In corona times, the following rule usually applies: Outdoors is better than indoors. Restaurants can often accommodate for this in the summer months, but autumn and winter will present difficulties.
Patio heaters could allow guests to continue to dine comfortably outside even in colder temperatures, but the devices are seen by many as climate killers, resulting in widespread bans by cities.
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Should these bans now be temporarily lifted? A debate on the matter has made its way into nationwide politics. As it stands, there is a wide variety of different regulations across the federal states.
There is no ban on public use of the heaters in Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Dortmund, Bonn, Cottbus, Potsdam and Kiel, nor in Frankfurt am Main. The heaters are also permitted in Bremen, though they are not widely used.
In Cologne, there is also no general ban, though there are some requirements on the heaters’ design.
In Leipzig, one patio heater per 20 square meters is permitted in open spaces. However, they must be applied for and a fee of €20-30 must be paid, with the money being used to plant trees.
In Dresden, the heaters are not necessarily prohibited, but like many things in Germany an application is required in advance.
A patio heater in the outdoor area of a restaurant in Würzburg, Bavaria. Photo: DPA
One of the cities in which patio heaters are to be temporarily allowed in autumn and winter is Stuttgart.
Mayor Fritz Kuhn of the Green party wants the ban suspended in the city centre by April next year, with the aim of helping the catering industry. He advocates the use of devices powered by green electricity.
Exceptions are also planned in Tübingen and Regensburg. Essen wants to allow for the use of the heaters until the end of March, though they are technically banned. In Fürth, too, an allowance is currently being made in response to the corona crisis.
In Munich, patio heaters are only allowed on public property during the summer months. At the end of September, the city council is expected to confront the issue. According to governing authorities, a permit would be “easily possible by majority vote”.
In Augsburg, where patio heaters are largely banned, the decision on a possible relaxation is also pending.
In Hamburg, things are especially complicated. Patio heaters are allowed subject to approval and are often rejected by the districts in question. Even Dehoga, Germany’s Hotel and Restaurant Association, could not clarify which rules apply in the city.
“We require the approval of patio heaters or other heating systems at least by the end of the year and not as different regulations in each area, but as one, city-wide rule”, said Dehoga president Franz J. Klein.
Jens Kerstan, the environment senator for the Greens, spoke out at the weekend in favour of the temporary use of the heaters, stating that he could accept them being allowed again for a limited time.
In Berlin, patio heaters have been banned in a number of districts and almost the entire city center since 2009.
Dehoga, IHK (the Chamber of Commerce and Industry) and the Free Democratic Party are demanding temporary permission for the use of the heaters, but are still awaiting a response from the federal state government. Only Minister for Economic Affairs Ramona Pop of the Greens was ready to talk about the heaters. They are not allowed in Hanover either.
All in all, there is a lot of understanding for patio heaters among the 10 largest German cities. Only one of them faces a possible ban according to current regulations.
The use of patio heaters has already been allowed in two of the major cities, and their use is being debated in two others. Five of the cities never implemented a ban.