Opinion: You can do better than this with COVID-19, Berlin | Opinion | DW | 06.09.2020
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Opinion

Opinion: You can do better than this with COVID-19, Berlin

Berlin boasts that it's the cultural capital of the world. But DW's Gero Schliess writes that the German capital isn't showing enough vision and ambition during the pandemic to make it in a post-coronavirus world.

COVID-19 is killing culture. And nowhere is that truer than in Berlin, which usually likes to present itself as the world capital of culture. The novel coronavirus has particularly ravaged Berlin of its club scene, which in bygone days would draw tens of thousands of young partiers to the German capital each year.

But the opera houses, concert halls, theaters, museums and galleries, as well as the city's countless smaller stages and art spaces are also suffering. All of a sudden, they were abandoned, left to decline. And it still feels like nothing is being done about it.

Read more: Is Germany's largest cultural institution too big to work?

No plan for the future

What's worse is that half a year after the virus first reared its ugly head, the authorities don't seem to have a plan for how to revive cultural life in this fantastic city. Will Berlin ever again become, as it once was, a magnet for artists and aficionados, clubbers and DJs and creative spirits from all over the world?

Gero Schliess

DW culture writer Gero Schliess

To be fair, culture is not entirely dead and there are the initial signs of a reawakening. The Deutsche Oper has decided to stage some productions on its own parking lot and the Berlin Philharmonic has reopened, albeit to only a quarter-sized audience. Many museums and galleries are welcoming visitors again. Some theaters have even reopened their doors.

But things are not as they were, and this is, at times, more depressing than exciting.

Read more: 1989: How reunified Berlin birthed a club culture revolution

Berlin's senator for culture, Klaus Lederer, reacted in exemplary fashion to the initial outbreak of the novel coronavirus, offering people who work in the cultural sector a lifeline that no other German state matched when he freed €100 million ($118 million) for freelancers and small companies. Cinemas, clubs and ensembles have received financial aid and another €30 million have been set aside till November.

But emergency aid is not enough to take control of the future. What is sorely missing are models and ideas to get through the pandemic and revive long-term cultural life in Berlin. So far, politicians and culture officials have had little to say on the topic. Not even the great pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, who doesn't usually shy from speaking his mind, or his colleague Kirill Petrenko at the Philharmonic have put forward solid proposals.

Where's the vision?

It's hard to believe that this cultural paradise is willing to put art at the bottom of its list of priorities. But what should one think when it's a "full house" in restaurants, planes and trains, but theaters and clubs continue to suffer restrictions, with consequences for thousands of artists, many of whom will have to look for another job?

What Berlin needs is imagination, ambition and daring, as were recently displayed in Salzburg. Refusing to give in, the city went ahead with its annual festival, even though most of the world's other festivals had been relegated to the internet if they took place at all. Those lucky enough to be in Salzburg were drawn in by the magic and could not help but appreciate that space had been created for art, thanks to sophisticated hygiene and safety regulations.

Watch video 00:09

No social distancing at the Salzburg Festival

There's no doubt that these regulations, developed for a one-month festival, cannot be transposed one-to-one to the annual operations of concert halls and theaters in Berlin. However, who's to say that it would not be possible to adjust traditional operations to make the coming season COVID-19 resistant?

It would be wonderful if Berlin were to come up with some pioneering projects and charge into the future. To paraphrase the founder of the Salzburg festival Hugo von Hofmannsthal: "Once the will has awakened, something has almost already been achieved."

We can only hope that Berlin will find the will to pave the way. After all, the world's cultural capital can do better.

Watch video 02:31

Risky raves in Berlin

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