Berlin: The Empty City

Update March 18th, 2020, 8:37 p.m. CET

Berlin, the city of cities, the party place, the historic town, the tourism magnet, has not been this quiet on a regular weekday in decades. Hardly anyone moved around in either of the two city centers this morning.

Now that Germany’s and Berlin’s strict measures against the spread of the Coronavirus have kicked in, Berlin suddenly changed. Just days ago, it was a vibrant city with 3.7 million residents who were looking forward to the upcoming spring and walking around like crazy. Now it is a rather sad looking metropolis, at least in the city center.

From Kleiststrasse to Tauentzienstrasse

Kleiststrasse is usually crammed. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

On Kleiststrasse near Nollendorfplatz, traffic is usually tight and annoying. This morning, a delivery truck drove by now and then. Other than that nothing happened.

The Urania is closed. So is everything else. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

The Urania, one of Berlin’s more famous cultural venues, announced lots of events on posters displayed in front of the building. None of them will take place. Had Berliners been asked two months ago whether a virus could close down the entire city, they would have said “Never!”. Now they are hoping to get out of this bad dream ASAP.

The ‘KaDeWe’ was inaccessible too. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

When the luxury department store ‘KaDeWe’ is closed on a weekday, something is going on. Either the country is at war, a blackmailer placed a bomb in one of its shelves (this actually happened in 1988) or a virus attacked Berlin.

Tauentzienstrasse was a highly frequented street. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

Until yesterday, Tauentzienstrasse was one of Berlin’s major shopping streets in the western center. Today it is basically closed. Just a few cafés, fast food places and restaurants opened at 11:00 a.m..

From Hausvogteiplatz to Checkpoint Charlie

Hardly anyone used Berlin’s public transport early this morning. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

In the U-Bahn, Berlin’s equivalent to the subway, underground, tube or metro, a few individuals, most of them without protective masks, traveled from A to B. They tried to keep their distance. On a normal day, thousands of Berliners would have squeezed themselves into those trains.

At Gandarmenmarkt, not a single tourist was in sight. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

At Gendarmenmarkt, a gazillion tourists usually shoot all the historic buildings they can find, in selfie mode, with tripods, video cams and from all angles. Today, the scene was somewhat different. Hardly anyone was there. Some of the expensive luxury restaurants around the square shut down completely since their owners do not feel like working in Corona mode, from 11:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.. Those are the rules now.

Nobody is interested in Checkpoint Charlie anymore. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

If any area used to get invaded by tourists, literally, it was the one around Checkpoint Charlie. Guess how many people looked at the historic site this morning at 9:00 a.m.: zero, not a single tourist. From 1961 to 1989, soldiers crossed from West to East and from East to West at Checkpoint Charlie. From 1990 to early 2020, tourists ruled the place. But they were chased away by the Coronavirus in March of 2020.

Later during the day, Berliners did meet in parks, including Görlitzer Park and Hasenheide, where hundreds spent the afternoon in the sun in groups. Many of them did not seem to keep any distance to anyone, in spite of the fact that Germany’s main virologists and government had stressed this point countless times in the past weeks.

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