Making like the Easter bunny in Berlin

In the latest dispatch of Portnoy’s Stammtisch, The Local’s column about life in Germany, Portnoy explains why the German-invented Easter bunny is an appropriate symbol in a country where the birth rate is tanking and succesful families with children are scorned.

Making like the Easter bunny in Berlin
Photo: DPA

It turns out the Easter Bunny is a German invention, just like everyone’s favourite mythical beast – Santa Claus. After his birth sometime around the 17th century, the magical lagomorph was transported across the Atlantic on the backs of Germans who became the technology-deprived Pennsylvania Dutch. And, as with Santa, the American marketing machine then made him a celebrity. This isn’t according to any in-depth journalism or interviews with doctorates in holidays, I’m just going on what Google Answers and Wikipedia have to offer – and it sounds believable enough.

The story’s been the same for four centuries – a bunny sweeps through in the night, pumping out coloured eggs, Milka chocolates and (if you’re in North America) marshmallow chicks. His nocturnal emissions complete, the rabbit hooks up with the Tooth Fairy for a quick beer and a smoke before returning to wherever it is he came from (according to the myth, the Tooth Fairy makes a hasty retreat after a single beer since she has to work the next day).

The symbolism and timing of the holiday are hard to ignore. For Christians, Easter is about the resurrection of the second of their three gods. Jesus awoke in a cave awhile ago and then went out and granted everyone a three-or four-day weekend (depending on where you live). The Easter Bunny and eggs were added later but keep with the renewal theme of a time of year when trees blossom, seeds sprout and everyone’s eyes begin itching with hay fever. Easter Bunnies are perfect symbols because – as we know – they mate like rabbits and eggs, well, eggs are what egg-laying creatures get from mating like rabbits.

Really, it’s a fertility holiday.

Which is just what Germany needs right now. Despite all the celebration of Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen’s policies, this week we discovered they are all for naught – last year the country spawned just 675,000 new Germans, 1.1 percent fewer than in 2007. And that’s compared with the 844,000 who relocated to the afterlife. Funding our fat pensions is going to be tough if there are fewer Germans to shoulder the burden.

This drop in the birth rate makes me all the more surprised about becoming the latest Feindbild (the person everyone loves to hate) in Berlin. I have a job. I have a wife. I own my loft. And – and this is apparently the inexcusable part – I have two kids and live in Berlin’s trendy Prenzlauer Berg district. Apparently, just by having all these things, I am infringing on everyone else’s rights. I’m not sure how since I seem to be on the streets hours before anyone else and have to retreat to read stories and dole out baths before the rest of the city is even thinking about dinner. I (or my ilk) are such a reviled species that we even won a Feindbild poll held by weekly rag Zitty.

It’s gotten so bad that an ex recently railed on about these awful people (“They think their lives are fulfilled just because they have kids!”) over beers, not seeing any irony in the fact that she’d just shown interest in my offspring moments before. And last night, a friend attacked my wife at a favourite pizzeria, blaming the global financial crisis on the selfishness exhibited by everyone in Prenzlauer Berg – again embarrassing since we actually share a wall with him … in Prenzlauer Berg.

Since my life is pretty good at the moment, I can handle the criticism, but I’m planning on making the retiree with no kids a Feindbild at the retirement home we’ll share near Mauerpark in 30 years. And they can just forget about playing Easter Bunny for my grandkids. That’s a pleasure reserved only for parents – in Prenzlauer Berg or elsewhere.

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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.