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COVID-19

Coronavirus: Why people in Germany don’t need to panic buy

People around Germany are stockpiling food, leaving supermarket shelves empty. Retailers explain why no one needs to worry, and how a 'Hamsterkauf' could actually do more harm than good.

Coronavirus: Why people in Germany don't need to panic buy
Photo: DPA

It’s a common phenomenon now in Germany: some customers clear out several supermarket shelves, and others arrive later, wishing they had showed up sooner for that last box of pasta.

Germany consumer organizations and retaillers have criticized this so-called Hamsterkäufe, or panic buying, which Germans have also done en masse for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. 

Shelves at a German supermarket on Monday following a 'Hamsterkauf'. Photo: DPA

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Der Hamsterkauf

The country does not need to worry about the food supply running out, Klaus Müller, head of the Federal Association of German Consumers (vzbv), told dpa on Tuesday.

“There are currently no signs of supply bottlenecks and therefore no reason for panic or make a Hamsterkauf,” said Müller.

A spokesperson for supermarket chain REWE in Cologne added that dried food – especially noodles, rice and conservatives – was being quickly bought up. Yet manufacturers have continued to deliver regularly and the shelves were quickly refilled.

The spokesperson appealed to people to “spread out shopping over the week, and not just shop on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. That way, employees would also have a chance to replenish shelves quickly enough”.

Some supermarkets limit the sale of certain products – such as hand sanitizer – to normal household quantities, usually three bottles per shopper.

“We are working together with the discounters and supermarkets to ensure that we have enough supplies even in more difficult situations,” Federal Food Minister Julia Klöckner (CSU) told Germany’s Tagesschau last week. She added that there were plans in place in case the situation worsened. 

‘Lacking in solidarity'

Ironically, panic buying could trigger the phenomenon that people fear most, at least momentarily, said Müller.

In the current situation, many people are “lacking in solidarity, which could increase uncertainty among the population and in some cases actually lead to temporary bottlenecks in the availability of food or medically necessary products in retail outlets”.

At the same time, with “the requirement to minimise social contact,” Müller said he understands why consumers would do a lot of shopping at once rather than make several smaller trips to the supermarket.

“Germany is well supplied with domestic food, so panic buying isn’t necessary,” the Farmers’ Association emphasised.” Basic foodstuffs such as grain, potatoes, fruit and vegetables will continue to be available in sufficient quantities, they said. 

They added that feed supply for animals was also secured, so that meat, sausage or milk would also continue to be on the shelves. 

Food will also continue to be allowed to be imported into the country. While Germany has closed its borders with five countries, an exception is being made for cargo trucks carrying necessary goods. 

A truck outside of REWE in Cologne on early Monday morning. The supermarkets are continually restocked. Photo: DPA

READ ALSO: Germany imposes border controls with five countries

Staying in

According to Marcus Schwenke, Managing Director of the Foodservice Wholesale Association, more people are cooking and eating at home again – this is ensuring high turnover in supermarkets. 

In an otherwise struggling economy, supermarket chains such REWE and Edeka currently searching for employees to keep up with the increased demand. 

Delivery services such as Lieferando are also benefitting from the current situation. However, they are taking security measures: to reduce the risk of infection, delivery couriers only leave ordered food at the front door.

According to Schwenke, the “losers of the coronavirus” include restaurants and canteens, which as of Tuesday are also required to close their doors at 6pm every evening. 

READ ALSO: Coronavirus restrictions: What's closed (and what's open) in Germany

Agriculture also takes a hit

There are also concerns that the coronavirus pandemic could take a toll on some sectors of the agricultural industry. 

Ahead of Germany’s renown asparagus season (Spargelsaison), many farmers in Germany are threatened by a shortage of harvest workers. Because of newly closed borders, it is currently not possible to find the workers the industry usually relies on from Poland and other eastern European countries. 

“We are running into a threatening situation”, said Ulrich Löhr, the Vice President of the agricultural association Landvolks in Lower Saxony. “Parts of the harvest may have to stay in the fields.”

The Association of Southern German Asparagus and Strawberry Growers also fears bottlenecks in the coming harvest, for which more than 180,000 seasonal workers are needed. Many Poles stayed at home this year for fear of contracting an infection.

The Schleswig-Holstein Chamber of Agriculture said that the closed border with Poland was causing particular concern, as many farms employ workers from eastern Europe. 

There are also fears in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg that far too few workers will be around to help this year. 

Vocabulary

Supply bottleneck – (der) Versorgungsengpass/ (das) Engpass

Food staples – (das) Grundnahrungsmittel 

Measures – (die) Maßgabe

To harvest – ernten  

Agriculture – (die) Landwirtschaft

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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CULTURE

‘People liked the silence’: How Berlin’s club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Berlin's clubs are suffering from staff shortages, a lack of guests... and neighbours who've grown used to the silence, representatives for the scene say.

'People liked the silence': How Berlin's club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Some operators from Berlin’s club scene are bracing themselves for a difficult autumn. For months now, people have been allowed to dance again and life has returned to normal in the dark corners of Berlin’s famous nightlife scene.

But the clubs have far from recovered from the pandemic. They face staff shortages, rising prices and the prospect of a return to Covid restrictions in the autumn.

“We go into the autumn with huge fear, because the omens are totally unfavorable,” said association head Pamela Schobeß.

Spring and summer went anything but smoothly, she said. “There has been an oversupply of events. People aren’t going out as much, and some are still afraid to move around indoors.”

Money is also an issue. “A lot of people are afraid of rising energy prices.”

The industry lost workers during the pandemic and it’s hard to convince them to come back with the outlook for the autumn looking so gloomy, Schobeß says.

Her colleague Robin Schellenberg tells a similar story. People have switched to various other jobs and would even rather work on a supermarket checkout, which may have been considered less sexy in the past. Now, he says, some have learned to love not having to work nights.

READ ALSO: 

Schellenberg runs the Klunkerkranich, a small club on a parking garage deck in Neukölln. Because a number of things have become more expensive, they have also had to increase their admission prices.

His impression is that people are going out less often and are deciding more spontaneously. In addition, people in the neighborhood are now more sensitive to noise. “Many people found the silence very enticing,” he said.

Some in the industry wonder what will happen next. Will club admission have to become much more expensive? Will that exclude people who can no longer afford it? And what happens if Covid infection numbers rise sharply?

If masks become mandatory indoors in October, Schobeß believes that would be bad for the clubs. “Even if we don’t get shut down by the state, we’ll actually have to close down independently ourselves,” she reckons.

Masks take all the joy out of the experience, she says. People have drinks in their hands and are “jumping around and dancing” and then security guards have to tell them “please put your mask on.”

The federal government is considering whether states should be able to make masks mandatory indoors starting in October. Exceptions should be possible, such as at cultural and sporting events, for people who have been tested, recently vaccinated and recently recovered.

In the event that Covid numbers soar, the states could then be allowed to tighten the rules and eliminate all exemptions.

READ ALSO: German court declares techno to be music

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