‘Cooking for heroes’: Michelin chefs whip it up for Berlin’s healthcare workers

When the Michelin-starred Tulus Lotrek restaurant in Berlin's Kreuzberg district closed its doors over a week ago, the owners had no idea how long it would be before they could open again.

'Cooking for heroes': Michelin chefs whip it up for Berlin's healthcare workers
Archive photo: DPA

With measures to contain the coronavirus becoming increasingly strict in the German capital, customers were no longer coming and chairs were stacked on tables for the final time.

But then owners Maximilian Strohe and Ilona Scholl had an idea. With thousands of healthcare workers finding it difficult to access healthy food, why not prepare and deliver free meals for them?

READ ALSO: How to help others in Germany during the coronavirus pandemic

“We thought about it: People are working 18-hour shifts and falling asleep at their desks or in the waiting room,” Scholl told AFP. “How are they being looked after? How do you make sure that they are fed and stay healthy as long as possible?”

The restaurant owners spoke to their supplier, who happened to have a lot of fresh ingredients languishing in warehouses as so many restaurants and delivery services shut down.

They received a large donation of meat and vegetables and got cooking, posting a message on Facebook offering gourmet take-outs for frontline workers. They also launched a crowdfunding campaign on Monday to carry out the project for at least the next couple of months.

“Our idea was to cook the ingredients for people who are on duty 24 hours a day,” Strohe said.

The dishes whipped up for the healthcare workers were far from Tulus Lotrek's 150-euro eight-course tasting menu which includes such delicacies as pigeon with juniper wood and fermented honey, and beetroot with coffee and tarragon.

But the medical staff were happy with the hearty canteen-style stews that the Michelin starred restaurant was now whipping up for them.

Strohe and Scholl have already received a big order from a local hospital, as well as enquiries from several smaller practices in the area.

They included dentist Dana Weigelt, who ordered a batch of meals for herself and her staff.

“There was a Facebook call and then we got in touch and are very grateful for such a great action,” she said.

“The (pressure) is very high. Especially for dental surgeries, because we work 20 centimetres (eight inches) from the patient and are actually playing Russian roulette. But we must not close the practices either.”

Tulus Lotrek posts on Instagram about their new crowdfunding campaign, which was launced on Monday, to continue cooking for healthcare workers.

'I can cook'

With the coronavirus contagion far from abating in Germany, pressure on health workers has skyrocketed over the past week.

Confirmed cases reached over 24,000 on Monday, although exact estimates vary. Health Minister Jens Spahn has said regulations will be eased for employees in medical services to help in hospitals, to take the pressure off qualified nurses and doctors.

Germany is even planning to mobilise tens of thousands of reservists to help fight the pandemic.

At the same time, sweeping measures have been introduced to restrict public life.

Only shops deemed as essential are allowed to stay open, with all restaurants in the capital closed as of Sunday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government on Sunday decided against full nation-wide lockdown, as the states of Bavaria, Saarland and Saxony has already enforced. Instead they decided on a strict set of measures, including only allowing two people at a time to be outside together.

READ ALSO: Germany bans gatherings of more than two to control coronavirus spread

Faced with the toughening restrictions, some in the food and beverage sector are developing innovative ways to keep their customers, including a bar in Bavaria that is offering to send “emergency cocktails” with “ice packed separately”.

In Berlin, Strohe and Scholl are already planning to expand their scheme, having received enquiries from several other suppliers who don't know what to do with the ingredients piling up in their warehouses.

“Of course it's not easy,” Scholl admitted. “Especially when we don't know how life-threatening it is and whether we will be able to open again in three months.”

But they want to use their skills to help in the best way they can.

“As Max said to me, hey, I can't do a lot of things, but I can cook,” Scholl said.

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.