Roger Boyes, the Berlin correspondent for British daily The Times, might argue "poor but foxy" would be more apt. "/> Roger Boyes, the Berlin correspondent for British daily The Times, might argue "poor but foxy" would be more apt. " />


The fox nose

Berlin's mayor calls the German capital "poor but sexy." Roger Boyes, the Berlin correspondent for British daily The Times, might argue "poor but foxy" would be more apt.

The fox nose
Bright lights, big city. A fox in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Everybody in a school classroom has a role. There is the clown, the know-it-all, the leader and the bully. Dave Taylor was the magician. He had bottomless pockets out of which he could tug string, horse chestnuts, marbles, bubblegum, a penknife, even a broken crucifix. His most potent treasure was the stink bomb, a glass tube filled with a liquid which when shaken and scattered could make the whole back row of the school chapel choke and gasp for breath.

I thought of Dave (now a senior executive in an oil company) when I entered my garden in Berlin the other day and was almost overwhelmed by a hideous gaseous stench. It was, a knowledgeable friend told me, the urine trace of a fox. The great English poet Ted Hughes, a man of the country rather than the city, described how inspiration entered his brain: “With a sudden sharp hot stink of fox / it enters the dark hole of the head.”

Well, I don’t know about inspiration, but he certainly got that aroma right: the sharp hot stink. Ten or twenty years ago it would have been unthinkable for someone living in the centre of a busy European city to have a fox prowl around the lawn. Now whenever my terrier Mac behaves strangely I know that a wild animal has strayed on to our territory.

Slowly I am getting the impression that animals are filling the gap left by humans. There is the raccoon living in the underground garage of the Park Inn Hotel, which is located on Berlin’s grey and very un-park like Alexanderplatz. Of course, with a ridiculous name for a hotel like that they deserve to have a skunk in their laundry room. Experts say there are now 120 raccoon families in Berlin, most for some reason in Steglitz. Forest owls are now hunting mice in Frohnau, there are badgers in Siemensstadt, and the deer about to enter the mating season will again mess up traffic again on the Koenigsallee. Wild boar are plodding their way through plots of Berlin’s hobby gardeners, massacring legions of plastic gnomes, munching on German flags and sniffing at empty beer crates.

Berlin might have reversed its population decline – Sterbeüberschuss (death surplus) how I love that word! – for the first time since the war in 2007, but the the animal population has been growing for years. It’s a phenomenon that applies to much of the depopulated eastern part of Germany, not just Berlin.

The Prignitz region in Brandenburg, abandoned by humans, is beginning to look like a nature reserve. Wolves are repopulating old Soviet artillery ranges before moving closer to the towns. They are on the move across Europe and the reason is always the same: they sense a change in human behaviour. Why did Italian wolves move across the Alps to France? Because the mountainside sheep farmers in France were allowing their sheep to graze without protection as young men left the villages for better work in the cities.

Well, we don’t yet have wolves on the Ku’damm in Berlin. But we do have foxes. There are some 2,000 in town. Last year, I saw a solitary fox amble down the Schlüterstraße past Ovest (lamb chops €19), past a salon belonging to star stylist Udo Walz, past NU (sirloin steak €18.50), across the Kantstraße and past Good Friends (Peking duck €20 per person).

The post-modern Berlin fox simply has a nose for the rubbish-bins of the rich. Last week I saw another fox trotting down Stuttgarter Platz past the Hanky-Panky bar towards a fashionable Italian restaurant. If I were a property owner there I would raise the rents: there is no surer sign of a district becoming more prosperous than the presence of a fox.

If one implanted microchips in the city’s 2,000 foxes, you would soon establish Berlin social contours. There is no logic in a fox hanging around a poorer district like Neukölln unless it has a Döner kebab habit.

The wealthy in the city – those with the fullest and most rewarding rubbish-bins – are concentrated in ever more narrow strips. In other cities the well-off steadily colonise poorer neighbourhoods, “discover” them, make them fashionable; property prices rise, private spending too.

This is not really happening in Berlin. Neukölln and Wedding – with the exception of a couple of streets – are as impoverished as they were a decade ago. The wealthy in Berlin move – except when they go clubbing – in the same zones as if they were stockaded off from the rest of town. The foxes know this better than most.

By the way, there is nothing to fear from a fox. Rabies has been wiped out, thanks to immunisation tablets secretly hidden in chicken-heads, or wrapped in fat, fish food and paraffin. As a result the foxes are probably healthier than we are.

My suggestion is this: instead of killing them and making them into amusing fur coats, we should train them to be pets for the rich and the famous; we could upgrade them from the dustbins of expensive trattorias and have them sit peacefully at the feet of their wealthy mistresses. They are already here; why not make them legal?

A pity, only, about the smell.

For more Roger Boyes, check out his website here.

For members


EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.