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Tickets sell out in three minutes as Berlin Philharmonic reopens to public

A thousand tickets snatched up in three minutes -- a year after concert halls across Germany were closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, a pilot project for spectators to return has been greeted by a rush for seats.

Tickets sell out in three minutes as Berlin Philharmonic reopens to public
A man shows his ticket for the Berlin Philharmonic on its opening night on Saturday. Photo: DPA

As the world-famous Berlin Philharmonic under its chief conductor Kirill Petrenko struck the final chords of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony on Saturday evening, the audience rose to its feet to give it a long and rapturous standing ovation.

“Attending a real concert changes everything,” said one audience member, Peter, in his thirties. “I have been watching concerts on video but that’s nothing compared to this.”

For violinist Aleksandar Ivic, too, the return to stage before a crowd has been nothing less than emotional.

“For months, we have been playing without an audience, which is still better than nothing. But the spectators make the difference between 2D and 3D,” he told AFP.

It is “us plus the public that can bring us to a state that we cannot achieve by playing alone,” he said.

Silenced

As in other countries around the world, Germany’s cultural scene has been devastated by repeated shutdowns aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.

Some opera houses and symphony orchestras improvised during the summer, taking advantage of the good weather to bring performances outdoors including to backyards of private residences, or to smaller audiences.

But after a limited restart in the autumn when set numbers of spectators were allowed indoors again, concert halls and theatres were shut once more from November.

Some shops were allowed to reopen in March following the latest shutdown in December, nurturing hopes that cultural facilities might be able to welcome live audiences again.

But infection numbers have since risen, and are now surging at an exponential rate.

READ ALSO: The show must go on: How German orchestras are continuing concerts amid the pandemic

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is meeting regional leaders of Germany’s 16 states later Monday to decide new measures to contain the virus, has warned that a shutdown will have to be tightened again.

With Germany’s inoculation campaign also progressing at a sluggish pace, the country is poised for further restrictions into April.

Despite the dismal prospects, the Berlin Philharmonic’s general manager Andrea Zietschmann said her institution had joined in Berlin authorities’ pilot project to find a way for the culture sector to operate despite the pandemic.

Just ahead of the concert, Zietschman went on stage to voice her and “the musicians’ emotions” at greeting a crowd again.

Tests, masks, distance

At the Philharmonic’s concert, strict rules were in place to reduce the risk of contagion.

Spectators were required to give their names when purchasing the tickets, which were not transferable.

They were then mandated to get a free test on the day of the concert in one of five centres cooperating with the Philharmonic or at the concert hall itself.

A mobile ticket which guests carried with them to the event. Photo: DPA

Medical staff in protective suits were at hand to administer the swabs.

Those testing positive would have their tickets reimbursed, although no one had to be turned away from Saturday’s concert.

During the show, it was masks on for all spectators.

Every next seat was left unoccupied.

To limit movements around the hall, no refreshments were sold, and no coat check service offered.

The site was also regularly disinfected and aerated with a specialised air-conditioning system.

Musicians sat a metre (three feet) apart, except for wind players, who were at 1.5 metres apart.

In all, about a dozen concert halls and theatres joined in the pilot project.

The Berliner Ensemble, a theatre company founded by Bertolt Brecht, put up its first show in months with an audience on Friday evening before several hundred people.

“What is important is that culture is put back on the rails. In Spain, in Poland, in Luxembourg, there is theatre, opera,” said Berliner Ensemble director Oliver Reese.

“We are in mid-March and we still have no idea what will happen in April or May. We cannot bear that,” he said.

Member comments

  1. Well, very happy that Classical Music for those well-oof doesn’t have to worry about things any longer. Rock, Jazz, Blues? Oh, that disgusting working man music, let’s not even bother to try & allow THAT kind of music to restart, then perhaps those horrible, smelly, working class people will just go away!

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COVID-19

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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