| 5.3°C Dublin

Crowds flock back to streets of Berlin as shops open for first time in a month

Close

Back in business: A shop assistant wearing a protective face mask hands a customer a shopping basket at the entrance to a toy store that was opening for the first time yesterday since March in Berlin. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty

Back in business: A shop assistant wearing a protective face mask hands a customer a shopping basket at the entrance to a toy store that was opening for the first time yesterday since March in Berlin. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty

Getty Images

Back in business: A shop assistant wearing a protective face mask hands a customer a shopping basket at the entrance to a toy store that was opening for the first time yesterday since March in Berlin. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty

Crowds flocked back to the streets of Berlin yesterday as the German capital lifted its lockdown and shops reopened for the first time in a month.

Even the street performers were back: on Wilmersdorfer Strasse, a mime artist wearing a long fake nose and white robes made faces at shoppers.

The city authorities waited until two days after most of Germany had lifted restrictions before allowing shops to reopen, and officials implored people not to see the move as an "excuse for a stroll" or a "starting signal" for a return to normal life.

But after a month of lockdown frustrated Berliners poured back on to the streets and there were heavy traffic jams on the main routes into the city centre.

"This is the first coffee I've had in a month," said Birgitte Dabiri as she basked in the spring sunshine. It was a takeaway coffee in a cardboard cup, and she had to drink it standing alone in the middle of a pedestrian zone, but the pensioner was determined to enjoy every sip.

"We hope the government's got it right lifting the lockdown, but nobody knows with this virus, do they?" she added. "I just hope things can quickly get back to normal."

When Austria became one of the first European countries to reopen shops last week, people were nervous and most stayed away. But there has been no such reticence in Germany.

In R+R Galerie, an independent picture frame shop just off Kurfurstendamm, Jacek Rutarowski was just happy to be back at work.

"We're not afraid. We're careful but we're not afraid," he said. "We want to work and earn a living for our families. I don't know if the government got the lockdown right. They did what they thought was right at the time, and things are OK. But look at Sweden: things are OK there too."

Germany did not impose a total lockdown. People have been free to leave their homes for fresh air and exercise. But the reopening of the shops brought Berlin back to life.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Germans to "remain disciplined", warning that the pandemic was far from over. On a glorious spring day, however, many were openly ignoring a ban on gatherings of more than two people. Only shops of up to 800 square metres were permitted to reopen, but larger stores circumvented the limit by sealing areas off. Karstadt department store taped off two separate sections of its sales floor, running them as individual shops with their own entrances, though one impatient shopper simply stepped over the tape between them.

Face masks will be compulsory from next week; an elderly couple wearing homemade masks waited hand in hand outside a T-Mobile store, but few others were wearing them. But there were signs of discipline too. There are strict limits on how many are allowed inside stores at a time, and even at smaller shops people queued patiently.

"If you ask me, the reason Germany's done well so far in keeping infections down is that German people love order. We call it ordnung," said Holger Schwarz, the owner of Viniculture, a wine merchant.

"It reminded me of communist times in East Germany. People queued and did as they were told. German people are happy when you tell them what to do," Mr Schwarz said.

Meanwhile, in France bars, cafés and restaurants could start reopening from June 15 - more than a month after the country starts relaxing lockdown in schools and at work, according to reports.

France, where the death toll is approaching 21,000, is due to start lifting confinement rules on May 11, Emmanuel Macron announced last week.

However, the president gave no date for the country's cafés, bistros and restaurants to start opening for business beyond takeaway orders.

That prompted dire warnings that many of the country's 210,000 bars and restaurants, in particular small, often family run venues, could go bust if lockdown continued.

However, the Elysée Palace has reportedly now cited June 15 as the most likely date for them to start serving meals in situ again.

Restaurant representatives are due to discuss the date at a meeting at the presidential palace tomorrow, along with how to respect distancing and other health measures.

"It's a likely outcome," a source told Europe 1 radio, adding that, as with schools, not all establishments will open at once.

Mr Macron has reportedly got personally involved in seeking a solution given the importance of gastronomy in France.

A crucial point is how to remain a metre from other guests.

"If you ask bistros, where tables are crammed next to each other, to halve their capacity, you'll kill them. Their business model won't survive," said a finance ministry source.

"For now, we haven't found the answer but we'll have to come up with one soon to save the summer season."

Confinement has led some top chefs to warn that restaurant culture may never be the same in France. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent