Michael Probst / AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced a limited blockade in a bid to halt the exponential growth of coronavirus cases, currently doubling every seven days.
After lengthy talks with Germany’s 16 district governors, Merkel, who has been urging the public to stop talking for weeks, has convinced governors that closing bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, swimming pools, theaters, cinemas and concert halls is the best their option.
“We only need the number of infections to double four more times and the health system is complete,” she warned on Wednesday.
The lock will take effect on Monday and will last until the end of November. Merkel is adamant that schools and kindergartens should remain open as long as possible, which is a clear signal that education is before entertainment. She also announced that companies forced to close would receive subsidies from the government, which would partially cover their losses.
Despite the proposal for financial assistance, the blockade will hit the economy hard. Germany’s restaurant industry protested earlier against restrictions imposed in October. However, because the incidence of infections is particularly high among 20-40-year-olds, epidemiologists are concerned about the spread of the infection among a significant population of Germany.
That’s why politicians tell partygoers to stay home and avoid bars, clubs and restaurants.
This did not go well in Berlin, where nightlife has long been synonymous with hedonism and freedom, from coke cabaret in the 1920s to massive techno parties in abandoned buildings in the early 1990s. Bars and clubs are open 24 hours a day and “nights” can easily last 48 hours.
But as Berlin is an official coronavirus hotspot, its mayor says “now is not the time to party” and introduced closing hours last month for the first time in more than 70 years. Now, less than a week before the bars are forced to stop altogether, drinkers are making the most of the freedom this city usually provides.
One of them is Nora Graf, who is sitting with a friend in front of a well-known restaurant in the Kreuzberg area and breastfeeding whiskey to keep warm in the cool evening air. She says she does not feel safe sitting inside. “You just have to look around this neighborhood to see that a lot of bars don’t seem to have noticed that the virus is coming back with revenge,” Graff said. “They have to adapt their behavior.”
Graf, a 38-year-old architect, says he doesn’t look forward to the lock, but says limiting bar opening hours makes sense. For her, that doesn’t make much of a difference; the late nights are a distant memory. “Nightlife is only until 11 pm. I would say it’s quite suitable for families!” She says.
But this is not convenient for business. Roberto Manteifel, a bartender and founder of a bar lobby in Berlin, says that “our working hours are night time, as bar owners. It’s a nightmare for all of us.”
Manteuffel says the forced closure will hurt the city’s tax base, but will do nothing to stop infections because the revelers will simply take their parties home. He says bar owners can at least keep a record of attendees, making contact tracking easier than private parties.
“Politicians can’t say: young people stop being young!” Mantofel claims. “Of course, we all have to live with the virus, but at the same time we can’t stop being human, no matter how old we are.”
For Angela Merkel, being human is exactly what it’s all about. She has repeatedly urged partygoers to think of others. Just last month, Merkel said, “Take some time to think about what’s most important. Isn’t it the health of your family, your grandparents?”
In an attempt to bridge the generation gap, Merkel added that “outings and parties will still be there after Corona. At the moment, this is careful and in solidarity.
Merkel’s tone was polite compared to the recent poster campaign here, which showed a mask with a grandmother giving the middle finger to rule-breakers and partygoers. The posters were removed after complaints.
But both messages reflect the German proverb – “Ich werde nicht alt” – which in the context of the party means “I can’t stay up late”. Literally, however, it means “I will not grow old” – and It is the scenario that Merkel and the German governors are trying to prevent.