August, nein Danke!

Not much happens in Germany during the summer holidays in August. But that’s just enough to annoy Roger Boyes, the Berlin correspondent for the British newspaper The Times.

August, nein Danke!
Photo: DPA

There was a time when I enjoyed August in Berlin. Sleepy drinks next to the city’s waterways. The place was comatose but in a positive way, a kind of opium slumber that brings enlightenment in your dreams.

But August is also the month that I was born and it is the time when I become aware that my senses are dulling. I have to wear glasses to read the subtitles of Japanese films; can hardly hear my own voice in a busy crowd. Other senses compensate, of course. Now I can smell much better than when I was 20 – sometimes I feel like the olfactorily gifted murderer in the Patrick Süskind novel “Perfume.” What is my nose telling me at the moment? That Berlin stinks in August.

The U3 from Heidelberger Platz (the station is already famous for its pigeon droppings) to Nollendorfplatz smells of creosote and antiseptic – the aftershave lotion from Hell. Don’t ask me why. The smell of diesel clings to the streets and at a sidewalk café, the chances are that some pungent perfume rises up from the sewers.

To like Berlin in August you have to like the smell of urine: both from cats and humans. It is warm enough for the homeless to sleep outside, so even posh shop fronts smell at 10 am of piss and alcohol. As for the men who change the portable toilets, they have gone on holiday (maybe to the same place as the workers who have set up construction works in every major road). When there is a slight gust of wind, the crap box scent catches the back of your throat like some milder variant of the poison gas used in the First World War (which broke out, of course, in August). Perhaps the city government should impose a tax on public urine, like the Roman Emperor Vespasian once did.

Or perhaps there is just a case for going on holiday in August and abandon the idea that there is something romantic about staying alone in the city accompanied only by the tourists in their flip-flops and ill-fitting shorts. “What dreadful hot weather we have!” writes Jane Austen, the English novelist, “it keeps one in a continual state of inelegance.”

It’s not just the nose that wrinkles; the whole aesthetic apparatus collapses. You notice things in the end-of-summer light that are best left unnoticed. In the apartment, the piles of yellowing newspapers behind the sofa (not to mention the hole in the sofa), the spider web, are suddenly lit-up. The August sun is as unforgiving as neon, stripping away charm. Outside, the trees – you see for the first time – are coated with a thin dust. Birds don’t sing in August, at least not in Berlin.

Whoever said August was supposed to be a benign month? Nagasaki, the Berlin Wall, floods, public transport strikes. It’s the month when nothing is supposed to happen and therefore the perfect moment for bad men to do bad things. Or for the gods to go crazy. It’s the month when you realize that some of the most interesting people in your life have small children and are therefore absent from Berlin, enjoying the fresh air somewhere else. It’s the month when I’m stung by wasps.

Time to surrender, perhaps, and see if there might not be some last minute escape from the city. There is desperation to the mission; like the people trying to clamber onto the last helicopter out of Saigon before the Viet Cong marched in. At a certain moment the August choler defeats dignity and common sense. You reach for the phone and call a travel agent. But the phone rings and rings…and you know, that they too have given up on the city. I remember seeing a sign on the locked door of travel agency simply stating: “Please go away.”

Like migrant birds the travel professionals have a unique sense of timing. August, they know, is a lost cause. If you are still left behind in Berlin in August, there is nothing further that can be done. You are beyond medicine. All you can do is wait for August, the dumb month, to pass and for normal life to resume.

For more Roger Boyes, check out his website here.

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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.