For weeks Berlin was out of bounds to tourists. On May 15, restaurants began to reopen under certain conditions, and now also hotels. We took a look around the Kurfürstendamm, Berlin's famous promenade and shopping area.
Danuta Lippoth is pleased. About 30 guests are expected to arrive in the course of the afternoon. This means that Hotel Augusta will be almost one-third full. A good start after the long weeks of lockdown, during which the small private hotel was only allowed to accommodate a few business travelers. The entire team was on reduced working hours and the hotel was only open eight hours a day. Now the reception desk is again staffed around the clock and everything is in place to ensure smooth operations in these exceptional times.
A lot has changed
On every floor of the old villa there are hand sanitizer dispensers, the staff wear protective masks, and the remote controls for TV sets are disinfected and shrink-wrapped. All mini bars have been cleared out, instead room service has been reinstated. And the many regular guests will also have to adjust to changes at breakfast: instead of the popular buffet, they can now choose from a menu — preferably the evening before. At that point, they are also asked to indicate the time slot between seven and twelve o'clock they want to be in the bright breakfast room on the first floor. Because, of course, social distancing rules must also be observed here.
Berlin registered 34 million overnight stays in 2019, which was a record year. And everything indicated that it would continue like this. But then the coronavirus hit. And with that came the lockdown. Many hotels were completely closed for weeks, others only managed to keep a few floors open.
Burkhardt Kieker, the managing director of Visit Berlin, the city's official travel portal said on Friday (May 22) on RBB's Inforadio, that the average occupancy rate was 3 to 5%. In this regard, he was glad that things were starting to pick up again. Nevertheless, the industry is facing serious challenges. It is not possible to recoup the losses of recent weeks. Because there are still no international guests or conferences and congresses. Added to this are all the restrictions. For example, a room must be left unoccupied for 48 hours before a new guest can move in.
Danuta Lippoth hopes that this nightmare will be over soon. That there won't be another wave of coronavirus infections. And that her hotel will remain as popular as it has been in the past. In 2019, occupancy was at 95%. It is quiet, yet centrally located in the green Fasanenstrasse road, less than 50 meters away from the Kurfürstendamm. Perhaps, says Danuta Lippoth, things will improve again in September and October. These are particularly popular months for city travelers. In order to attract more guests now, she has lowered the prices a little.
The future is uncertain
This is out of the question for Stefan Athmann, the general manager of the Hotel Bristol Berlin, an elegant establishment on the Kurfürstendamm. He says that although it's sad to see such a beautiful, big hotel largely without guests, offering discounts is not an option. "We have to make sure that we sell the rooms sensibly," he says, "but it won't be easy, because only German guests are allowed to travel initially." Athmann wants to offer them packages. Two or three nights, for example, with a three-course menu in the attached Bristol Grill.
He says that now, after weeks of home schooling and home office, it could be a good time to indulge yourself, to allow yourself to be pampered for a few days — while adhering to all the safety precautions, of course — and perhaps experience Berlin in a completely different way. He then speaks of friends from Bavaria who visited him privately over the weekend and explored the capital by bike. They went to Grunewald, to Tiergarten and Friedrichshain. They had a relaxed look at the German capital and experienced it in a completely new way.
Berlin in unusual times
In fact, Berlin is still in an unusual state — decelerated, and a little more relaxed than usual. Fewer people on the streets, fewer people on buses and trains. Most restaurants and shops are open again, with restrictions on social distancing and hygiene, and mostly with limited opening hours. Some people are doing better and others not so well. At Starbucks, just opposite the Bristol, the tables and chairs that have been stacked together pile up against the walls. No one can or wants to sit down here.
But in front of the Apple store there is a dense crowd. A lot of security and some customers. Even those who have registered for the visit online must first check-in, then go to have their temperature taken and finally wait in the queue. Nowhere else in Berlin is temperature measured as a rule — neither in front of shops nor in hotels and restaurants. And so far, no one with a raised temperature has wanted to shop at the Apple store. Fortunately. In the branch of the fashion chain COS, you are not even allowed to try anything on at the moment, but at Michael Kors you can. There, each garment is then treated with a hot steamer. But the machine is often not used, because the wealthy customers from abroad are absent.
According to Hystreet, a company specializing in monitoring customer frequency, no other shopping area in Germany has seen a greater loss of shoppers than Kudamm road — 63 percent compared to the previous year. This particularly affects the designer boutiques, the sales staff at Gucci, Prada, Bulgari or Cartier find themselves kicking their heels.
A big gob with a big heart
"All crap," is how in true brash Berlin fashion, known as Berliner Schnauze — or Berlin snout — the cook at Beers Imbiss describes the current situation. Normally people patiently queue here for a Currywurst sausage, at night even celebrities — actors and politicians — have been spotted here, so well-chilled champagne is always in stock. But now? "Look," he says. "Nothing is happening. No taxis, no tour buses. There are not even bottles for the homeless to collect, for the deposit."
Actually, these kind of encounters alone make a visit to Berlin worthwhile. And there is a lot to do in the city — despite all the coronavirus restrictions. Parks and gardens, restaurants, flea markets and even some outdoor swimming pools are open again. And most museums and galleries. You can only enter with a facemask. And everywhere, care is taken to ensure that only a limited number of people are in the rooms at any given moment. But that means you get to enjoy the art almost on your own!
A new tourism concept
"We don't believe that people are in the mood for the hustle and bustle of the big city at the moment," the staff at Visit Berlin say with conviction. And because it's best to keep your distance ideally outdoors, the tourism organization is encouraging visitors to explore green Berlin and its surroundings with all its lakes and rivers. Everyone can find their favorite place to relax here. "Berlin, includes this" is the motto of the current advertising campaign. Stefan Athmann, general manager of the Bristol Hotel, is delighted with the concept. He says it's exactly what his friends from Munich did.
Green in the city center: From the bikini house you can see the zoo. And you can also eat here again.
Now all it takes is for people to come. First from Germany, soon probably also from Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. And hopefully from everywhere else again in the not too distant future. Until then, the hoteliers will have to prevail, while they ventilate empty rooms, flush toilets and continue to enforce reduced working hours.