‘Feels like we’re free again’: Berliners enjoy outdoor dining as restrictions ease

After nearly seven months of shutdown, restaurants, cafes and bars opened outdoors in Berlin, bringing an influx of guests eager to stake a spot at the tables even with restrictions, writes Priya Sippy.

‘Feels like we’re free again’: Berliners enjoy outdoor dining as restrictions ease
Two employees of the Berlin beer garden Zollpackhof before its opening on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

It has been a very busy morning for Mauriz Weymann. He dashes around the counter, making espresso for the customers outside, while shouting the orders to the chefs at the kitchen at the back of the café. 

Weymann is the owner of Genuine Treats, a small coffee shop located in the trendy district of Friedrichshain. For the first time in nearly seven months, the café is open to customers for outdoor dining. 

Weymann told The Local that it has been non-stop since they opened the doors this morning. 

“It is the best thing that has happened in the past one and a half years. We have been waiting for this for way too long,” he says. 

READ ALSO: IN PHOTOS: How Germany is reopening after more than six months of Covid shutdown

Just outside the café, there are eight tables, which are now full of customers. Emily, one of the waitresses, rushes to serve people their meals. 

After starting the job at the café in October, this is one of the first times Emily has seen it full.

“We stayed open for takeaway during the lockdown, and luckily had support from our regular customers. But it is great to be open, especially with the sun shining today.”

A slow awakening

After a continually-extended second shutdown, which began in November 2020 as a one-month “lockdown light”, the city’s cafes, bars and restaurants got permission to reopen, albeit partially, from Friday May 21st. 

Like other European capitals, the city’s reduced infection rate means restrictions are easing, and other parts of normal life, including hotel and gym openings, are expected to resume in June.

For some Berliners, the excitement is palpable. Lena Heese and Charlotte Schwerdner sat outside Bagelmann Café, near Ostkreuz. They said as soon as they heard measures were relaxing this week, they made plans to come back to their favourite café. 

“It feels a bit crazy and confusing to be able to sit here and drink coffee, and not have to do take-away. It is a really good feeling – like we are free again” Heese tells The Local Germany. 

Charlotte Schwerdner (left) and Lena Heese (right) outside Bagelmann Cafe. Photo: Priya Sippy

But while Berliners may have some freedom back, going to a café or restaurant still has several limitations. Diners must either present a full vaccination certificate, a negative test taken within 24 hours, or a positive PCR test certificate showing recovery from an infection to be allowed entry. 

READ ALSO: Germans return to pools and beer gardens after some Covid curbs are lifted

While Heese has been fully vaccinated, her friend Charlotte hasn’t – and had to take a test this morning. She says that while this was not an issue today, it may prevent her from going to places frequently in the future. 

“It is difficult to find the time to be able to do the test. You cannot go to a coffee shop spontaneously anymore” she explains.

“Maybe every week I could do it, but it also depends on the cost. You can only get a certain number of free tests per week and self-testing kits can be expensive.”

Despite this, they both agree that having these restrictions in place makes them feel safer when venturing out.

“We have been really careful with sticking to the rules. So, knowing that everyone who comes here is negative feels more secure. Also we know the risk is much lower when you are outside.” Heese says.

One Covid-19 test centre in Friedrichshain says they have already seen a big increase in numbers since the easing of restrictions this morning.

“Yesterday we had 100 tests for the entire day. But today it is only 2pm and we already had 120 people,” a spokesperson tells The Local.

But not all café owners believe the restrictions are positive. Svetlana Jaehnichen, the owner of Bagelmann cafe, tells The Local that these new measures are a “disaster for the gastronomy sector”.

“Who will do all these tests to come? It takes too much time. I think it will be really difficult for restaurants to get back to their full capacity,” she says.

Mauriz Weymann from Genuine Treats. Photo: Priya Sippy

Despite this, for the first day of opening, these restrictions do not seem to be stopping Berliners take advantage of the easing measures. Just next to Friedrichshain, there is a similar buzz in Prenzlauer Berg, well-known for its cosy cafes and coffee shops. Tables and chairs line the streets and places start to fill up close to lunchtime. 

Olexander Kit drank a beer with a friend while he waited for his food at Hum restaurant. Kit says that it’s not the food or drink that makes him happy but rather the social aspects.

 “Restaurants and cafes are places you meet with friends to chat and spend time together,” he says. “They are social interaction points. On my cycle here it was great to see people sitting out and enjoying themselves.”

And while it seems most of the city’s cafes have opened their doors this morning, some are still waiting patiently. Café Butter, a popular café nestled on the corner of a quiet Prenzlauer Berg street says they will open for customers on May 28th.

The owner, Katja, explained that while the weather is unpredictable and outdoor dining is the only option, they will wait a couple more weeks. 

“It is not so nice for customers to sit outside right now as the weather keeps changing. But we will be back soon,” she says.

“We are looking forward to that.”

READ ALSO: How you can visit a bar in Berlin from Friday

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‘People liked the silence’: How Berlin’s club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Berlin's clubs are suffering from staff shortages, a lack of guests... and neighbours who've grown used to the silence, representatives for the scene say.

'People liked the silence': How Berlin's club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Some operators from Berlin’s club scene are bracing themselves for a difficult autumn. For months now, people have been allowed to dance again and life has returned to normal in the dark corners of Berlin’s famous nightlife scene.

But the clubs have far from recovered from the pandemic. They face staff shortages, rising prices and the prospect of a return to Covid restrictions in the autumn.

“We go into the autumn with huge fear, because the omens are totally unfavorable,” said association head Pamela Schobeß.

Spring and summer went anything but smoothly, she said. “There has been an oversupply of events. People aren’t going out as much, and some are still afraid to move around indoors.”

Money is also an issue. “A lot of people are afraid of rising energy prices.”

The industry lost workers during the pandemic and it’s hard to convince them to come back with the outlook for the autumn looking so gloomy, Schobeß says.

Her colleague Robin Schellenberg tells a similar story. People have switched to various other jobs and would even rather work on a supermarket checkout, which may have been considered less sexy in the past. Now, he says, some have learned to love not having to work nights.


Schellenberg runs the Klunkerkranich, a small club on a parking garage deck in Neukölln. Because a number of things have become more expensive, they have also had to increase their admission prices.

His impression is that people are going out less often and are deciding more spontaneously. In addition, people in the neighborhood are now more sensitive to noise. “Many people found the silence very enticing,” he said.

Some in the industry wonder what will happen next. Will club admission have to become much more expensive? Will that exclude people who can no longer afford it? And what happens if Covid infection numbers rise sharply?

If masks become mandatory indoors in October, Schobeß believes that would be bad for the clubs. “Even if we don’t get shut down by the state, we’ll actually have to close down independently ourselves,” she reckons.

Masks take all the joy out of the experience, she says. People have drinks in their hands and are “jumping around and dancing” and then security guards have to tell them “please put your mask on.”

The federal government is considering whether states should be able to make masks mandatory indoors starting in October. Exceptions should be possible, such as at cultural and sporting events, for people who have been tested, recently vaccinated and recently recovered.

In the event that Covid numbers soar, the states could then be allowed to tighten the rules and eliminate all exemptions.

READ ALSO: German court declares techno to be music