‘We’re still in the middle of a pandemic’: German politicians call for common sense after Berlin party boat demo

German politicians have urged people to refrain from partying after 3,000 revellers gathered for a demo in aid of Berlin club culture.

'We're still in the middle of a pandemic': German politicians call for common sense after Berlin party boat demo
The boat demo/party on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Around 1,500 people climbed into rubber dinghies and floated along the Landwehrcanal on Sunday May 31st, demanding more support and financial help to struggling clubs and festivals during the coronavirus crisis.

However, the event seemed to turn into a party with little social distancing involved. A total of 3,000 people attended the event on boats and on the banks of the canal, according to estimates.

The event was organised by club collective Rebellion der Träumer to support Berlin's hard-hit nightclubs, which have been unable to open their doors since the Covid-19 health crisis began.

IN PICTURES: Berlin boat demo turns into rave with little social distancing

However, the event has been slammed across the board, with concerns it could lead to coronavirus outbreaks.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted: “The pictures worry me, because when partying, the virus spreads particularly easily.

“Yes, the numbers are currently at a low level. Nevertheless, we are still in the middle of the pandemic. Let's secure what we've achieved and continue to take care of each other in our daily lives.”

Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chairman of the World Medical Association, said the demo had the potential to be a “superspreader” event.

He blamed politicians, saying that there is unclear communication on coronavirus restrictions in Germany due to every state having different rules.

“With the chaos of regionally different regulations, no one should be surprised if some people get the impression that now there is no need to follow any rules at all,” Montgomery told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. 

The demo on Sunday. Photo: DPA

He called for a return to nationwide rules in the fight against the pandemic.

“The boat party has the potential to become the next superspreader event,” said Montgomery. “When a large number of people come together, in the most joyful mood and possibly with alcohol, with songs and the like, it's a safe bet for the virus. We can only hope that it went well and the wind blew the particles away.”

READ ALSO: 'We have to have fun somehow': Partying Germans snub calls to stay home in coronavirus crisis

On Tuesday Berlin health senator Dilek Kalayci expressed her horror at the event. “I stick to my guns, it's not the time for parties,” Kalayci tweeted. Clubs have been hotspots in the spread of coronavirus. She described their closure as “right and important”.

Kalayci continued: “I understand the difficult economic situation of the clubs. There is financial aid for this. But what happened on the Landwehrkanal at the weekend is grossly negligent in pandemic times.

“I appeal to the common sense of club and party fans: I said it at the beginning of the pandemic and I say it today, it is not the time for parties! The virus is still there and is a danger to the health of everyone!”

In a video that Kalayci posted on Tuesday afternoon, the health senator added that she was “appalled” by the images that are likely to make headlines around the world.

Apology over protest

In a statement on Facebook, Rebellion der Träumer said it was calling for a serious debate on how to support those suffering from the coronavirus crisis, highlighting that more support for clubs and festivals, as well as self-employed artists was needed.

READ ALSO: 'United we stream': How Berlin's clubs are coming together to survive the corona crisis

“As cultural workers our professional existence and our venues are acutely threatened – many artists, cultural institutions and festivals are falling through all the nets,” it said in the post.

The group, which said the demonstration was organised with an alliance of different initiatives and clubs, said it had chosen to host the event on water “in order to minimize the risk of infection as much as possible”.

Rebellion der Träumer said it was overwhelmed by the support but apologised for the scale of the event and that the protest ended outside a hospital.

In a Facebook post, the group said “we did our best in various ways to make the demo as safe as possible”, adding that it had urged people to only go on rubber dinghies with housemates or partners, and to stick to safety measures.

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.