How the coronavirus crisis could change German city centres

The corona crisis is accelerating the decline of the German high street. But does it present an opportunity for something better to emerge in its place?

How the coronavirus crisis could change German city centres
The city centre of Frankfurt in March. Photo: DPA

At first glance, German city centres haven't changed much since the corona crisis started. Granted, there are fewer shoppers out and about. But the retailers are all open again.

Scratch beneath the surface though and you'll see a fundamental shift taking place.

A wave of bankruptcies threatens to hit the retail industry in the autumn. The planned closure of 50 or more Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof department stores could be just the start.

The German Retail Association (HDE) warns that the crisis could kill off around 50,000 shops.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: Why people in Germany don't need to panic buy

“The inner cities are facing a triple tsunami: structural change in retail, digitalisation and the corona pandemic,” says Boris Hedde, head of the Cologne Institute for Retail Research (IFH).

The fashion industry in particular is experiencing a massive rupture: from Appelrath Cüpper to Hallhuber to Sinn, from Esprit to Tom Tailor – many high street brands are struggling. 

Esprit alone plans to close around half of its stores nationwide – some 50 outlets – as part of its restructuring efforts.

Faced with pressure from online retail and “fast-fashion” outlets like Primark, several companies were already struggling before the pandemic. The coronavirus hit those with pre-existing conditions, so to speak.

Empty department stores

The decline of the city centre poses serious problems. History shows that it is difficult to find a new use for department stores, which are too big and old to be attractive to new tenants.

In Rüsselsheim, the old Karstadt store stood empty for 19 years before being demolished this spring. Apartments and a citizens' office will now be built there. The Karstadt in Delmenhorst has been empty for eleven years.

If Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof were an isolated case, concerns would be less. But the retail giant is not alone.

But experts see opportunities too.

The often indistinguishable high streets are hardly dear to the hearts of most Germans. In an IFH survey last year of more than 59,000 city centre visitors in 116 cities, consumers said that gave the the shops a score of 2 from five.

The question is: how can they be adapted to an uncertain future?

The president of the German Association of Cities and Towns, Leipzig's Lord Mayor Burkhard Jung (SPD), also wants to make “more living and working” possible in the city centre again, in order to save shops from collapsing.

“Tradesmen, services, furniture or DIY stores and food discounters will return to the inner cities,” predicts retail expert Hedde. 

For some shopping streets away from the city centres, the coronavirus crisis could even open up new perspectives, Hedde believes. 

“The willingness of consumers to accept long distances when shopping is declining. Convenience and the desire to shop close to home is increasing,” he says. 

“If the home office gains in importance in the long term as a result of the coronavirus crisis, this can also breathe new life into locations away from the city centres, which seemed to have no longer any perspective,” he adds.

SEE ALSO: Friedrichstraße to flea markets: essential Berlin shopping spots

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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.