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Berlin: A thin line

In Berlin, the people of Germany are treading a thin line between risk and freedom, assisted by the stickiness of their shared memory. David Scheider trusts in leadership and resistance.

“Since Germany’s reunification, no, since the Second World War, there has not been a challenge to our country that depends so much on our joint solidarity.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel found drastic words in her March 18th TV address. Considering her rare appearances in live television, it is fair to say that most of her fellow citizens acknowledge the seriousness of the current corona situation.

The 18th of March marked the date, too, when first, rather modest measures were introduced to “flatten the curve” of new corona infections within. Since then, Germany, and its notoriously hedonistic capital Berlin in particular, struggle to find a middle way in between the French authoritarian model and the Swedish laissez-fair model.

As Germany has had two striking examples of authoritarianism in the last century, one of which ended merely 30 year ago, the German authorities seem to have a hard time restricting personal liberties of its citizens. Merkel herself is originally from East Germany.

Photo by Oliver M. Pasieka

As a “Zugezogener” (someone who isn’t originally from Berlin), Berlin always struck me as the world’s capital of nightlife, electronic music and a carefree lifestyle. The current situation, therefore, seems particularly bewildering to us. Nonetheless, from what I witness personally, most people seem to recognize the severity of the situation and act accordingly. Some more strictly than others.

To my understanding, Berliners value the “German way” of personal responsibility. People still go out – parks are astonishingly packed during the sunny hours. But we keep our distance. Rarely do I see groups larger than two people at a time.

Except, we do not blindly follow nonsensical restrictions either. Although it has officially been forbidden, people sat down in parks and on benches instead of “exercising sports”. Whereas the former was forbidden, the latter was allowed. Berlin’s government, acknowledging that there is no risk involved if groups of two sit down together instead of doing sports, changed the decree accordingly. This goes to show that in times as these it is more crucial than ever to watch carefully what measures our representatives introduce – and, if necessary, voice concerns.

Creative Commons image by Berlin photojournalist Tim Lüddemann

I believe chancellor Merkel when she says, “For someone like me, for whom freedom of travel and movement was a hard-won right, such restrictions can only be justified in absolute necessity.”

Nevertheless, once this is over, we should be more than wary to remind policymakers of their duty to scale back in authoritarian measures. GPS phone data surveillance, the introduction of corona apps or restrictions in the freedom of movement are severe risks for personal liberties. If 9/11 has taught us just one thing, it is that measures “for our own safety” seem to be very sticky in the aftermath.

I am glad to live in a city that doesn’t long for strong leadership but rather appeals to personal responsibility – and it seems to work. Berliners, stick to (sensible) rules, help out where you can and wear a mask! I believe that sooner rather than later we will be dancing again.

This story was shared by David Scheider, a freelance journalist from Berlin. He writes mostly about "nerdy Bitcoin stuff" that you can find here.

How do you experience living in your city under Coronavirus? Share your story and join us to Spread stories, not the virus.

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