54 events happened in Berlin this past weekend as the city's nightlife makes a precarious return.
While Germany was averaging 300 to 500 daily new infections when lockdown measures relaxed in mid-July, reported cases have since risen to around 1,300 a day, Der Spiegel reports.
Death rates are currently low, but numbers are expected to rise if the virus moves from younger people to the elderly and immunocompromised.
According to internal statistics, there were 193 Berlin events listed on Resident Advisor in August—a 244 percent rise from June, when the contact ban was eased. 54 events took place this past weekend, including parties at Renate's open-air venue, Else, Berghain's Garten, ://about blank and new venue OXI.
Since the ban lifted, restrictions around events have gradually loosened. As of September 1st, dancing inside is still illegal, though clubs can host guests for other indoor activities like viewing art or having a drink, according to the city's website. For clubs and promoters with access to open-air spaces, outdoor events with up to 5,000 people are allowed, provided organizers can somehow enforce social distancing and necessary hygiene measures.
A 12-page "hygiene framework concept," released by the city senate and last updated on June 27th, describes these measures. It requires venues to submit a hygiene risk assessment and cleaning and disinfection plan, as well as providing hand sanitizer, gathering details for contact tracing, ensuring guests are wearing face masks when not seated and are keeping a distance of 1.5 meters from one another. Some clubs, like Else, are also checking temperatures at the door.
As Jean-Hugues Kabuiku outlined in his recent review of a party at Else, enforcing these measures with limited staff and intoxicated guests can be a challenge. Noise restrictions introduce another hurdle, with clubs having to close their doors before midnight to sidestep an already increasing number of residential noise complaints. In any case, promoters and clubs are adapting weekly, choosing not to shy away from attempts at keeping the city's party scene going.
A local partygoer, who asked to remain anonymous, attended Else on Sunday, September 6th to see Ricardo Villalobos and Craig Richards. He found the new rules, while necessary, antithetical to his idea of raving. "Yes, the music was amazing and hearing it on a big soundsystem was a privilege that most in the world cannot get right now, but the spark had gone, and the magic was just not working," he explained. "The crowd was great, loads of familiar faces and dance floor friends that I haven't seen in over half a year, but if you're not allowed to have a dance with them, what's the point?"
Lack of "magic" aside, the majority of people were said to be respectful of the hygiene requirements, and the club employed a swath of staff correcting those who weren't.
"It's a hard balance for clubs to make sure that you're able to express yourself and feel free in that space while also making sure everyone is taking care of the hygiene measures," Lutz Leichsenring of the Berlin Clubcommission told Resident Advisor. Despite any regulatory rigidness, however, fans are showing their support, with Leichsenring noting that most of these recent events have sold out in advance or had round-the-block lines.
Until Germany introduces a vaccine or approves rapid at-the-door-testing methods, the Clubcommission feels comfortable with the current open-air approach. "We want to try and stay as long as possible in outside spaces because the numbers just show it there is like no infection happening even with people gathering in big numbers," he said. According to Leichsenring, there haven't been any large clusters traced back to legal open airs, though there have been individual cases.
The city, which earns an estimated €1.5 billion a year from party tourism, has created grant programs for renovations so clubs can remain open in some capacity while still adhering to local gathering guidelines. Renovations could include building shelters for open air spaces, designing inward-facing speaker systems to elude noise complaints or installing outdoor heaters. For Leichsenring, aid programs like this send an encouraging message. "I think it's showing how the government really wants to save the clubs but is also trying to avoid the clubs becoming super spreaders or, you know, being stigmatized as a scene that's spreading a virus, which we had in the '80s."
He adds: "Clubs are doing a lot of things right now to get people engaged. It started with streaming, then they started renovating stuff, and now it's good in summertime to also use the space differently." In addition to open airs, some owners have tried to repurpose their venues as bars, galleries and pop-up restaurants. However, many club employees are now on zero-hour contracts, with their wages paid through Kurzarbeitergeld, the German government's short-work scheme.
This adds another layer of complexity to venues' attempts at coming back. Under Kurzarbeitergeld, the wage subsidy increases gradually the longer you're on the program, but if your hours are increased and decreased again, you'll go back to the lowest payout and have to start over. "If you pull out your people from short work, and you have to put them back into short work, they don't receive 80 percent of their income, they receive 60 percent," explains Leichsenring. "So [clubs] have to be very careful with what [they] actually try out."
As of today, September 14th, Berlin's reproduction rate sits at 0.60, meaning, in theory, every person infected with the virus is passing it on to 0.6 others, Der Tagesspiegel reports. Local hospitals are describing similarly low numbers, with coronavirus patients occupying only 1.1 percent of the city's ICU beds. The publication also noted a series of new infection clusters stemming from various indoor scenarios like schools, doctors offices, nursing homes and private parties.
"We have to learn from the situation and the infection rate is low, events outside are basically not hazardous, so we are trying to learn and work with what's possible," Leichsenring said of the current situation, before reiterating the Commissions desire to ultimately bring in rapid testing.