of key actors and aspects of the corona opposition in the German-speaking world. I am focusing specifically on the different areas of expertise represented among the dissenting views.

Context and “first responders”

Among the first experts worldwide to raise concerns about the global panic reaction to the “killer virus” Sars-CoV-2 were Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg and Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi. Dr. Wodarg is a retired physician specializing in internal medicine and hygiene, who also served as medical officer of health and later as public health politician with the centre-left party SPD. He is particularly well known for his contributions to uncovering the role of the pharmaceutical industry in the 2009 swine flu scandal, as documented in the public TV film “Profiteers of Fear” [1], which shows eerie similarities between the 2009 and 2020 situations. The earliest post on Wodarg’s web site is dated March 1st, 2020, and tellingly called “Corona-Hype: Without PCR-Tests there would be no reason for special alarms.” Throughout his web site [2], Facebook account [3], and interviews with alternative media, Wodarg’s general stance is to reassure the public that individual and collective risks from this virus are in line with our normal exposure to respiratory viruses. 

Similarly, Dr. Bhakdi, a retired, widely cited professor of immunology and microbiology, has been trying to instill more composure and comprehensive situation awareness into the debate. As early as March 29th, 2020, he posed five questions to German chancellor Merkel, asking about (1) the distinction between asymptomatic, infected and ill patients; (2) hospital usage in relation to past experiences with other coronaviruses; (3) representative studies of the actual spread of Sars-CoV-2 among the population; (4) distinction of deaths from COVID-19 from deaths with Sars-CoV-2; and (5) better public communication of the limited comparability of specific international COVID-19 hot spots with the situation in Germany. The Youtube video [4] has been watched close to 2.5 million times. Most notably, Bhakdi together with his wife and colleague Dr. Karina Reiss wrote a 150-page book [5] providing “data, facts, backgrounds” on the pandemic. Despite the question mark in the title “Corona false alarm?”, they describe the global Sars-CoV-2 response as a foolish and costly false alarm. The book was the German no. 1 non-fiction paperback bestseller for 13 consecutive weeks from June to September 2020. 

Political opposition, rallies, and the role of lawyers

Following in these footsteps was Dr. Bodo Schiffmann, a practicing otolaryngologist, who started an extensive video series in late March discussing the official COVID-19 data and the mismatched media reporting and political decisions taken. Schiffmann’s videos were repeatedly censored by Youtube which led him as one of the first corona critics to adopt the Bitchute [6] and Telegram [7] platforms. He was also one of the first to call for a new party, as there was no political opposition to the restrictions of constitutional freedoms rammed through federal or provincial parliaments. Schiffmann joined two others to found the new party “Widerstand2020” [“resistance 2020”, 8] based on four principles including freedom, constrained political powers, loving togetherness, and collective intelligence and problem-solving. The party web site famously showed over 100,000 registrations within days of its launch, although this number was never confirmed. Instead the founders disagreed on how to proceed on a legal, technical, and professional basis and Schiffmann regrouped to form a different new party, “WIR2020” [“we 2020”, 9] based on mindfulness, individual responsibility, and living democracy. WIR2020 appears to be developing slowly, although Schiffmann’s recent focus has shifted towards direct personal outreach at rallies and through the “corona info tour” [10], which currently takes him and Swiss entrepreneur and youtuber Samuel Eckert through Germany’s cities. 

The first lawyer to publicly criticize the pandemic response measures as out-of-proportion, denouncing them as “coronoia”, was Beate Bahner [11]. On April 8th, 2020, she submitted an unsuccessful appeal to Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court requesting the cancellation of all provincial executive orders due the extent to which they suppressed individual freedoms and civil rights. Pro-freedom and anti-lockdown rallies across Germany started as grassroots initiatives by different civic groups, the best-known of which is Querdenken [“cross thinking”]. Querdenken711 [12] identifies the locale in Stuttgart founded by entrepreneur Michael Ballweg. The August rallies in Berlin drew between 20,000 and over one million participants, depending on the source. The fight for court approvals of rallies and the negotiation of required “hygiene concepts” with city officials is one of the points, where activist lawyers have become hugely important to the corona opposition. The best-known individuals are Ralf Ludwig [13], who also co-led the founding of the party Widerstand2020, and Markus Hainz [14], who both achieved the reinstatement of rally permits, manageable distancing and mask requirements at rallies, as well as modifications of mask requirements for students in some schools throughout the country. Around 60 lawyers participate in the non-profit KlagePATEN [“lawsuit patrons”, 15], which supports individuals fighting against mask orders, face coverings and PCR testing in schools, as well as restrictions on street protests. 

Another major initiative founded by a group of four lawyers is the Corona-Ausschuss [“corona commission”, 16] based primarily in Berlin. They started with a petition for a base line study to collect representative data about the Sars-CoV-2 spread and prevalence. From that unsuccessful beginning, the group announced the commission on July 10th, 2020, [17] and moved swiftly to conduct, record, and publish interviews with over two dozen national and international experts across numerous fields of study including for example psychologists, economists, and publicists in addition to health scientists and practitioners. The commission examined the question whether the pandemic response was suitable, necessary, and proportionate, as required by public health laws, and whether the collateral damage was caused by gross negligence on the part of federal and provincial decision-makers. A preliminary report published September 14th, 2020, [18] finds that the threat of Sars-CoV-2 was significantly over-estimated, the collateral damage from the response measures not sufficiently considered, and governments are to blame for missing risk assessments. Using the work of the commission, one of the lawyers, Dr. Reiner Füllmich [19], is preparing a class action lawsuit to obtain compensation from the inventors and promoters of the PCR test for COVID-19, including the World Health Organization, which he blames for misleading politicians and public opinion in favour of a disproportionate, harmful pandemic response. 

Other lobby groups and expertise

In addition to KlagePATEN, other emerging advocacy and peer support groups include Mediziner und Wissenschaftler für Gesundheit, Freiheit und Demokratie [“medical professionals and scientists for health, freedom, and democracy”, 20], Ärzte für Aufklärung [“doctors for enlightenment”, 21] with over 2,000 named supporters, Pädagogen für Aufklärung [“teachers for enlightenment”, 22], and Eltern stehen auf [“parents stand up”, 23], to name but these few. The doctors group also conducts another inquiry, the Außerparlamentarischer Corona Untersuchungsausschuss [“extra-parliamentary corona enquete commission”, 24] under the leadership of Dr. Heiko Schöning. One of their hearings is with a police officer who spoke at a rally and was subsequently suspended and harassed. Other public servants who were sidelined after expressing dissenting views include an employee of the federal ministry of the interior who wrote a report on the ongoing crisis mismanagement and a municipal Green Party politician who called for better informed decision-making. Two additional experts shall be mentioned as representatives of the possible contributions of their disciplines to the discussion: Austrian psychiatrist Dr. Raphael Bonelli analyzes the corona crisis from the perspective of behavioural psychology with the stated goal to de-escalate among rising hostility between government supports and critics [25], and German philosopher Gunnar Kaiser shares pointed observations, interviews, and reflections on his Youtube “TV” channel [26]. 

One of the earliest level-headed voices in the debate came from a business group, Corona-Initiative Deutscher Mittelstand [“corona initiative German SMEs”, 27]. Shortly after the start of lockdowns in Germany, they presented an exit plan based on key metrics including hospitalization and ICU rates as well as test positivity rates that were not (and still are not) sufficiently considered by political decision-makers. Based on government statistics and select research studies, they also put the corona pandemic into historical context and attempted to quantify the collateral damage from lockdowns, including mounting concerns around abuse of women and children as well as growing suicide reports. Surprisingly, this is the only business-based initiative known to me that argues for less invasive and more targeted pandemic response. 

Mainstream/social media censorship and alternative media

In addition to risking their careers and livelihoods, many of the dissenting individuals and groups also face censoring and shadow-banning from social media platforms, not to mention personal attacks and threats by other social media users. For example, numerous videos were removed from Youtube when they were found or reported to contradict current WHO guidelines or general directives such as not to compare COVID-19 with influenza — despite the fact that the video contents were often based on government statistics and solid scientific evidence. Until early October, the public broadcasters and established newspapers in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland followed the government narrative to a tee. This has allowed some new and existing alternative media sites to gain traction, including but not limited to Achse des Guten [28], Bittel TV [29], Blauer Bote [30], KenFM [31], and Rubikon [32]. Another example is Punkt.Preradovic [33], a Youtube channel in which semi-retired journalist Milena Preradovic published a series of interviews in April and early May with economics professor Dr. Stefan Homburg [34], who showed that the German lockdown had no effect on the trajectory of Sars-CoV-2 infections. Homburg has since become a major representative of the corona opposition and, along with Dr. Bhakdi, is participating in the Corona-Qu4rtett [“corona foursome”], the first open discussion forum on a mainstream TV channel, Austria’s ServusTV [35]. 

Other German-speaking health scientists and practitioners who raised their concerns via alternative media or personal web sites include microbiologist Dr. Martin Haditsch, immunologist Prof. Stefan Hockertz, oncologist and internist Dr. Claus Köhnlein, psychologist Prof. Christof Kuhbandner, immunologist Prof. Beda Stadler, and psychologist and research methodologist Prof. Harald Walach. Their assessments were borne out of decade-long experience and/or COVID-19 data analyses, yet were often discredited by superficial and clearly biased “fact checkers” employed by public broadcasters and social media companies.

The mainstream media and politicians from the conservative/social-democrat government and nominal opposition parties (Green Party and The Left) were also quick to denounce the “corona deniers” as extreme right-wing activists, nationalists, and worse. This view may be partially based on the fact that the right-wing Alternative for Germany and some neo-nazi groups expressed their support for anti-corona rallies. However, based on eyewitness reports, live video, and public statements from organizers and participants, leading grassroots organizations such as Querdenken711 represent a wide spectrum of concerned citizens, from conservative to progressive and apolitical individuals united in a fight for democratic freedom and an end to what they consider unjustified, totalitarian control. In fact, at the Berlin rallies it was reported that rally participants and Antifa counter-protesters shouted “nazis out” at each other! 

It is informative to follow the corona crisis in the German- as well as English-speaking worlds, and I would like to help bridge the awareness gap between the two language communities. Lack of time prevented me from also monitoring French and Spanish sources. However, the language I truly wish I could read and understand at this time is Swedish!

Online resources (mostly in German)

Context and early critics: 

[1] Documentary “Profiteure der Angst — Das Geschäft mit der Schweinegrippe” [“Profiteers of (the) Fear”] by arte/NDR, 2009, available on Youtube
[2] Web site of Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg, https://www.wodarg.com/
[3] Dr. Wodarg’s public figure page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Dr-Wolfgang-Wodarg-83788386909
[4] Prof. Dr. med. Sucharit Bhakdi’s Youtube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgjxQLDkeoa-uJu4sE0eNrg/videos
[5] Publisher’s book page for “Corona Fehlalarm? Zahlen, Daten und Hintergründe“, https://www.goldegg-verlag.com/titel/corona-fehlalarm/; English translation “Corona, False Alarm? Facts and Figures” by the authors now available at https://www.chelseagreen.com/product/corona-false-alarm/
[6] Dr. Bodo Schiffmann’s channel “Alles_Ausser_Mainstream“ [“Anything but mainstream“] on Bitchute, https://www.bitchute.com/channel/BFqZplJLluQB/
[7] Dr. Schiffmann on Telegram, https://t.me/AllesAusserMainstream

Political opposition and rallies: 

[8] New political party, http://www.widerstand2020.de
[9] New political party, https://wir2020-partei.de/
[10] Corona Info Tour with Bodo Schiffmann and Samuel Eckert, http://coronainfo-tour.de/
[12] Grassroots organization Querdenken711 Stuttgart, https://querdenken-711.de/

Lawyers and legal defense: 

[11] Web site of medical lawyer Beate Bahner, http://www.beatebahner.de/ (corona-related items were removed)
[13] Facebook group “Corona-Pandemie fällt heute aus” [“Corona pandemic cancelled for today”] of administrative lawyer Ralf Ludwig, https://www.facebook.com/groups/141122693987297/
[14] Lawyer Markus Hainz on Telegram, https://t.me/Haintz
[15] Non-profit organization KlagePATEN [lawsuit patrons], https://klagepaten.eu/
[16] Stiftung Corona Ausschuss [Foundation Corona Commission], https://corona-ausschuss.de/
[17] Corona Commission kick-off video on Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJywqr_PVEk&t=2100s
[18] Corona Commission preliminary report, https://corona-ausschuss.de/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Kurzbericht_Corona-Ausschuss_14-09-2020-1-4.pdf
[19] Consumer protection lawyer Dr. Reiner Füllmich‘s Youtube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJB8ANhWVhgQf9Rw-KJo26Q/videos

Other lobby groups and expertise: 

[20] Mediziner und Wissenschaftler für Gesundheit, Freiheit und Demokratie [“medical professionals and scientists for health, freedom, and democracy”], http://www.mwgfd.de/ and http://www.mshfd.org/
[21] Foundation Ärzte für Aufklärung [Foundation Doctors for Enlightenment], https://www.aerzte-fuer-aufklaerung.de/
[22] Telegram channel “Pädagogen für Aufklärung [Educators for Enlightenment], https://t.me/PaedagogenFuerAufklaerung
[23] Web site and private Facebook group “Eltern stehen auf“ [“Parents stand up”], https://elternstehenauf.de/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/ElternStehenAuf/ 
[24] Außerparlamentarischer Corona Untersuchungsausschuss [“Extra-parliamentary Corona Enquete Commission”], https://acu2020.org/
[25] Youtube channel of RPP Institute/Dr. Raphael Bonelli, https://www.youtube.com/c/rppinstitut/videos
[26] KaiserTV — philosopher Gunnar Kaiser’s Youtube channel, https://www.youtube.com/c/GunnarKaiserTV/videos
[27] Corona-Initiative Deutscher Mittelstand [[“Corona Initiative German SMEs”], http://cidm.online
[34] Personal homepage of economist Prof. Dr. Stefan Homburg, https://www.stefan-homburg.de/

Alternative media (examples, not endorsements!): 

[28] Achse des Guten, https://www.achgut.com/
[29] Bittel TV, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHfqgvjntX8kXYOl08j2pAg
[30] Blauer Bote, http://blauerbote.com/
[31] KenFM, https://kenfm.de/
[32] Rubikon, https://www.rubikon.news/
[33] Punkt.Preradovic, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-q8URCNmX5Wg4R9kXtW4tg/videos
[35] Servus TV, weekly roundtable debate “Corona Qu4artett”, https://www.servustv.com/videos/aa-2549xqckh2111/