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Chancellor Merkel's Speech during the Corona Crisis
© Fabian Strauch/dpa

“Take this seriously!”: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Appeal to the Nation

Berlin’s Political State of Emergency, Information on Aid, Solidarity and Behaviour and a Possible Curfew – Today’s Checkpoint is not going to be light.

From now on parts of the Checkpoint will be available in English daily. You can find it on the Tagesspiegel website in the late morning. We’ll update you on all relevant Corona and Berlin News. This service is free. Recommend the English Checkpoint to your friends, colleagues, uni mates and all those who live here, whose mother tongue isn’t German (learn more about the German edition here). Translation: Kathleen Wächter, Lily Coates

It was a pretty bad day yesterday. And it does feel as if Corona is coming to us straight from a Brothers Grimm fairytale: SARS-CoV-2, cloaked in the disguise of a beautiful spring day. The invisible threat lured many Berliners to spend a day in the tempting sun. There were groups of people everywhere on the Tempelhofer Feld, Hermannplatz, at Gleisdreieck Park – sitting next to each other on lawns, shoulder to shoulder in those cafés that are still open. As if there hadn’t been any warnings or appeals

But the frightening prognosis made by the Robert-Koch-Institut (RKI) is far from a fantasy series that can be switched off at any time. It is maths, simple as that. And it goes like this: We can expect ten million infected Germany-wide, within the next two to three months – far too many, too soon, to be able to care for and treat the seriously ill. “Do not assemble, stay at home”, RKI President Lothar Wieler pleaded once again – but in the bluetooth speakers dotting Berlin’s parks, his plea didn’t seem to make much noise at all.

Merkel appeals: “Take this seriously!”

On Wednesday evening, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a dramatic TV speech: “It is serious. Do take this seriously. Not since the Day of German Reunification, no, not since the second World War, has our country seen a challenge that so severely depends on all of us acting together in solidarity”. And further: 

My appeal to you: Obey the rules that will be in place over the coming period. We as a government will constantly re-examine what can be corrected, but also what may still be necessary. This is a task of historic measures and we can only solve it together. I am fully convinced that we will overcome this crisis. But how high are the stakes, how many victims will we see? How many loved ones will we lose? We hold this largely in our own hands."

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Never before have we heard Merkel like this. It seemed like a last attempt to avoid what is already in place elsewhere: a curfew

Berlin’s Mayor Michael Müller also made an urgent call to take the restrictions and recommendations on behaviour seriously. He hopes that a curfew is avoidable, but he does not exclude such means as a possibility: “A curfew can be decided quickly and, if necessary, it will be decided quickly.”

Berlin in a Political State of Emergency 

Berlin’s politicians and authorities are dealing with challenges for which there is no blueprint. Tasks grow and change on a daily basis, coordination becomes trickier, structures that we’re accustomed to disintegrate. Much of what’s happening now reminds Berliners of when the two sides of the city were reunited

It was a wholly new experience for which none had practiced: learning by doing; then as today, every step a challenge and at the same time a necessity; politics as an experiment with an unknown outcome – with three serious differences:

1. This time it is about life and death

2. Today, time is not money – it is health.

3. There is a lot to lose.

Culture as Corona Victim 

Art and culture count among the first victims. “Culture is systemically relevant”, said Senator for Culture, Klaus Lederer – and this applies absolutely when we look at Berlin. From one day to the next the virus has deprived thousands of artists of their livelihood. “The Coronavirus is also an attack on a way of life, it hits those especially hard who are not in it for big money, but for their ideas and their realisation”, our colleagues Werner van Bebber und Barbara Nolte write in today’s Tagesspiegel. 

Senate to Help Businesses 

From today, the Senate will provide liquidity support – up to 200 million euros in total. As of today, affected companies can receive all necessary information from the Berlin funding agencies – by telephone and on their websites: 

Berlin-Partner: 030 46302 440, https://www.berlin-partner.de/

IBB: 030 2125 4747, https://www.ibb.de/de/startseite/startseite.html

visitBerlin: 030 264748 886, https://www.visitberlin.de/de

Unusual Solutions Needed

The Senate will help with emergency measures: Bridging loans, tax deferrals, but now all Berliners are asked: How can we help those who have made our city so special, so different, so worth living in? How can we make it possible to still be able visit the concert, the cabaret stage, the neighbourhood cinema, the gallery, the theatre, the bar – after Corona

How can we save those who have saved us so often, even if from boredom? We are collecting suggestions from now on: checkpoint@tagesspiegel.deSupport your local artist, barkeeper, barista!

Many are threatened by the Corona-crisis directly, especially economically. A lot of people will have problems paying their rent. With all due physical distance (the term “social distance” could not be more wrong and fatal in that regard): Now is the moment where renters and landlords come together (symbolically!) and openly talk through the different situations. 

Stick together in this times of need: Berlin has always been good at that. Let's show that it still works. 

Berlin's Disctricts Without Consistent Rules: Playgrounds

The Senate has been largely criticised for not following suit with the federal recommendation to close all playgrounds (culture Senatore Lederer: “In the big cities not every house has a garden and children simply get sick if they are in little apartments for weeks”), however five districts closed their playground fields nevertheless. As of yesterday, those were: Spandau, Reinickendorf, Steglitz-Zehlendorf und Marzahn-Hellersdorf. 

Children's Playground in Friedrichshain, Berlin
Children's Playground in Friedrichshain, Berlin
© S. Gabsch/imago images/Future Image

Quite surprisingly, many children did not follow the health senator's advice to keep their distance when playing. Yeah. Last week, the Mayor had delayed the first corona measures because he wanted the states to act in unison – now he couldn't even prevent federal uncontrolled growth in his own backyard. Even within Berlin’s districts the federal dilemma exists and can be illustrated by an email from Mitte’s Mayor Stephan von Dassel (currently in quarantine) to his staff. An excerpt: 

"In fact, we can only choose between plague and cholera, I still think it is right to keep an open mind, but consistent action is even more important. From a virological point of view, the advocates of closure are certainly right, in this case the complete quarantine of all citizens for several weeks would be best. 

But we really have thousands of families in our district, for whom I am fearful and anxious when they stay in their often already tiny apartments for a long time (...). From my point of view we have to organise public life in such a way that these rules can be enforced and communicated to the population for several weeks.  Rules that nobody sticks to or that can only be enforced by police won’t help anyone.“

[Going local - have you heard about our weekly newsletters, one for each of Berlin's twelve districts? Of course, they cover the way how your neighbourhood deals with the virus and its consequences. Get them here for free, but in German: leute.tagesspiegel.de]

Spandaus Mayor Helmut Kleebank’s reaction to this (excerpt):  "Spandau is following the line of the Federal Government and also the spirit of the previous measures of the State of Berlin: avoiding social contacts as far as possible and preventing events from taking place. The virus doesn't care whether we call the meeting of people an event or not. But in fact we see playgrounds with dozens of children and their parents who are in quasi-permanent direct contact with each other. So if we would leave the playgrounds open, we’d shift the transmission from the now closed day-care centres and schools to the playgrounds. (...) 

Berlin's Mayor Michael Müller (left) and Health Senator Dilek Kayaci (right).
Berlin's Mayor Michael Müller (left) and Health Senator Dilek Kayaci (right).
© Soeren Stache/dpa

It is not the district Spandau that has left the consistent line, but the Senate which has not followed the line agreed with the Chancellor. Why does Berlin agree to this agreement, but then doesn’t implement it?”

Mayor Müller in Quarantine – Parliamentary Session Cancelled

Yesterday afternoon, the Senate Office informed via its official Twitter account: “In a special meeting, Berlin and Brandenburg have discussed a joint approach to dealing with the coronavirus. Both states have moved closer together in this time of crisis. The intensive cooperation is important to contain the spread of the virus.”

Indeed, “moved closer together” can be understood very literally here – the photos that came along with this information showed Michael Müller and (Brandenburg’s Prime Minister) Dietmar Woidke pretty close together.

Around the same time, Parliamentary President Ralf Wieland sent an email to all Berlin MPs informing that Israel’s Ambassador has tested positive. On March 9th, Jeremy Issacharoff participated at an event honoring Margot Friedländer. Among the 140 guests were a lot of MPs. Hence, the following plenary this coming Thursday session has been cancelled. Latest news on Michael Müller: His test is negative.

Decisions needed on graduation exams 

Berlin’s secondary school principals will have to decide if graduation exams need to be postponed. When it comes to the subject "learning for life" the highest mark should be guaranteed. 

Police had to force closure of 130 shops that were illegally open. The most common excuse by the shop operators: They hadn’t heard the news. Really!? Subscribe to the Checkpoint and be in the know! 

Sheep at Pinke Panke Farm for Kids.
Sheep at Pinke Panke Farm for Kids.
© Kitty Kleist-Heinrich

The Frauensee Kids and Youth Recreation Centre has been forced to close its animal park due to the crisis and seeks for caregivers for the following animals: 8 ponies, 1 mule, 2 donkeys, 4 goats, 4 sheep, 2 wool pigs, 3 mini pigs, 14 rabbits, 6 guinea pigs, 20 pigeons, 4 turkeys, 4 peacocks, 7 ducks, 2 zebra finches, 2 japanese seagulls (?), 2 cockatiels, 8 budgerigars. Please get in touch via Whatsapp, 015223322869 or 015115810750 

And on a completely different note...

A Danish supermarket came up with a genius idea to tackle the antisocial “Hamster Shoppers” (a term that is likely entering the English lexicon by now – it means hoard-shoppers): They charge 40 Kroners for 1 bottle of disinfectant but 1000 Kroners for a second bottle (found on Twitter).

Plenty to think about. We’ll leave the last word of today’s Checkpoint to Angela Merkel: “At the moment, the only expression of caring is distance.” Stay healthy and stay at home (if you can), please!

In case you missed yesterday's edition with plenty of information on Coronavirus Contact Points, Berlin Hotlines and so on: Click here.

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