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Friedrichstrasse in Berlin.

© Kay Nietfeld/dpa


Coronavirus Crisis in Berlin: School Exams Postponed & Talking to Your Plant is Normal Now

Berlin Adapts to a New Social Everyday, Though Temperatures on the Weekend Could Cause a Challenge.

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

Only on Sunday, Berlin Mayor Michael Müller said: “A social life will have to be possible”. Two days after this sentence hovers over the city, Berlin is trying to come to terms with making an everyday life between protection masks, contact ban and defrosted meals. Can we do it?

Some find it all too much, others too little – is the right measure somewhere in the middle? It’s confusing that the different states give it different names and the rules vary in detail. For some areas it’s a contact ban, for others a lockdown. 

Berlin's deserted restaurant at Wannsee lake.
Berlin's deserted restaurant at Wannsee lake.

© Kitty Kleist-Heinrich

In Bavaria, the governing CSU ordered a state-wide curfew. Are we spared in Berlin because we’re governed by the Red-Red-Green Coalition (SPD-Left-Greens), who are allowing outings with strict limits? What we all have in common is that we’re left trying to make sense of what „the right measures” actually mean.

A New Social Everyday

Yesterday, a mother who sat down with her kids on a lawn was asked by the police to not do so: „When people see others sit on a lawn they naturally follow and join in.” The herd behaviour applies unfortunately not only to immunity but also holds true for other situations, like red lights and closed playgrounds.

The Police appear to be making every effort to enforce Berlin’s new contact restrictions in a friendly way, even if it remains unclear whether one is allowed to sit on that park bench or not. So far, the current rule states: „Sports and movement out in the fresh air, alone or with members of the own household or with one other person is permitted. Gathering in groups is prohibited.” 

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But there’s no mention about lingering or taking a break. So does that mean no? The Senate’s answer: „Nothing speaks against a short break as long as the visit to the park is for sports or exercise (including walks) – and needs to be in compliance with the regulations on the minimum distances.” That means: You can take a (short) break, however keep a distance of 1.5 metres from the other person (whether that person lives with you or not).

42yo Dies of Corona in Berlin

Given all that, should it perhaps have been a little more? As long as the wind blows ice cold, the days aren’t too inviting for long stays outside. So, not a problem for now. But this might soon change. By this weekend, a sunny 15°C is expected and after a week of hibernation, this could cause a real challenge to herd discipline. Especially as many are in a forced break at home and have plenty of time to ruminate over the question of when this curve will finally be flat enough for us to be able to sit outside on a picnic blanket.

In the midst of all this, remember: this is not just about some annoying ordinance. Yesterday in Berlin a third person died of the coronavirus. He was 42 years old.

Quarantine or Not?

The Mayor expects the current restrictions to carry on until after Easter. On last night’s rbb talk show „We’ve Got to Talk,” he openly disagreed with fellow party member, Health Senator Kalayci, who on Monday had called all people over 70 to remain in quarantine. „You know my position on the lock-down, so you can imagine where I stand on a quarantine”, Müller said. This was not in line with the Senate. Let’s see where he stands in a month.

The Unresolvable School Question

As an example of how quickly situations can change at the moment, look at the A-Levels (Abitur). At first, Senator for Schools Sandra Scheeres didn’t want to postpone the exams at all, but now they are planned to take place after the Easter holidays. And although Berlin’s Government is aware Corona won’t be gone by then, Senator Scheeres is hesitant to call off the exams altogether.

Closed School in Berlin.
Closed School in Berlin.

© Kay Nietfeld/dpa

While she was still trying to figure out a solution in line with her colleagues from the states Hamburg, Brandenburg and Schleswig-Holstein, Education Minister Karin Prien in Schleswig-Holstein had already cancelled the exams in her state. Still to be solved…

„People Need Security and Clear Communication”

What can be done? Well-respected German sociologist Jutta Allmendinger said in her guest visit at the Senate Meeting yesterday: „People need security and planability, clear communication.” What else can be done except to cancel (hello International Olympic Committee!)? 

For most students it would be an advantage if the average grades of the school year were to come into play, as they’re often more favourable than exam grades. You know what? Give this small advantage to the kids. Who’d blame them for it?

Masks Become Hot Topic

It is impressive how quickly we adapt to all of this – luckily. Or would you have predicted two weeks ago that you could start finding it normal – responsible even – to see people wearing masks in the supermarket? But the world is different today and we wait at the entrance just like we used to at the club door. We hope to be admitted in and that there is still some good stuff left for us. 

It really is a little like the old Club rules. Keep a distance – and if it’s full, it’s full. The only difference being now, that before putting your shopping basket back on the stack, a friendly guide asks you to hand it to him for disinfection. What a service!

6M Masks Missing

In an unusual turnaround, given the laws against masked protest (will May Day still happen?), we’re now seeing police escorting mask deliveries. And this comes with a good reason: Just yesterday, Der Spiegel reported that 6 million masks ordered by the army have disappeared without a trace.

A man wears a face mask in Berlin's Kreuzberg district.
A man wears a face mask in Berlin's Kreuzberg district.

© David Gannon/afp

How many of these were intended for Berlin is unclear, but it explains a certain nervousness on the subject in recent days. Health Senator Kalayci appeared distinctly surprised on Monday when only 8,000 masks were delivered to medical practices – approximately one per each practice.


As it happens, Ebay has restricted the sale of masks. So if you find masks somewhere, have them brought to the hospital. Masks are also becoming a topic everywhere online. The hashtag #stayathome (#bleibtzuhause) and #wearamask (#maskeauf) are trending and German celebrities like Charlotte Roche, Rezo & Lena Meyer-Landrut are diving in when it comes to facial coverings. An important note: Medical masks should remain in the medical field, where they are urgently needed, so make your own mask. DIY.

Members of Parliament Infected

Major Müller is still planning to give his government declaration on Thursday. Up until now, no changes have been announced, even with two Corona cases in Parliament. Two MPs have tested positive and are in quarantine. In a crisis meeting today, a decision will be made on whether Parliamentary sittings are still to take place.

If sittings do continue, the seating order will be reduced significantly. Yesterday, political parties were given a new seating plan. And additional rules have already been already put in place: no more signs on doors in order to avoid queues. 

[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]

Questions are to be made from a seated position, papers will no longer be shared and the microphone is to be disinfected after every speech. The initial insecurity about using tech for conferences etc. has thankfully passed and quorums can take place via Chat. Parliament seems to be coping and adjusting, just like the rest of us.

Help Everywhere

State Secretary Sawsan Chebli wrote in a forthcoming piece for Tagesspiegel: „Corona has changed our country, but I am not talking about the standstill or the sudden silence out on the streets and in the parks… What I am talking about is that after all the hatred, the racism and division of recent times, the friendly faces of our society are showing up in view of the huge challenges with which we are faced. 

Sawsan Chebli
Sawsan Chebli

© Bernd von Jut

There are notes in building entrances from people offering help to neighbours, there are calls online to join the #Neighborhoodchallenge, supermarkets are calling for help and rental companies are offering support and assistance to their renters. And on balconies people offer applause to those carrying the load of this, those who are working tirelessly keeping things going, treating and caring for the sick, saving lives and helping to assist those who cannot leave their homes.”

[In case you missed our Checkpoint edition with plenty of information on Coronavirus Contact Points, Berlin Hotlines and so on: Click here.]

A Neukölln Registry Officer has extended his services and is offering to wed people in his kitchen. Neukölln’s City Councilor asked: „But what would you serve with it?”, Registry officer: „Isn’t a legally valid marriage enough? Nüscht,” („nothing” in Berlin slang), „just like in the office.”

The traffic turnaround in general is a Corona side-effect. A data analysis by Tagesspiegel’s Innovation Lab showed a stark reduction: last Thursday traffic congestion was 31 percent lower than in the previous year’s average.

Warm Heart, Clean Hands!

The Berlin Water Company has announced that they will not turn off the tap for anyone. „Washing hands is vital these days - everyone should have access to water.”

If you’d like to share your experience of how your life has changed with the Coronavirus, we look forward hearing from you! Send in your story or a video message with the reference “Corona-Geschichten”.

To wrap things up today, we would like to share a message from the Swiss Association of Mental Health that comes just at the right time: „Dear fellow citizens, if you have begun to speak to your pets, plants or household devices, you’re acting perfectly NORMAL. You do not have to contact us. Do however get in touch if your pets, plants or household devices begin to talk back to you. Best wishes, Your overworked Psychiatrists and Psychotherapists.“

On that note, wish your cactus a good morning. Politeness is also important in the home office. Tomorrow Julius Betschka will disinfect you here.

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