COVID: Back to “normal” in Berlin restaurants? | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW

The food has been ordered, the menu is set. It includes asparagus, saddle of lamb in filo pastry. And, to top it off, an ice cream flavored with sweet woodruff harvested by the maestro himself: restaurateur Vincenzo Berenyi.

“I am delighted that we are resuming our activities,” says Berenyi, beaming. “I feel like a child at Christmas.”

Restaurants across Germany were told to close at the start of November 2020. The COVID-19 lockdown was initially only supposed to last four weeks. But since then, more than six months have passed.

The ‘Kurpfalz Weinstuben’ in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district would normally see up to 50 people on its terrace at any one time

The indoor dining room remains closed

Berlin is among the German federal states that have given the green light for restaurants to reopen during the Pentecost or Whitsun holidays. However, the new regulations in Berlin only apply to “outdoor dining”. Half of the capital’s restaurants will have to remain closed because they are simply unable to comply with the requirements. Although many of them have the capacity to set up tables and chairs outside, however, this would not be enough to cover their costs.

Berenyi’s “Kurpfalz Weinstuben” is a Berlin institution. Normally around 50 people would be served on the busy terrace outside the restaurant. But social distancing means there are fewer tables, with a maximum of 36 guests allowed. Vincenzo Berenyi says he would need each table to be occupied for two sessions to make the reopening worthwhile.

€30 booking fee

The restaurant opens at 5 p.m. “Guests for the first service should leave at 7:45 p.m. to make way for a second round around 8:00 p.m.,” says Berenyi. Additionally, customers must provide proof that they are fully immunized, have fully recovered from infection, or have proven that they have recently tested negative for COVID-19.

Firm reservations can then be made via the restaurant’s website. Reserving a table requires information such as name, address and telephone number. And there’s an advance booking fee of €30 ($40) per person, which is deducted from the bill at the end of the meal. “We have to make sure that customers who have booked actually show up. Otherwise, the whole system just won’t work,” says Berenyi.

Sign on closed restaurant door in Monschau, Germany, reading .'When we're open, we're open.  When we are closed, we are closed.

Opening hours? Hard to say…’When we’re open, we’re open. When we are closed, we are closed.

Mats, umbrellas and heaters provided

The restaurateur insists he’s not worried that all the commotion will deter potential customers from coming: “They want to be here. They’re really looking forward to things finally getting back to normal.” But there is another puzzle: the weather. Spring has so far been a huge disappointment, distinctly chilly with lots of rain.

That’s why a corner of the restaurant is filled with 30 new gray fleece blankets. Berenyi has also invested in large patio umbrellas and four patio heaters are ready to go. Thus, the effect of cool temperatures or a few drops of rain can be minimized.

People measuring the distance between chairs on a Biergarten patio

Guests must be seated at least 1.5 meters apart to comply with COVID restrictions

Meanwhile, no one can say how long the restaurant’s indoor spaces are likely to remain closed to customers. “I hope that will change by the end of June at the latest,” Berenyi says with distinct irritation. “I don’t really want to think about the reasoning behind this division between indoor and outdoor spaces in catering and hospitality. I mean, I see people cramming into buses, trains, supermarkets.”

Berenyi and his business partner Sebastian Schmidt, the man in charge of the kitchen, designed the menu to allow some take-out food to be sold if the weather was not right. They also set up a large grill for customers to stand on and warm up while enjoying barbecued lamb or beef cheeks served in crispy buns with potato or tomato salad.

“‘Grill and chill’ is our motto, and we want it to have a real party flavor. We have been in touch with a brewery to deliver extra supplies of beer if needed.”

Find new ideas

Berenyi plans to take things as they come, stay flexible and take on new challenges with an open mind. That’s what restaurant staff have learned over the difficult months they now hope to leave behind. During the lockdown, they fueled businesses and kept customers happy by offering fresh, tasty and even high-end takeaways.

This initiative and ambition helped keep the restaurant afloat (as did state subsidies). Things were going well before the pandemic took hold, and the partners had been able to build up significant reserves. “But despite government support, in one year we recorded losses of between €50,000 and €60,000,” Berenyi calculates.

No one believed that the confinement in the restoration would last this long. “There was a moment in January when it hit me hard and I was really depressed,” Berenyi confesses. The feeling was that people in government “didn’t think we were of any importance”.

“As a sector of the German economy, we are directly and indirectly responsible for around 9 million jobs,” Berenyi points out. He contrasts the response to gastronomy with that to the automotive industry: “When they cough, everyone jumps. But we’re just not relevant.”

Whatever your point of view, the Weinstuben restaurant will continue to face an uncertain future. “For now, it all depends on how many people are vaccinated and how quickly they will be vaccinated. And what that will mean when autumn and winter return,” says Berenyi.

No vaccination, no work

The boss himself has already received his second vaccine, and all his staff are ready to follow his example. “I asked each of them if they would also be open to the less favored AstraZeneca vaccine, and they all said yes.” The 16-person team includes a young woman who may be at higher risk of having an extremely rare incidence of blood clotting with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Berenyi says he will do everything possible to ensure he can arrange vaccination for her with the BioNTech-Pfizer or Moderna options. “The risk of thrombosis, especially in young women, is something I take very seriously.”

Overall, Berenyi would favor a tough line on vaccinations in Germany, even making them compulsory. True, he decided that in the future all employees of his own company will have to be fully vaccinated: “Whoever opposes vaccination will not have a job in my restaurant. He will have to leave!”

This article has been translated from German.

While You’re Here: Every Tuesday, DW editors summarize what’s happening in German politics and society, with the aim of understanding this year’s election and beyond. You can sign up for the weekly Berlin Briefing email newsletter here, to stay up to date with developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.


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