At the end of 2021, there seem to be lots of similarities with last year’s situation. A new, more contagious variant of the Coronavirus is hitting Germany, the number of new infections is more or less the same and the outlook is sort of grim. But not all events of 2021 were about Corona. What happened from January to June?
Berlin, December 27th, 2021 (The Berlin Spectator) — In late 2021, Germany is still fighting against the Corona pandemic. The vaccination campaign has prevented the situation from becoming a lot worse, meaning many lives were saved. Still, there are justified worries and fears and no light at the end of the tunnel. How did 2021 begin?
In early January of 2021, the federal government of Chancellor Angela Merkel is looking into extending the lockdown it had put in place in November, because of exploding Corona infection numbers. On January 1st, the Robert Koch Institute registers 22,924 new Corona cases, the Seven Day Incidence is 141.9. There is hope the situation will improve substantially by the end of 2021, but it will not.
On January 6th, more than 1,000 Corona patients die in Germany, on the 11th, 2021, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approves the Moderna vaccine, which is the second product of its kind. A new virus variant, Delta, worries virologists. Just like a year later, a travel ban for most passengers from the United Kingdom and six other countries is being put in place on January 30th, 2021.
The government Berlin (and other European governments) develop another worry. It is about the state of democracy in the United States of America, after a lying, self-centered, undemocratic President Donald Trump attempts a coup at the U.S. Capitol, by sending a mob there. European politicians are appalled about Trump’s behavior, including his false claim the elections had been stolen from him by the Democrats. Trump’s Republicans fail to stop him, in spite of it all. Until today, Trump is a party member, which is probably the biggest scandal of them all. On and after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the European Union and the governments in most member states are relieved.
On January 16th, 2021, Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU makes Armin Laschet its chairman. At this moment, the party does not know he will bring home its worst election results ever, some eight months later, and make the Christian Democrats an opposition party again, for the first time in 16 years. On April 21st, he becomes candidate for Chancellor after a long battle with Bavaria’s First Minister Markus Söder. At this moment, the CDU slumps in the polls.
In early 2021, during the lockdown, there are only a few places to go to in Berlin. Restaurants and even non-essential shops are closed, but the two zoos are not. One of them is Tierpark Berlin. People hardly go anywhere in January. The number of passengers at Frankfurt Airport, Germany’s largest airline hub, slumps to the level of 1984.
On January 27th, 2021, the Berlin Bundestag commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz which took place 76 years earlier. In her speech, Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch conveys a message to the extremist right-wing party ‘AfD’: “You lost your fight 76 years ago.’
On January 30th, a lot of snow falls in Berlin. People are tired of the lockdown. They go sleigh riding with their kids at some of the city’s parks. Hardly anyone wears masks or keeps any distance.
In February, the Corona infection numbers improve temporarily. Germany sends doctors and respirators to Portugal, where the health system has collapsed. More respirators are being flown from Germany to Brazil and India during the first half of 2021.
All the ice and snow causes accidents on the Autobahn in several federal states. Motorists are stuck in the snow in some areas, train connections have to be shut down.
On February 12th, 2021, the Bundesrat, the second parliamentary chamber in which the federal states are represented, celebrates its 1,000th session. “Our democracy does not work in spite of different opinions, but thanks to the coaction and the balance of all those legitimate perspectives and interests”, Frank-Walter Steinmeier tells the members in his anniversary speech.
In mid-February, Berlin unveils plans for an extension of its ‘U-Bahn’ (metro, subway, underground, tube) system. One line is supposed to be extended all the way to Mexico Square. Will the capital’s projects cost money? Yes.
On February 16th, some First Ministers, including Armin Laschet, say they want to put in place their own Corona rules. They even question decisions they were part of in Angela Merkel’s Corona conferences. This conflict will drag on and escalate.
On March 4th, 2021, the Chancellor announces several reopening steps. At least in part, the lockdown is over. On March 15th, Germany temporarily suspends the use of the AstraZeneca Corona vaccine because of some cases of cerebral vein thrombosis.
On March 20th, the infection numbers rise exponentially once again. The government pulls the “emergency brake” by bringing back parts of the lockdown the country is already used to. Four days later, Angela Merkel apologizes for a mistake. She and the First Ministers had decided to close all shops ahead of Easter. For several reasons, including labor contracts, this step is not feasible.
On March 14th, 2021, First Ministers Winfried Kretschmann of the Greens in Baden-Württemberg, and Malu Dreyer, the Social Democratic head of government in Rhineland-Palatinate, win state elections. The CDU loses, as it will in all but one elections that year.
Another news item in March has little to do with Corona: Berlin puts more bicycle cops on its streets. They are supposed to protect fellow cyclists, from motorists and from themselves.
In early April, the government announces liberties only vaccinated persons will have. On April 1st, several of Germany’s federal states tighten their Corona rules again. In Berlin, people who want to go out at night need to do so alone or in pairs. On April 11th, in the third Corona wave, the occupancy rate of Germany’s intensive care units is at its highest level since the beginning of the pandemic. On April 21st, Merkel’s grand coalition pushes an amendment of the Infection Protection Act through the Bundestag because some First Ministers refuse to play ball. The federal government now has more power in regard to the implementation of Corona restrictions.
On April 15th, spontaneous protests take place in Berlin, because Germany’s Constitutional Court had just sacked Berlin’s ‘rent cap’. The measure was supposed to freeze the rents for five years. It was intended to be a step against the city state’s affordable housing crisis.
On April 13th, 2021, the Berlin Senate decides to start planning an extension of the ‘M10’ tram line. It is supposed to connect the Friedrichshain borough to Kreuzberg. Not all residents who might be affected south of the Spree river are happy about this idea.
The German Greens make Annalena Baerbock their first candidate for Chancellor on April 19th, 2021. What the country does not know yet at this moment is the fact that the Greens will lose a lot of support ahead of the elections in September, and that their candidate will not really have a chance to become Chancellor.
On April 19th, 2021, Germany commemorates its Corona victims. “Today we want to offer our condolences to those who are mourning loved ones, and tell them they are not alone”, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier states in Berlin. Corona deniers keep on staging big protests against vaccination and measures that were put in place for everyone’s protection, including theirs.
On May 19th, 2021, restaurants in Berlin reopen, for the first time since November 1st, 2020. The Corona infection numbers decrease, and the city state’s Incidence drops down below 100. On May 22nd, Germany restricts entry from Great Britain again, because of what is known as Delta or “the Indian Corona variant”, because that is where it spread first.
During the latest war Israel was pulled into by Hamas, on and around May 15th, 2021, several antisemitic protests take place on the streets of Berlin. Arabic, Turkish and German Jew haters fill the streets in the capital’s Neukölln and Kreuzberg boroughs. One of these protests is organized by Samidoun, a group which is part of the Palestinian terror organization PFLP and tries to disguise itself as an NGO. But other organizers, including ‘Palestine Speaks’, spread the same antisemitic pro-terror propaganda. These protests cause outrage among politicians on both the state and the federal level.
Hours after the Belarussian regime forced a Boeing 737 owned by Ryanair to Land in Minsk and had dissident Roman Protasevich arrested, the European Union and Germany condemn the incident. Angela Merkel demands his immediate release, and that of his partner. She criticizes what she calls “unprecedented actions” by the Belarussian authorities.
On May 31st, Berliners, other Germans and residents of other nationalities experience nice spring days. Everyone heads to parks and other outdoor locations. Tourists are being seen at the usual landmarks again. A million selfies are being shot all over the place. Life can be nice again, at least for a while. The nice weather also leads to problems: In several parks, party people dance to Techno beats all night long throughout the spring and the summer. They keep residents awake, ignore Corona rules and leave behind a big mess. The police keeps on chasing those people away from the parks, but they return minutes later.
On June 1st, 2021, more Corona rules are being eased by several German states. From June 9th, a digital Corona passport is available to Germans and residents of other nationalities. The document, which can be kept on smart phones, facilitates travel. On June 27th, German tourists are being flown home from Portugal because of the spread of the Delta variant of the Coronavirus, shortly before it spreads everywhere, including in Germany.
On June 6th, the conservative CDU scores its only good election win of the year, in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. The conservative First Minister Reiner Haseloff wins in a landslide and even manages to keep the extremist right-wing ‘AfD’ on second place.
Part of Rigaer Strasse in Berlin’s Friedrichshain district becomes a crime scene on June 16th, 2021. About 200 left-wing radicals throw cobblestones and bottles at police officers. First, they build barricades by placing parts of construction fences, wood and tires on the street and setting them on fire. Then, the attack occurs from the roofs of several buildings. As many as 60 officers are injured. An announced fire safety check at an illegally occupied apartment block triggered this behavior. The attack increases the number of voices who demand an eviction of all squatters from the building at Rigaer Strasse 94.
In late June, the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the continent’s umbrella organization for soccer clubs, argue about a political statement the organizers of a match want to make. By making the stadium shine in the colors of the rainbow, they want to show solidarity with the Hungarian LGBTI community, because of a new law passed in Budapest which discriminates homosexuals. The UEFA forbids the display.
On June 26th, Christopher Street Day is being marked in Berlin. Because of relatively low Corona infection numbers, the traditional march goes ahead without masks.
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