COVID: Young Berliners adapt to the new normal | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW

The low autumn sun doesn’t give off much heat, but in the trendy and lively Neukölln district, many people still spend time outdoors. Snuggled up in jackets and scarves, they share beers in the parks or sip coffee in street cafes.

Summer has been defined by socializing outdoors, but it will become more difficult as the temperatures drop. Epidemiologists say more people spending time together indoors increases the chances of the coronavirus spreading.

On Thursday, the disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, reported that the seven-day average incidence rate of infections in the German capital had reached 108 per 100,000 population, well above the national rate of 85 and the highest since May, when many restrictions were lifted.

“3G” or “2G” signs are common in Berlin

Last winter, before the vaccination rollout, the elderly were more at risk. Now, in Berlin, more than half of new cases are people under the age of 35.

Anyone aged 12 and over can be vaccinated in Germany for several months and the national vaccination rate hovers around 70%. Hospitalization and death rates remain relatively low among young people – but experts say caution is still in order.

3G, 2G, 1G?

In Berlin, public spaces like bars and restaurants have two legal options for COVID restrictions – known as 3G and 2G meaning “vaccinated, recovered or tested” (“geimpft, genesen oder getestet”). Under the 3G rules, proof of one of the three is sufficient; under 2G, test certificates are not accepted.

People line up to enter the Berghain

Berghain’s first night to reopen has been linked to a COVID outbreak

But while some establishments religiously check the evidence, others have let it slip.

“We’ve always been a bit inconsistent,” admitted an unmasked employee at a Neukölln café that operates a 3G policy, when asked about the requirement to review customers’ vaccination or test certificates. “And I don’t know if it’s really unique.”

2G companies became more mainstream when the option of free testing was removed by the German government earlier in October. Now, anyone who is not medically exempt from getting the vaccine must pay to get tested – usually around € 20 ($ 23).

For small cafes and bars, 2G has an obvious advantage: in this system, social distancing requirements are removed from the inside. This means that the tables can be reconciled, increasing the number of customers.

And 2G also allows you to dance without a mask. Berlin’s most famous nightclub, Berghain, opened its dance floor for the first time in 18 months earlier in October under 2G restrictions. But a coronavirus outbreak has been linked to that first night, with thousands of people contacted as being at potential risk.

Authorities say they believe club employees have been diligent in checking vaccines and recovery certification, which means those infected may have had so-called breakthrough infections. For some, the attitude towards these infections is pragmatic.

“We believe this is part of normalcy. It is a risk we are living with now,” Lutz Leichsenring of the Berlin Club Association told the dpa news agency.

Some places don’t want to take that risk and say 2G and 3G are not enough. Under informal 1G arrangements, only those who are vaccinated are allowed to enter businesses.

“Everyone here is vaccinated and we are not accepting new, unvaccinated members,” the head of a “1G” policy co-working space told DW. “Everyone who has been infected should get a second injection anyway, so 1G is safe.”

This system has proven to be controversial. In September, a Berlin restaurateur received death threats after hosting an Oktoberfest event as part of a 1G policy.

A sign for a pub indicates entry only under 1G rule

A West Berlin tavern allowing only vaccinated people to attend an Oktoberfest event

The university is “deserted”

Meanwhile, academic terms have resumed – and for many students, this is their first time attending classes in person. Most universities in Berlin prioritize in-person classes with a 3G policy, although a student at the Free University of Berlin explained that many classes have an initial virtual classroom “to discuss how to do this” .

Another student from a smaller university in Berlin said his class was one of the few that took place entirely in person – and that the restrictions are largely enforced.

“The building still seems quite deserted. We have to present a negative test or proof of vaccination on entry each time,” he explained. “As a class, we decided to take off our masks and try to ventilate the room regularly.”

But hygiene measures can be erratic, he added. “During long seminars, the room is supposed to be ‘cleaned in the interim’ during the break, but as far as I know, that has never happened.”

Political pressure to avoid reintroducing strict restrictions is strong, and German Health Minister Jens Spahn has expressed his wish to lift the state of emergency as early as November.

The pandemic certainly seems distant when one walks through the busy streets of cold and sunny Neukölln, but the seven-day incidence rate in this young neighborhood is the highest in Berlin. With vaccination rates stagnating across all age groups, the infection rate among young people only seems likely to increase further.

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

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