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Will the Berlin party spirit survive coronavirus?

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Translation by:

Anna W.

Article in en


Berlin is renowned for its alternative venues and trendy nightclubs, but this reputation is being tested to the limits by coronavirus. In March, bars, restaurants and clubs were forced to close in an effort to curb the pandemic. However, young Berliners are undeterred, using their creativity to find news ways to socialise and have a good time.

When I arrived in Berlin a few months ago, I imagined I’d be out partying three nights a week, drinking lots of beer, taking all sorts of drugs and dancing until sunrise. That was before the virus. On the 14th March, all bars and clubs had to close their doors. A week later, gatherings of more than two people were banned, for at least a month.

Though similar measures were put in place across Germany and in many other countries affected by the pandemic, the overnight closure of every social venue was a real blow for Berliners. Young DJ Felix Raphael bears witness to this change, whom the crisis has struck hard. “The virus came at the worst time," he sighs in his flat that doubles up as a recording studio. He had spent the winter composing and was due to start a series of gigs in April. They have all been cancelled. “Of course this isn’t just about me, it concerns the whole events sector which is being killed off by the coronavirus. But it’s particularly hard for artists like me, as our music makes us very little money as it is, and it’s through performing that we make our living," he adds, before playing a bit of electronic music to lighten the mood.

The Berlin Senate has released some funding to help artists, which Felix has benefited from. Investment Bank Berlin and the German government have also put programmes in place for immediate financial assistance. But the DJ doubts whether this will be enough on the long term. As he waits, he regularly produces live videos on Facebook and Youtube though platforms like the electronic festival, 3000grad. “There’s really no other option,” he notes.

The problem is that anyone can turn on their webcam and produce live on social media, so it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. Felix counts on interactivity: he records each sound one after the other and then loops it - what is known as “live looping.” The public can see how each track is created and develops before their eyes. Even so, this doesn’t even come close to the feeling of a real concert: “It’s strange to play alone for people you can’t see. In a concert, you can interact with the public, but you can’t this way. But it’s nice to think of people all over the world dancing at the same time to my music.”

In Berlin, many artists have opted for this solution. The platform United We Stream broadcasts a different artist live every evening in co-operation with Arte, and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the 280 clubs in Berlin. Although the times are slightly different from the regular party hours (from 7 p.m. to midnight), the initiative has been popular: each video has tens of thousands of views on Youtube and more than €400,000 has been raised in support.

To accompany the online concerts, my flatmates have perfected a simple routine: with the DJ playing, we drink cocktail after cocktail ordered from a few bars that offer takeaway drinks from their website. The drinks arrive already mixed, in little bottles or jam jars, along with a bag filled with ice or garnishes like mint leaves or lemon rinds. So we can have an almost-normal evening whilst also supporting our favourite bars.

More sleep and less expenses

Bars and restaurants are hard-hit by the crisis just like the DJs. The situation worries Andrew Cottrill and Tom Taylor, the respective editor and contributor to the Anglophone blog, Berlin Loves You, who, before the pandemic, spent their evenings trying out new restaurants, hanging out in bars and going to concerts. Andrew fears that “if small businesses close, the atmosphere of Berlin will be permanently changed. I’m hoping that my favourite places will survive."

Surprisingly, COVID-19 hasn’t changed much in the social lives of the two bloggers: “We still do lines of coke, but we don’t share the straw now!" Andrew jokes. For him, the current crisis is “an opportunity to find new ways of enjoying life, like lying in a park and drinking cheap beers with friends."

From April 22nd, gatherings of under 20 people were allowed once again in Berlin. We’re sat in Görlitzer Park, having a beer as they tell me about their new way of life. They’re not the only ones enjoying the good weather to get out and see their friends: the park is full and police are making sure that social distancing is being respected. Tom sees many benefits to their new habits: because he’s buying beers from shops instead of bars, he’s saving money. And because evenings in April aren’t that warm, he’s going home earlier and sleeping more.

As Berliners are breaking their habit of going to bars, Andrew worries that when they’re allowed to re-open, many people won’t go: “We’ll need some time to re-adjust to paying €3.50 for a pint. And I’m worried that prices will go up, as companies try to make back the money they’ve lost.” After a gulp of beer, Tom adds: “Even if the bars re-open this summer, we’ll all be outside enjoying the nice weather and no one will want to be stuck inside a smoky room.”

As for me, I’m adapting too. When I’m not shimmying around my living room to a DJ Felix concert or drinking a beer in the sun with Andrew and Tom, I’ve been recruited by my flatmates into an online beer pong championship. The rules are simple: throw your ping pong ball to land in one of the glasses on the other end of the table. For every glass you hit, your opponent has to drink a gulp of beer. We sign in to Skype with the others and the party begins! By playing twice a week, my flatmate has become an expert in beer pong (and in Berlin's beer). We’ll have to wait for life to go back to normal before we can face our fiercest opponents.

Cover photo : Flickr © Enno Lenze

Translated from Malgré le coronavirus, Berlin reste Berlin by Anna W..