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Berlin Orders Curfew For 1st Time In 70 Years As COVID-19 Cases Rise

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've been talking this week about how the coronavirus numbers are rising across Europe. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting with state ministers today to consider another lockdown. And as part of that, the government is thinking about closing bars and restaurants across the country. Politicians are already urging partyers to just stay home. As Esme Nicholson reports, this has not gone down well in the German capital.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Berlin's nightlife has long been synonymous with hedonism and liberty, from the coke-fueled cabarets of the 1920s to the massive techno parties in abandoned buildings of the early '90s. Bars and clubs are open round the clock, and nights out can easily last 48 hours. But with Berlin an official corona hot spot, its mayor says now is not the time to party and has introduced closing hours for the first time in more than 70 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY AMBIENCE)

NICHOLSON: Nora Graf sits with a friend outside a well-known Kreuzberg establishment, nursing a whiskey to keep warm in the cool evening air. She says she doesn't feel it's safe to sit inside.

NORA GRAF: (Through interpreter) You only have to look around this neighborhood to see that a lot of bar hoppers don't seem to have noticed that the virus is back with a vengeance and that they should be adapting their behavior.

NICHOLSON: Graf, a 38-year-old architect, says it was inevitable that the city would restrict opening hours. For her, though, it doesn't make much difference - late nights are a distant memory.

GRAF: (Through interpreter) Nightlife until only 11 p.m. - that sounds pretty family-friendly to me.

NICHOLSON: But business-friendly it isn't.

ROBERTO MANTEUFFEL: Our business hours are the nighttime as bar owners. And, of course, this is a nightmare for all of us.

NICHOLSON: Roberto Manteuffel is a barkeeper and founder of Berlin's bar lobby. He says closing early will not only do damage to the city's tax base, but that it won't do anything to stem infections because punters will simply take their parties back home.

MANTEUFFEL: Politicians can't say, young people, stop being young. Of course, we all need to live with the virus, but at the same time, we can't stop being humans, whatever age we are.

NICHOLSON: For Angela Merkel, who backs the restrictions, being human is precisely what this is all about. She's repeatedly appealed to partygoers to be considerate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) Take a minute to think about what's most important. Isn't it the health of your family, your grandparents? Going out and partying will still be there post-corona. Right now it's being considerate and showing solidarity that counts.

NICHOLSON: Merkel's tone is polite compared with a recent poster campaign here which featured a mask-wearing grandma giving the middle finger to rule-breakers and partygoers. The posters were removed following complaints. But both messages echo the German saying, (speaking German) - which in a partygoing context means, I can't stay out late. Literally, though, it means, I won't grow old. And that's the scenario authorities are trying to prevent.

For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF KRYSTAL KLEAR'S "NEURON DANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.