BERLIN: Berlin’s famous nightclubs may be closed, but beers and ear-splitting techno music were still on the menu at an improvised park picnic in the German capital on Tuesday night.
The group of twenty-somethings were apparently unfazed by their government’s calls to stay at home in the growing coronavirus crisis.
“The nightclubs are shut, we have to have fun somehow,” said one of them.
So-called “corona parties” such as this one have been giving authorities a headache in Germany, where sweeping new restrictions on public life have been introduced to help halt the spread of Covid-19.
Police in Berlin were forced to intervene after around 100 young people gathered for an alcohol-fuelled party in the park to celebrate the closure of schools on Monday afternoon.
The group initially dispersed, before rejoining another group later in the night, local media reported.
“Please don’t do this. Stay at home and limit your social life as much as possible,” urged Lars Schaade, vice-president of the Robert Koch Institute for public health, which is leading the German fight against the virus.
He added that corona parties were “counter-productive” and “endangered people who are at risk”.
Ice cream and jogging
Germany has been one of the worst hit countries in the novel coronavirus pandemic, with the latest figures showing over 8,000 confirmed cases and 12 deaths.
The government announced drastic new rules to slow contagion on Monday, including the closure of non-essential shops and a ban on religious gatherings.
Yet even if the streets are now largely quiet, the return of spring has drawn many Berliners back outside to sun themselves on the capital’s terraces.
As the queues at ice cream stands grow longer, not everyone is heeding official recommendations to keep at least 1.5m away from each other.
Many are enjoying their freedom while they can, with fears that Germany may soon join Italy, France, Belgium and Spain in imposing near total lockdowns.
“A lot of people are not respecting the rules, we won’t be able to escape total confinement,” Anja, 35, told AFP, as she enjoyed one last game of beach volleyball with her friends at a Berlin park.
“We thought hard about coming here, and discussed who we might cross paths with in our neighbourhood,” she said.
Further along in the same park, metal weights machines which are normally free to the public went largely unused.
Meanwhile in Frankfurt, jogger Geoffrey Davis told AFP that he would “think twice” before going for another run.
“There seem to be more joggers than normal and they are not taking care to keep their distance from people who are just going for a walk,” he said irritably.
In a televised address to the nation on Wednesday evening, Angela Merkel is expected to plead with the public to respect the new restrictions.
But Germany’s federalist system makes it hard to impose regulations nationwide.
Schools may be closed and restaurant opening hours restricted across the country, but other rules differ from state to state.
In some regions, assemblies of up to 1,000 people are still allowed, while in others, the maximum is as low as 50.
The city of Berlin has thus far resisted closing playgrounds, explaining that even this decision must be taken by the individual districts.
For Ole, a 39-year-old Berlin father, that is cause for relief.
“Staying cooped up in an apartment with a child … it’s complicated,” he told AFP.
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