Berlin in Covid lockdown – a personal observation

One morning in April 2020, I left the house early and let myself drift through the city. Here are some of my observations of Berlin during the Covid lockdown.

I step out onto the deserted street. Are they deserted because it’s only 6.30 am or because that’s how they usually are? When does the city normally wake up? As a freelancer working from home, I rarely get to see that.

At the next intersection I come across traffic. So there is movement after all. It feels like I have to wait a long time to catch a picture of an S-Bahn train. I see traces of activity in the sand in Humboldthain. But apart from a single runner, life still seems to be at a standstill. Even the pubs are asleep.

Man in work clothes on motorcycle
Berlin S-Bahn near Humboldthain station
Footprints in the sand in Volkspark Humboldthain
Old Berlin pub Zum Biermichel

What suddenly catches my eye is the orange staff pulling garbage cans out of the hallways. A scene in the Volkspark am Weinberg awakens melancholy in me: sleeping homeless people under a blossoming cherry tree are woken by the morning sun. A few meters away, a street cleaning worker sweeps up cigarette butts and flowers.

Berliner Stadtreinigung employees on Brunnenstraße
Homeless people sleep under a tree in the Volkspark am Weinberg
BSR employee and woman with dog in the Volkspark am Weinberg in Berlin

It is interesting to see how the cityscape has changed during this time. Especially if you turn your head down and look at the ground. Not that the sight of garbage on the street in Berlin is really anything out of the ordinary, but the packaging of a food delivery service lying on the road does catch my eye. Berliners continue to live their lives and if they can’t go to restaurants, they eat and drink in parks.

Packaging waste from a food delivery service lies on the street

Shortly afterwards, I notice “keep distance marks” of an ice cream parlor. I wonder to what extent it is possible to draw conclusions about the popularity of a store on the basis of these markings. This must definitely be good ice cream. And because people have to wait constantly in times of Covid, the road is being used even more than before in many places to make further political statements.

Covid distance markers on the sidewalk at Rosenthaler Platz in Berlin
Floor signage in Berlin "Deadly like Covid: EU external borders and the climate catastrophe"

In the window of a bakery, the owners explain the difficult situation of SMEs during the coronavirus crisis alongside the slogan “Broke is not sexy”. They feel abandoned by politicians. Who will emerge from this crisis as losers?

Notice in Berlin bakery with statements on the lack of financial aid for SMEs during the coronavirus crisis

Oranienburger Strasse looks almost apocalyptically empty. At a fountain in Monbijoupark, I notice a small bird drinking and almost feel like an intruder when the click of my camera startles it. To what extent is nature reclaiming the city?

I drive on. I keep forgetting the particuliarity of this time. The warming morning sun casts long shadows. Man with briefcase on his way to work. Another goes for a walk with his dog. A chauffeur passes the time reading the newspaper in his car. Travelers are waiting. Everything as usual.

And yet this feeling constantly creeps up on me: something is different.

The area around the Brandenburg Gate: almost deserted.

The Platz der Republik: a lonely runner.

The parking lot display at the Chancellery: there doesn’t seem to be any crowds.

The Moltke Bridge: a single, stationary car.

The waters of the Spree: as calm as a lonely lake somewhere in Brandenburg.

Washingtonplatz at the main station: empty. But with a clear message: think of others too!

It is now about 8 o’clock. I meet more people. But always at a distance. I drive past the Natural History Museum, Nordbahnhof station and the BND headquarters back to Wedding. I can no longer shake off the feeling of Covid. The hustle and bustle on the streets is unspectacular at best, but because everything seems a little off, the everyday things almost scream at me.

Electric scooters in Berlin
Traffic signs for cycle paths in Berlin

Berlin, in spring 2020. A mixture of standstill, deceleration and awakening. Business as usual, but only with half the power. How much longer?

Street in Berlin Wedding

© Tilman Vogler Fotografie 2024

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