• Your Daily Update in English on the Coronavirus in Berlin by Tagesspiegel’s Checkpoint

BVG Falling Short During Corona Crisis : Public Transport Reduces Service – At The Expense of Communal Health?

While People squeeze together in Public Transport, Germany's Medical Emergency Hotline proves difficult to reach. And will a National Travel Ban for Easter be put in place?

Kathleen Wächter Lily Coates
Berlin U-Bahn, 27.03.2020
Berlin U-Bahn, 27.03.2020Foto: Christophe Gateau/dpa

From Monday to Friday at around 11am, an English translation of Checkpoint, Tagesspiegel's daily Berlin newsletter, will be provided on the Tagesspiegel website. We will update you on all relevant Coronavirus and Berlin news for free. Please recommend the English Checkpoint to your friends, colleagues, fellow students, and all non-native speakers who live in the city (learn more about the German edition here). Translation: Kathleen Wächter, Lily Coates

Which world did you wake up to today? A world where the hours are getting slower and slower because you're getting cabin fever, while spring takes another tantalising turn just outside the window? 

Or is it a world without a second of peace and quiet, because you’re the wo/man in charge of handling your kids' schoolwork and dealing with the tantrums; the person thinking about the grandparents’ mental health while running the household around-the-clock with only the night to squeeze in “home office” duties? 

Berlin Needs Solidarity From Us All

Or are you living in a world in which everyone is all of a sudden thanking you for still heading to work every day as if nothing had changed, because your job is to help people medically, to care for them, to advise them, to support them in their basic care in this uncertain time – and must you therefore live in fear of becoming infected with an invisible, potentially fatal disease due to unavoidable human contact? 

A couple holding hands during a Walk on 31.03.2020 in Berlin's Tiergarten.
A couple holding hands during a Walk on 31.03.2020 in Berlin's Tiergarten.Picture: Kitty Kleist-Heinrich

Or are you currently at home in a world that’s suddenly stopped spinning because as an entrepreneur, shopkeeper or creative artist you are suddenly no longer allowed to have a clientele; as a short-time worker having to get by with less money? 

Or do you no longer understand the world, as an older, even health-endangered person no longer allowed to even briefly hug your loved ones or to rest on a park bench, but still have to push your way through supermarket aisles that are far too narrow? Or is it because you, as a poorer or disadvantaged person, still don’t know whether this world will ever have a good place for you, especially after this state of emergency?

We Are All Connected 

All these worlds live side by side in Berlin; it’s always been this way. But it is only now, in this crisis that affects us all with equal force, that we realise that even in a fragmented and unraveling city we are the closest of neighbors: all connected, dependent on one another. That we must take care of each and every one of these orbiting worlds in order to prevent serious health-, social- or emotional damage. 

So let us remain attentive and sensitive to those next to us, because only together can we help ourselves best. In Berlin, the city that has always known how to unite so many diverse worlds. Our city, where the whole world is now at home in the kiez. Let’s get used to the idea that we will most likely have to spend at least three more weeks here. 

Senate: No Agreement on Fines for Contact Ban

In these days of crisis, the Berlin Senate is still searching for solidarity. At yesterday's meeting of the state government, according to information from participants, the Green Party and the Left Party, in a kind of anti-authoritarian united front, tore up the catalogue of fines that the administration of SPD Health Senator Dilek Kalayci had prepared. 

According to Kalayci’s recommendation, fines of up to €500 would be in place for being outside the home without good reason. Even not carrying an ID would be cause for fines – for some laissez-faire Berliners probably far too tall an order, even if in the interest of health. In any case, the SPD and its ruling Major Michael Müller weren’t able to assert themselves against the blocking majority, probably also owing to the fact that there were several draft resolutions on fines. 

The whole subject was postponed to Thursday. That is when Berlin will decide on what has already been in force beyond the city borders: a contact ban until 19 April. We may see a catalogue of fines like those already in place in the Mark (region in Brandenburg), which involve heavy penalties. 

Chancellor Discusses Easer Holiday Travels With State Heads

In the realm of national politics, today will bring the states together to discuss federal matters. Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with the state heads in a telephone conference at 2pm. First topic on the list will be the current state of the nation in terms of health, and after that – according to the agenda – the possible “Limitation or extension of the contact ban and closure measures”. 

The top four items will bring topics to the table that are causing concern not only for the Federal Chancellery, but the states as well: 

•    “Topic 4: Easter Holiday Travel”: here, many politicians fear that holidays with extended family will soften the contact restrictions in place.

•    “Topic 5: Growth in capacity of intensive care beds”: for many states it is still unclear whether, in addition to the hastily-constructed intensive care beds with ventilators, there will also be enough personnel when, according to estimates by staff in Berlin hospitals, the first big wave of people simultaneously ill with the novel Covid 19 virus is admitted to hospitals in just over a week. Not to mention sufficient protective clothing.

•    “Topic 6: Situation in the Nursing Facilities”: here, the accumulation of fatal diseases leads virologists to fear that the mortality rate of older infected persons will soon rise significantly.

 Germany has a lot to fear in the midst of this rampant pandemic, especially in terms of health. First and foremost, politicians will have to act –and not just in the next three weeks.

On-Call Medical Service Proving Difficult to Reach

The disease within our excessively profit-oriented health system shows its symptoms with increasing clarity when the system comes into contact with those who need it: patients. 

Those who now break their bones in a fall or accident, for example, and want to avoid the hospitals (which are full due to the corona pandemic) and avoid a possibly not yet necessary emergency call, but also cannot see a doctor (either because their local practice has had to close or because the waiting room is full of possible virus-carriers), the only remaining option is to call the medical on-call service.

 Calling the number – 116 117 – gets you a minute-long taped announcement before being kicked off the line. The Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (Kassenärztliche Vereinigung) appears to be overwhelmed by the 2000 incoming calls per day in their Berlin headquarters. 

But as long as you cannot call a doctor, no one can come to help. The on-call service is more vital now than ever, and in order to ensure that the health system itself remains healthy, we need it to work.

Pharmacies Feel the Storm

Pharmacies are experiencing difficulties delivering medications in higher demand such as antibiotics, blood pressure regulators, antidepressants and indigestion medications, reported Reiner Kern from the Association of German Pharmacies to Checkpoint. Last year alone, 18 Million prescription medications faced delivery delays (a doubling in comparison to the prescription medications the year before; 9 Million in 2018 and another doubling compared to 4.5 Million in 2017). 

The main reason for this is globalised competition for the lowest prices by a small handful of major pharma-industry players. Most pharmaceutical production takes place in China or India. Adding to that are the rebate contracts of German health insurance companies for drugs and an existing obligation for pharmacies to administer only rebated drugs. 

The latter regulation was in parts skipped on Tuesday by health insurance companies: pharmacies are now allowed to "dispense another drug in stock, so that the patient does not have to return to the pharmacy again". A small remedy for many who do not want to risk an infection running health-related errands.

Berlin's Students Are Making Noise Against Final Exams

The secondary students who still don’t know whether or not they need to prepare for their A-level exams are starting to make some noise. Hamburg insists on the exams being held with a minimum distance, but Berlin’s Education Senator Sandra Scheeres (SPD) is undecided on whether to follow the Hamburg example or the appeal of her student constituency, who suggest that an (essentially advantageous) average of the course work designate final grades, instead of exams. 

The only emergency A-level exam that’s ever taken place in Berlin was during WWII. The Senate is still sitting on the decision, leaving students hanging. 

And now to some topics that need to be rescued from drowning in the sea of Coronavirus news…

Hungary Leverages Parliament

In the shadow of the Corona crisis, Hungary is building a shadow democracy. Three decades after the revolution, which also made a peaceful reunion in Germany possible in the first place, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is turning his country into a kind of presidential dictatorship. The EU, of which Hungary is a member, has already reacted with all its harshness: unmistakable silence. 

Lufthansa Airplanes on the Ground.
Lufthansa Airplanes on the Ground.Foto: Arne Dedert/dpa

Lufthansa's Eurowings Avoids Berlin

A sensation almost like in GDR times: planes arriving in Tegel. On Tuesday Lufthansa airline announced it will guarantee “basic services in Germany”. However, according to Eurowings’ list of serviced airports, Berlin is conspicuously missing, as if it were somewhere exotic and not the capital of Germany. The list of “basic service” airports? Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Cologne/(ex-capital of a long-lost country:) Bonn. 

Trauma of Hanau Goes on With No Space To Mourn

In mid-February a racially-motivated massacre cost the lives of ten people. But how can you mourn publicly when the public space no longer exists? How can you stick together and offer solace, when we are forced to isolate? How can normality return when there isn’t such thing as normality anymore? All these questions are asked by the people in Hanau, as their trauma echoes on. 

Bundesliga Ghost Games Coming in May

Abandoned by many good spirits, German professional football seems determined to keep on keeping on. Apparently the season will continue with ghost games in May, in order to save millions in lost TV money. So the Berlin derby return match between Hertha and Union could still take place –without fans and without sense.

Two bits of good news to wrap it up today: If you need to get rid of your sorrows: Artist Annabel Daou takes them away from you. She incorporates your sorrows into a performance, streamed live on Saturday. All info in the Arts Newsletter (in German), that you can subscribe to for free.

And the Chamber of Commerce is joining other Berlin institutions in calling for donations, especially for protective gear. A tattoo studio in Friedrichshain reacted promptly, handing over their equipment on Tuesday; 50 masks, seven litres of disinfectant, 1000 single-use gloves. Police opened a donation hotline (weekdays): 030 4664 616161. Every bit counts, so join helping!


What’s the world like that you want to fall sleep to by the end of the day? Certainly one in which Berlin’s air is cleaner. Perhaps one where the empty streets of Wales have been taken over by goats (that one came true). Definitely in a world where we continue to wish each other a good night, hopefully to sound as atmospheric as the Rias Chamber Choir (song here). But this is also a world where people dear to us die without their loved-ones beside them. 

89-year-old North-Fresian Karsten Tüchsen Hansen meets Inga Rasmussen, his 85-year-old girlfriend from Denmark, every day at the now-closed border.
89-year-old North-Fresian Karsten Tüchsen Hansen meets Inga Rasmussen, his 85-year-old girlfriend from Denmark, every day at the...Picture: Frank Molter/dpa

Hope continues to be given to us by the world in which we still know how to love one another, even if distance is the new closeness. This is why the 89-year-old North-Fresian Karsten Tüchsen Hansen now meets Inga Rasmussen, his 85-year-old girlfriend from Denmark, every day. 

They sit in their folding chairs either side of the now-closed border – she with a thermos of coffee, he with a cup of punch. "Cheers, here's to love", they shout to each other over the barrier tape. As long as our lives can be like this, we are all in good spirits. And can comfort ourselves when we need it.

And that's it from us. For today. Make the best out of this 1st of April, find reasons to laugh, and stay healthy. Tomorrow, Stefan Jacobs will be back with everything important you need to know. See you then!

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