Berlin’s nightlife is facing a closing time for the first time in 70 years as the party-loving German capital seeks to contain spiralling coronavirus infection rates.
From Saturday, bars, restaurants and off-licences will have to close their doors between 11pm and 6am as a large second wave of Covid-19 cases in the city threatens to taint Germany’s image as a pandemic role model.
With health authorities mainly blaming private parties and family meet-ups for the latest outbreaks, public gatherings of more than five people from more than two households, and private gatherings of more than 10 people, will also be banned under new rules announced on Wednesday.
Berlin has since the start of October been recording more daily new confirmed infections than it did at the peak of the first wave in late March, when testing capacity was more limited. On Tuesday, two of the three “traffic lights” that make up the city’s coronavirus warning system switched to red after authorities recorded 44.2 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days.
The rate of new cases in the inner-city districts that host Berlin’s nightlife were higher still: of seven hotspots listed by Germany’s disease control agency as having a seven-day incidence of more than 50 cases per 100,000 people, four are in the heart of the capital. Trendy Neukölln leads the pack, with 288 new cases recorded over the course of the last week.
While Berlin’s nightclubs remain closed for the indefinite future, bars were allowed to reopen in June with hygiene restrictions. Some owners said introducing a closing time, which revellers in the capital have not had to adhere to since 1949, would be counterproductive because people would continue to party in their own homes.
“Drinking at home is far more dangerous than drinking in a bar,” Carsten Zoltan, the owner of the Hotel bar in Kreuzberg, told the local broadcaster RBB. “Because here we are least there to remind them to put on a mask.”
The local broadsheet Tagesspiegel urged Berliners to take a long, hard look at themselves. “There is a reason why numbers are rising in Berlin’s inner city,” it said. “The rules are being massively violated, especially after dark in bars, pubs and parks. The almost unanimous consensus behind the hard lockdown in the spring […] has made way for laissez-faire, a situation in which everyone makes their rules in whatever way they want to.”
Conservative politicians from across Germany have in recent days hit out at the Berlin senate, which is run by a three-way coalition of the Social Democrats, leftwing Die Linke and the Greens.
The Bavarian state premier, Markus Söder, said on Tuesday that he feared the pandemic situation in the capital was “on the verge of being no longer controllable”, and the health minister, Jens Spahn, of the conservative CDU, complained on Monday that social distancing rules were not being enforced in the city’s establishments and he felt like “the man on the moon” when he wore a mask in a Berlin restaurant.
Germany is not the only country reassessing its status as a pandemic role model. The Belgian government’s policy of restricting people to small “social bubbles” was cited in September by the UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, as inspiration for British government policy. But infection rates in Belgium have been rising steadily, particularly in cities, since people went back to work and school from their August holidays.
All bars, cafes and event halls in Brussels have been told they must shut down for at least a month as of 7am on Thursday, going further than recently tightened national restrictions in Belgium. The minister-president of the Brussels capital region, Rudi Vervoort, said drinking alcohol in a public place would also be banned and sports clubs would have to close their canteens. Restaurants will remain open for now in an attempt to keep the hospitality industry alive.
The average number of new coronavirus infections in Brussels was 2,466 per day between 27 September and 3 October, an increase of 57% from the previous seven-day period. On Wednesday, Belgium’s new prime minister, Alexander De Croo, announced that Belgians would be limited to having three close contacts outside their own household.