Coronavirus: Curfew to curb soaring cases a 'death blow' for Berlin’s bars

Jill Petzinger
·Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·5-min read
BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 25: Visitors enjoy warm weather in Mauerpark in Berlin on July 25, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. For the German capital, the COVID-19 pandemic has been economically devastating, as its liveihood depends on partygoers and tourism. But many people use warm weather for gatherings and parties in the parks, as Germany braces for a second coronavirus wave amid rising infections. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
Visitors enjoy warm weather in Mauerpark in Berlin, Germany, on 25 July. Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

The Berlin senate’s decision to impose an 11pm curfew on bars and restaurants as well as a ban on alcohol sales from the same time has been met with outrage by bar owners, many of whom feel they are being unfairly penalised for rising COVID-19 cases in the German capital.

The city, famous for its 24-hour bars and non-stop party scene, has become a COVID-19 hotspot and declared a ‘coronavirus risk’ area. Cases have surged to more than 50 per 100,000 people, making Berlin “red” in Germany’s traffic-light assessment system.

Roberto Manteufel, co-founder of the Bars of Berlin initiative, called the curfew a “death blow” for bars. He said that bar owners felt "betrayed and ripped off.”

Several bars belonging to the initiative have filed an appeal against the Senate’s decision. Manteufel also said that the federal government's bridging aid for the sector was insufficient.

At a press conference in Berlin today, Angela Merkel said that she is aware that these new restrictions hurt, and that the gastronomy sector is particularly affected. “These are the days and weeks that will decide how Germany stands in this pandemic in winter,” the chancellor said.

“If we don't act now, we'll end up in lockdown again,” Berlin mayor Michael Müller said this week. He slammed the “party-mad” people meeting in Berlin parks, saying: “There are a few hundred who have been jeopardising the success of the entire urban community in recent months.”

Lutz Leichsenring, head of the Berlin Club Commission told Yahoo Finance UK that the senate’s decision is “not the right solution to the problem.”

He noted that the most infections happen in private gatherings, not in clubs, bars and restaurants that by and large have implemented the required measures on hygiene and distancing rules.

“A curfew… tends to result in large numbers of people then going onto the streets at one point,” Leichsenring said. In many cases, they head to private houses or gather in other non-regulated places.

The new Berlin restrictions, which will be reviewed again at the end of October, include capping the number of people allowed to meet outdoors to five, maximum from two households. Private parties will be limited to 10 people.

The new rules are pointless unless they can be properly controlled by the authorities, according to Thomas Lengfelder, head of Berlin Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga). He said there is a lot of anger in the sector towards establishments that “obviously did not comply” with the rules.

Many bar owners however are less concerned about the 11pm curfew. They are more worried about the fact that the cold months have begun, and with social distancing rules they will have to put fewer tables indoors, resulting in loss of income.

In an interview with Der Spiegel published on Friday, head of the Ifo institute Clemens Fuest said that “the economic recovery in Germany will not depend on whether I can order two more beers at 11 pm.” But he noted that it is “plausible that the virus spreads easily in pubs, especially when many guests are under the influence of alcohol and do not think about protective measures.”

However, the economic situation remains fragile, and a surge in cases and possibility of tighter restrictions could endanger recovery.

READ MORE: German industrial orders grew in August for fourth month in a row

Economist Jens Südekum told Handelsblatt newspaper that with industrial production still well below pre-crisis levels, “if we get a situation like the one at the beginning of May this winter, the recession would return with full force.”

Prevention paradox

Tourists buy drinks at a store on Schoenhauser Allee street in Berlin, Germany. Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters
Tourists buy drinks at a store on Schoenhauser Allee street in Berlin, Germany. Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

The clampdown on nightlife is linked to data showing that most new infections are happening in the 20-to-40-year-old age group. Especially in the capital, young people have gathered all summer in parks, to party without any social distancing rules in place.

Berlin’s “Spätis” – late-opening shops selling drinks, cigarettes and snacks – have become the new bars, with crowds of people drinking outside late into the night, with no masks on.

On Friday, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute reported 4,516 coronavirus cases, making it the second day in a row of over 4,000 cases, which has not been seen since April. In total, the country has recorded 314,660 cases and 9,545 deaths.

While those numbers remain significantly lower than in other European countries like Spain, the UK, and France, there is a real worry that they will spiral dramatically in the weeks to come.

"We do not know how the situation in Germany will develop in the coming weeks. It is possible that we will see 10,000 new cases a day," Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute said in a press conference in Berlin this week.

Merkel told her party members in September that the number of cases could surge to over 19,000 a day if the upwards trend continues through the end of the year.

Wieler said that Germany’s good handling of the pandemic so far risked causing a “prevention paradox,” where people think the pandemic situation is not that serious.

READ MORE: Germany to take on €96bn in new debt next year to weather COVID-19 crisis

While the German government has said it will not impose a nationwide lockdown like the first one in March, the new restrictions are effectively going to curb not just social life, but also travel within Germany. Some states this week, such as Bavaria, said that those coming from other German states with high case numbers need to show a negative coronavirus test before they can stay in hotels or eat in restaurants.

WATCH: March against COVID-19 restrictions in Berlin