Renate Skorupa and her daughter Agnes were sitting in a popular Berlin jazz club on Saturday evening with about 150 others when the Munich-based band’s warm-up session was ended by an abrupt announcement from the club manager: The show was canceled and everyone had to leave right away.
As the Berlin city government seeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it decided Saturday to immediately shut down all bars, nightclubs, concerts, dance halls, betting parlors and brothels — unexpectedly moving forward by three days an order it had first announced a day earlier. Many bar owners and revelers caught off guard by the sudden change were greeted by more than 100 police officers, clad in riot gear, sent out across the city to enforce the new rules.
“The show was literally about to start when it got canceled,” said Agnes Skorupa, 33, in an interview, adding that her 54-year-old mother had traveled from Duesseldorf on Saturday for the concert. “A lot of people were really annoyed and couldn’t believe it. There was a lot of moaning. People were like, ‘What? Why didn’t someone tell us sooner?’ and ‘Where do we get our money back?’”
The chaotic shutdown of Berlin’s nightlife has further exacerbated a Weltuntergang (doomsday) atmosphere in the German capital city. The club scene has long been a vital lifeblood for Berlin with 3 million tourists and many more locals crowding the 280 dance and party venues such as Berghain, Tresor, Sisyphos and Pearl each year. Collectively, they contribute about $1.8 billion to the local economy and employ more than 10,000 people — making entertainment venues one of the city’s top tourist attractions, according to a 2019 study by the Berlin Club Commission lobbying group.
But after 42 of Berlin’s first 243 confirmed coronavirus cases were traced back to their presence recently at a handful of clubs, such as the popular Trompete, the city government moved swiftly — announcing a ban on all gatherings of more than 50 people and requiring anyone keeping open a smaller restaurant, club or gathering to keep track of the names, addresses and telephone numbers of everyone in attendance for four weeks.
“The party’s over for now,” said Dilek Kalayci, a minister in the Berlin city government responsible for health, in an interview with RBB television. “It’s quite clear that this is a drastic step but it’s also necessary because of the situation. One in six in Berlin got infected in a club. The situation is getting critical. Now it’s time to act before the numbers rise significantly.”
Kalayci said all large wedding and birthday parties should be canceled or postponed and even funerals with more than 50 participants. All movie theaters, museums, churches, mosques and synagogues as well as public and private gyms are shutting their doors, Kalayci said.
“We need to be ready for further and even more dramatic steps,” she said.
Police said that they dropped in on a total of 200 clubs, wedding parties, restaurants and gyms Saturday evening and had to close down 63 that had not received word.
“The order to shut things down was followed without exception,” claimed a Berlin police department spokeswoman Sunday. “People expressed their understanding.” Berlin’s B.Z. tabloid newspaper reported that police gave some pubs a reprieve until 11:30 p.m. so patrons could finish their drinks.
Many young Berliners nevertheless reported keeping their parties going all night long despite the police controls.
Isabelle Pochner, 21, said about 20 of her friends were out until 5 a.m. Sunday partying in a bar in an outlying district.
“It’s just impossible to stop the party in Berlin,” she said in an interview. “It’s what Berlin’s all about. If they close the clubs, the parties will just move to hotel suites or home parties. Younger people aren’t taking the coronavirus seriously. They’re not going to let it stop them from partying. You’d have to put chains on their ankles to keep them home.”
Although the best-known clubs that are ordinarily filled with a thousand or more revelers did close Saturday, one local radio station was giving listeners tips on dance clubs that remained open. Others, however, canceled private parties in the scores of empty and out-of-the-way abandoned warehouses that help make Berlin an attractive city for parties.
Viktor Jarusch was planning to celebrate his 30th birthday Saturday with about 100 friends but the location called it off at the last minute even though a DJ and alcohol were on the way.
“Some of my friends were really angry and accused me of panicking but others thought it was the right decision,” said Jarusch, a research assistant at a Berlin university. “Sure, it was disappointing to cancel the party. I’m not afraid of the coronavirus myself. But it just didn’t seem responsible to have a big party right now.”
Walter Rauhe, who recently fulfilled a lifelong dream to open a cafe, said the situation is extraordinarily difficult for a startup business like his Cafe Sawa. But he hopes that the crisis will not cause long-term damage to the city’s nightlife.
“Berlin has always been a place where people know how to party,” said Rauhe, who also works as a correspondent for Italian newspapers. “That spirit survived the wars and the Cold War — and it will survive this too.”