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'We're not afraid': Berlin nightlife in times of coronavirus

August 21, 2020

The rise of coronavirus infections in Germany is said to be partly driven by people celebrating too much and not following social distancing rules. What’s it like in Berlin? DW’s Thomas Sparrow went to find out.

Berlin party police
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken

It's nearly midnight in central Berlin and a group of young Bavarian tourists is enjoying the warm, summer weather at a bar in one of the city's many courtyards.

Most of them are sitting tightly on a long, wooden bench, drinking beer and talking loudly.  Social distancing is non-existent. There are no face masks.

They tell us that the bar in their village was closed because of the coronavirus, so they decided to come to the capital to have some fun and "see the big, wide world."

"Are you afraid of getting infected with the coronavirus?" we ask. 

"Absolutely not," one of them says. The others agree: "We are not afraid."

"We are healthy, young people."

What about the possibility of a second wave of infections, caused in part by people partying too much?

"In my opinion that's unfounded," one of them says. A friend jumps in: It's "pure speculation."

Read moreBerlin's party scene, tourism hit hard by coronavirus

Creative pandemic partying

Although nightclubs in Berlin have been closed for months, Berliners and tourists alike have found other ways to celebrate during the pandemic.

Bars and restaurants are frequently full, especially if they have outdoor seating capacity, and parks and forests have turned into the scene of improvised raves.

Authorities are well aware that keeping social distancing is difficult when people are drinking and partying.

And they're also aware that this has turned into a public health problem.

Coronavirus cases have increased significantly in Germany in recent weeks and public health officials have said negligence is partly to blame. 

In addition, more young people seem to be testing positive in Germany. According to the country's public health institute, the average age of those who are newly getting infected is now 32. Over Easter it was 52.

In Berlin, most people infected are between 30 and 39.

Read moreBerlin parties as pandemic threatens to return

One bar of football fans — 80 violations

Stephan von Dassel, the mayor of the Mitte district in central Berlin, says he is concerned about these developments.

"We are back to the level we had in March and at the beginning of April, almost 200 cases in 10 days," he says, referring to Mitte, one of the districts most affected by the rise in infections in the capital.

Stefan von Dassel
Mayor Stephan von Dassel is scrambling to keep nightlife safe in Mitte district during the pandemicImage: DW/T. Sparrow

"Some of the infection figures come from holidaymakers returning, but then also from partygoers and people who obviously no longer comply with protection regulations," he adds.

During the recent Champions League football match between Bayern Munich and Barcelona, von Dassel's team detected 80 infringements in one bar alone. The place was overcrowded and people failed to observe the minimum distance.

Von Dassel admits he and his nearly 50 coworkers can't control every single one of the 2,800 bars and restaurants in his district, so he stresses barkeepers and guests should also feel a sense of responsibility.

Bars and restaurants have to guarantee that there is enough space between tables and they are required to keep visitor lists in order to track infections. Waiters must wear protective masks, and they have to make sure guests also wear them when they're not at their table.

Bar Klo
Klo Bar is a popular spot for BerlinersImage: DW/T. Sparrow

A table for Donald Duck?

Not far from Von Dassel's office is one of Berlin's cult bars, Klo, which in German means toilet. 

The bar has been open since the 1970s and it lives up to its name: Toilet brushes hang from the ceiling and visitors can sit on toilet seats.

The place is cramped and full of surprises. Things fall from the ceiling or jump out from the walls, visitors get squirted with water and tables can move up or down without notice. Even a visit to the toilet is, in this toilet-themed bar, anything but normal.

Mario Kreibe has been working here as a waiter for over 20 years and he tells us most visitors acknowledge they've made a mistake when they're told they're not following the rules.

"But there are also people who say, as soon as they arrive, 'Hey, over there I didn't need a mask, so why should I need one here?' And then they leave our bar."

Mario Kreibe in mask | Bar Klo
Mario Kreibe, a waiter at Klo Bar, describes the challenges of serving during the pandemicImage: DW/T. Sparrow

"The feeling is that if you stick to the rules, you are more likely to be punished. Unfortunately, that's the way it is," he says.

He adds that visitor lists can sometimes turn into a problem. He shows us a piece of paper where a guest identified himself as Donald Duck from the city of Entenhausen, or "Duckburg."

"It hurts," he admits. "When some people don't take care, this is more than negative, especially for a bar that really sticks to the rules."

'We don't want this reputation'

We leave Klo and decide to drive around central Berlin's nightlife scene. In one corner, in front of a restaurant, we meet two young Austrians.

They tell us they like going out, and they always wear their masks and keep an eye on social distancing.

Suddenly, an older man interrupts our conversation. He identifies himself as a doctor and asks the two youngsters why they are wearing masks.

"Wearing a mask outside is complete rubbish. There is no risk of infection," the doctor says.

"Do keep your distances, but wearing a mask outside is nonsense," he tells them.

The two youngsters respond: "Better safe than sorry."

"It's often said young people are irresponsible, do what they want, don't use masks and are always the stupid ones," one says after the doctor leaves.

"Everyone we know says: 'We don't want this reputation'."

"We don't want to give this image of careless young people," they say, before saying goodbye and leaving to enjoy Berlin's nightlife  — with their face masks on.

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