What’s the price of enjoying the world as we knew it? Now we have a calculation that is pretty precise: between €10 and €25,000. A price tag is now attached to the Corona restriction measures, and the catalogue of fines has been decided – after Berlin’s Red-Red-Green coalition (SPD, Left, Greens) has been … well, arguing over it rather passionately (the choice of words varies, depending on who you ask, between “a fierce argument” and “we are in agreement”).
For the next three weeks and weekends (including Easter), not only do the rules of “contact restriction” still apply, but the consequences are now openly accessible. A brief summary: +++ Going out without a reason: €10 to €100 +++ Being too close (less than 1.5m): €50 to €500 +++ Participating in an event: €50 to €500 +++ Holding an event or gathering: €500 to €2,500 +++ Meeting in a group (not family): €25 to €250 +++ Accommodating tourists: €1,000 to €10,000 +++ Waiting lines without a safe distance: €100 to €2,500 +++ The opening of shops, restaurants, fitness studios... €1,000 to €10,000 (up to €25,000 if repeated) +++ ...
It’s a long list and that’s for a good reason. Because: what is a decree worth if it is followed up by nothing more than angry looks, words of warning or admonishing reminders? Who knows how long this standstill will last, must last? Won't the discipline automatically decrease with rising temperatures on one axis and duration of the restrictions on the other (extended until 19 April, by the way)
And yet the coalition has made an effort to meet the understandable needs of its city’s inhabitants. Which means: the parks will stay open – but it also means access can be restricted if it gets too crowded. And Interior Minister Andreas Geisel, of whom very little has been heard of so far, appears to be sitting on the same picnic blanket (symbolically!) as Mayor Müller (both SPD): As long as a distance of 1.5 meters (bench) or five meters (lawn) is kept and nobody barbecus (or burns anything else), hanging around in the sun is allowed – but only for a break from walks or exercise. The path should be the destination, not the park.
What Geisel also made very clear: “Not everything can be sorted out down to the last detail. And police work with a sense of proportion and are not primarily on the road to punish, but to clear up and avert danger. And if two people sit on a bench for a short time and the distance is kept, this is not the biggest problem."
The biggest problem is that if we begin to be careless now, it may end up having been all in vain, weather or no weather. Even with all the cautious optimism regarding the number of intensive care beds and flatter curve: no one sees any reason to relax the measures at this time. Therefore, the following still applies: staying at home doesn’t cost a thing (Netflix and Spotify not included).
Feeding the Police
Back to the rules, back to the decision making in the Senate, which yesterday looked rather conciliatory: The Left would have liked to negotiate removing the obligation to give a reason for being out in the streets, but this regulation remains. In return, the obligation to show identification was removed again, which was especially important to the Greens. And Interior Minister Andreas Geisel was pleased that the regulations had been made concrete rather than softened, so as not to make the work of the police even more difficult.
Speaking of which: since mid-March the police have checked almost 2,000 locations –more than 1,400 outdoors– and around 900 violations were reported. Even without the catalogue of fines, they were already able to see: the number of violations is decreasing daily.
If you have started to feel sorry for the police lately because they now only seem to be around to forbid you things that were just fine until the day before yesterday, you’re free to bring them a cookie. In an internal briefing for police forces yesterday, the following was said: "In the current COVID-19 situation, there are no objections to accepting tasty offerings (coffee, soft drinks, energy bars, food - of course only for take-away!)”.
Crisis Management Underway
After some initial chaos, health senator Dilek Kalayci (SPD) is now proving her crisis-management nous. Not only has she succeeded in recruiting the second pensioner for her emergency hospital in Exhibition Hall 26 (official name: "Corona Treatment Centre Jafféstraße") after chief organiser Albrecht Broemme: Wulf Pankow, 67 years old, was most recently head of pneumology at the Vivantes Clinic in Neukölln (Medical Association President Günther Jonitz calls him "a highly deserving member"). But cautious optimism is also spreading that the numbers could work out: "The rate of infection is such that the medical facilities can keep up," Müller said in the House of Representatives. "But we are far from out of the woods." Deutsche Bank found 100,000 surgical masks in the basement (procured long ago for SARS) and donated them to the state. And 600 medical practitioners have signed up to fight Corona: Retired, part-time, post-graduate, college, closed practices. What is still missing: nursing staff.
Berendt’s Numbers Chaos
While Mayor Müller and Health Senator Kalayci are currently helping to calm the situation, Justice Senator Dirk Behrendt (Greens) has caused unnecessary confusion twice this week. In the Governing Mayor's new video podcast on Wednesday (we reported on it yesterday), he praised the new cooperation between the state laboratory under his command and pharmaceutical company Bayer to carry out 1,000 additional coronavirus tests daily. The test capacity is thus a quarter higher than last week. Getting the calculator out… can that be true? We checked back with the Health Administration, according to whom Berlin was already able to carry out 8,150 tests as of Wednesday. So we contacted Behrendt’s speaker for clarification. His response: “Right now there are moments when not every number is currently available, especially in free conversation.” Uh huh… Better to say too much than too little, then? By the way: the additional 1,000 tests are evaluated by 140 Bayer employees. It wasn't possible to find out yesterday who initiated the collaboration, but it was possible to find out a lot else. They're still setting up, work will start on Monday. Whether we should then add to this 1,000 shall be sorted out in peace.
Another announcement that Behrendt made in the Tagesspiegel on Monday turned out to be somewhat strange: he wanted to get underage refugees out of the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos –if necessary, without federal agreement. Now 72 hours later, he has to admit in the House of Representatives what should have been clear to him (being a lawyer): It won’t work without federal agreement.
Minimum Wage Embarrassment
Also embarrassing: what happened yesterday afternoon on Twitter after the House of Reps decided to raise the minimum wage to €12.50, the highest in Germany. A reason to celebrate, albeit virtually? Maybe not. The SPD faction around Raed Saleh issued a sole press release and tweeted: "Done! The fair minimum wage! Now €12.50 (thumbs up emoji). Thanks to the Left and Greens for supporting our idea."
The reactions were prompt and violent:
Labor Senator Elke Breitenbach: "In the past, the Red-Red-Green coalition would have made a joint press release and celebrated such a success together...."
"...Today, a collective neurosis seems to be alive and well (hand-over-face emoji)"
Sabine Bangert (MP, Greens): "Perhaps it's because of the crisis"
Regina Kittler (MP, Left): “Should we really now be asking the Swiss herb candy question in the sweat lodge?”
Katina Schubert (leader, the Left): "If this was just your idea, you can now do it at the federal level. I don’t think we need to do that, seriously."
Ülker Radziwill (SPD): “In the end good teamwork & success for the Red-Red-Green coalition. As the first federal state, we have now increased the statewide minimum wage to €12,50, synchronized with the Public Procurement Act, and that’s good. On the federal level, it’s not failing because of @spdbt, rather because of the CDU”.
Georg P. Kössler (MP, Greens) tried to mediate: "I have hope that we will do this again in the future. At the sight of the opposition there is no alternative to our coalition!”
The matter is particularly explosive because the dispute over authorship between the Left and the SPD has been simmering for more than a year now - since Mayor Müller himself spoke out in the Tagesspiegel in November 2018 in favour of an increase to €12.63. My colleague Ulrich Zawatka-Gerlach, however, took a closer look back then and found out: The Left was right. As early as May, the Federal Ministry of Labour, in response to an inquiry by Susanne Ferschl (Left), a member of the Bundestag, had announced that an hourly wage of €12.63 euros was mathematically necessary "in order to be able to receive a net pension above the basic old-age provision, given a working week of 38.5 hours over 45 years of employment subject to compulsory insurance". At the end of 2017, this amounted to €814 for pensioners living outside nursing homes. Müller was sceptical at first - and then made the minimum wage project his own. And the Left’s state leader Katina Schubert was already saying at the time: "The Social Democrats stole that from us.”
Can medical students graduate this year?
The question of whether or not medical schools will be undertaking state exams in two weeks' time remains unresolved. Because the SPD state secretaries Steffen Krach (Science) and Martin Matz (Health) have not yet succeeded in answering this question, the Student Council Initiative of Medicine Berlin demanded in an open letter yesterday that students be spared a "hammer exam" shortly after their practical year. There is an optional solution (as the case in Saxony), that students could undertake exams, but for those “individual cases, however, in which the students would not be able to take the exam due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the beginning of the early practical year would still be possible and an extension of the study period would be excluded.” Either way, what they want above all is this: clarity.
Preparation for A-Levels in Progress
Meanwhile in the schools, handles on windows and doors are already being disinfected and the tables are being moved to a safe distance so that the Latin Exam can begin with the A-levels on April 20. Since neighbouring states (Hamburg, Brandenburg, Schleswig-Holstein) are going through with early holidays, so Education Senator Sandra Scheeres to no choice but to announce this morning that Berlin’s children will take regular A-levels exams this summer. In Brandenburg, Education Minister Britta Ernst has already sent around a whole catalogue of measures that will apply if school operations cannot be resumed on April 20. Here are some excerpts:
• The school will inform the examinees electronically on a staggered arrival at the school on the day of the examination in order to avoid clusters of waiting students.
• For the written examinations, all suitable premises of the school must be made available, including gymnasium, refectory and assembly hall if necessary.
• In order to maintain the minimum distance of 1.5 metres, no more than four to five candidates and one teacher should be in the room, assuming a room size of 60 square metres.
• If possible, teachers should wear gloves when viewing and handing over examination documents.
• Students are required to leave the school building and premises immediately after handing in the examination papers. An - understandable - exchange of information about the exams between the students in groups is to be prevented.
A-levels in the year 2020. Please move on (at an appropriate distance), there is nothing to see.
What is happening at Tesla's Construction Ground?
And what's Tesla up to? You know, that other Giga-topic that had us infected way back when? Good news and bad news (you decide): Although there is no date set for the ground-breaking ceremony for obvious reasons, the construction work on Tesla's Gigafactory at Grünheide (35km southeast of Berlin) appears to be going according to plan. The forest is gone, now it's time to clean up. My colleague Kevin P. Hoffmann drove by yesterday and noticed a lot of activity behind the flapping green plastic (bulldozers, reptiles and even cable harnesses!) More on this soon in the Tagesspiegel. In any case, Elon Musk will be staying in the USA for now.
Finally Something to Celebrate
Meanwhile, Hertha BSC celebrates a great success: five weeks unbeaten.
In Empty Trains
Apprehension about full U1 trains, running between Gleisdreieck and Uhlandstraße again since yesterday, have not been confirmed yet. Checkpoint reader Wolfgang looked out of the window all day yesterday, directly at the bridge at Gleisdreick ("We can see every train, so to speak") and noticed the great emptiness: “There were merely two or three people in each car.”
Not much traffic at Schönefeld Airport
Once, we were notorious for counting the days since the BER airport’s non-opening. Today we count passengers. Yesterday in Schönefeld airport, there were 23 –the whole day.
Open to be closed again immediately
The tunnel at Gleimstraße (near Mauerpark) celebrated a sad reopening yesterday: first, two years of nothing (due to major water damage), then it's open for traffic but no-one drives through, and now Pankow wants to close it again: the tunnel will become a bike lane. Let's see if a lone car deigns to slide on through before that happens.
Enjoy your Kitchen Club
Because whingeing won’t help (scientifically proven!), we now dance every evening in the kitchen, which has now turned into a virtual mini-Berlin: start-up, restaurant, gas station, cinema, snack bar, circus, concert hall, fire station –and of course the club. School starts when we want to anyway –and let's face it: not showering helps the water companies flatten their curves, right? Here’s a playlist by our Tagesspiegel colleague Nadine Lange: DANCE!
Stefan Franzke, head of Berlin Partner, is dancing to music from "La Boum" tonight. He had to postpone his planned 50th birthday dance party, for reasons of The Time We Are Living In. A colleague wrote to him: "Dance like no one is watching". Like every day.
By the way: In Frankfurt am Main, the police have now taken over the evening entertainment and are blaring Elton John’s "Circle of Life" through the streets. Any suggestions for Berlin?
We will be dancing the days away now for sure and will be back when you need us.
Popmusik-Playlist Abheben auf dem Wohnzimmer-Dancefloor
From tomorrow the Checkpoint will move back to German-only. Stay healthy and flat (you know)!
Kind regards, the translation team Kathleen Wächter & Lily Coates