#27: Berlin coalition, lockdown-talk, Gorillas,
And the end of scammy auto-renewing phone contracts.
Hey 20 Percent,
The L-word is back in use and it’s depressing me. Okay, she didn’t actually say “lockdown”, but she might as well have. In a TV interview on Monday, Berlin’s health senator Dilek Kalayci (SPD) said because of the low vaccination rate, “we will not get around winding down public life completely.”
Scrambling to somehow contain the virus, politicians meet today to discuss the next possible corona measures - even though the new complicated 2G rules (explained here) only just went into effect in Berlin on Saturday. Helge Braun (CDU), who runs the chancellery, told reporters no decisions will be made today.
And this just in: the German Constitutional Court has ruled that the Bundesnotbremse (“Federal emergency brake”) - a law that allows the federal government to impose stricter corona restrictions in the states once certain infection levels have been reached - is constitutional. If you ask me, the writing’s on the wall: some kind of lockdown is near.
We could see it coming. Intensive care beds are filling up. The situation is worst in regions with the lowest vaccination rates. I never thought I’d say it, but I see no way around compulsory Covid-19 vaccinations as the only way to maintain a basic level of freedom and sanity. There’s going to be a long debate in Germany before we get there, though.
What’s crazy is that this disease has blown a hole in the idea that this is a country of sensible, rational people. A sizeable minority is still set on magical thinking and harbours a deep fear of “school medicine”, and would rather apply the 100-year-old teachings of Rudolf Steiner in 2021, or get swept up by imported ideologies along the lines of QAnon and whatever else. Maybe it’s not all that surprising in a culture that’s as much rooted in Romanticism and fairytales as it in the Enlightenment and modernity.
And then there are hard-to-explain Germans like Winfried Stöcker. The Lübeck doctor and biotech mogul who invented his own homemade corona vaccine, claiming 97 percent efficacy back in the spring when he injected 100 volunteers, sidestepping all the normal approval procedures. Somehow, the authorities failed to stop Stöcker from forging ahead with his dodgy project. On Saturday, he was busted administering his vaccine to people at Lübeck Airport - which, by the way, he owns. The full, weird story is here.
The Berlin news is below.
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The Berlin corona stats for Tuesday, November 30
Fully vaccinated: 69.1% (68.9% Friday)
New cases in one day: +3,172 (2,843 Friday)
Total deaths: 3,830 (+16 over Friday)
🔴 7-day Covid-19 incidence (cases per 100,000): 372 (357 Friday)
🟡 7-day hospitalization incidence (also per 100,000): 4.1 (4.0 Friday)
🟡 Covid-19 ICU patient occupancy: 19.1% (19.4% Friday)
Source: Berlin’s corona information page
Berlin gets a government, too
Last Wednesday, Germany was presented an outline of what to expect from the incoming “traffic light” government. In Berlin on Monday the new-old SPD-Linke-Die Grünen gang that will be running Berlin (albeit it with a new gang leader, Franziska Giffey of the SPD), presented its own coalition deal, a document promising to make Berlin “Sozial. Ökologisch. Vielfältig. Wirtschaftsstark.” “Social. Ecological. Diverse. Economically strong.” (For some reason, German politicians think separating words with full stops Makes. Them. More. Impactful). Werner Graf, the Green who will lord over the department of Transport, Environment and Agriculture, described the deal as “giving Berlin the booster it needs to make it the capital of the future.”
Here’s what is being promised over the next five years:
Parking fees for residents bumped up to €120 (from €10.20) per year.
Tram line extensions by 2026: from Haupbahnhof to Turmstraße in Moabit, linking line 21 to Ostkreuz in Friedrichshain.
From 2024, hotels and Airbnb bookings will include a mandatory public transport ticket for tourists.
More express bike routes linking the ‘burbs to central areas. Completion of safe cycle lanes on all main arteries.
Two thousand new state jobs, including many to relieve the permanently overtaxed Bürgerämter.
Berlin teachers get tenured status once more. This is supposed to stop the brain drain of teachers to other German states offering better salaries and conditions.
Construction of 20,000 new affordable flats per year through 2030.
Sixty percent of Berliners voted in favour of forced buybacks of flats owned by large corporate landlords. SPD oppose the idea, Die Grünen and Die Linke are in favour. Solution: give an expert commission a year to figure out if the plan is feasible.
A Chief Digital Officer gets hired to oversee the digital transformation of the city administration. Thumbs pressed.
Equip district health authorities with modern IT to better deal with Covid reporting and contract tracing. You know, the ones with the faxes and Excel sheets.
A promise that all government services will be “accessible for people in the city, digitally and in analogue”. The same thing was promised in the 2016 coalition agreement.
Berlin will join Cities for Digital Rights, and double down on its commitment to uphold human rights online, with a focus on values like freedom of expression, privacy, inclusion and transparency.
Hire more cops.
Racial profiling to be explicitly banned.
Allow video surveillance in certain “crime-ridden” areas.
An ambitious, largely progressive agenda. Let’s hope Berlin’s structural incompetence and/or corona don’t rain on the new Senat’s parade.
Gorillas gets a works council
Efforts by workers at the unicorn grocery delivery service are paying off: Following a six-day employee vote, the ballots were counted Saturday and a 19-member works council announced. In Germany, staff at larger companies have the legal right to form such councils to represent their interests in discussions with management. Gorillas’ top brass had for months tried to thwart workers’ attempts to organise. Maybe Berlin’s gig economy players are finally growing up and accepting that basic labour law applies to them too.
New law on those annoying auto-renewal contracts
This one oftens gets foreigners new to Germany: because you didn’t cancel your phone or internet contract (normally by sending a letter!) in time, it gets extended by another year or two. A new law that goes into effect on December 1 says companies can auto-renew contracts - but after the renewal consumers will have to right to cancel the contract on a monthly basis. Mobile phone companies may also no longer charge for transferring your mobile number to a new provider.
New show at Hamburger Bahnhof
This might not be the pick-me-up you were looking for in the fourth wave. Nonetheless, “Nation, Narration, Narcosis Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories” that opened a couple of days ago at Hamburger Bahnhof seems perfect for our times. Riffing off of Joseph Beuys’ idea of social sculpture, the exhibition delves into “art’s relationship to political protest, historical trauma and social narratives from the 19th century to the present.” Disturbing as that sounds, I’m always up for a visit to the charming former train station, where social distancing should be a cinch. The info.
Berlin has 163 square kilometres of forest within its city limits - but it’s in very poor health. Sadly, according to the annual forest report, only six percent of trees are in a top condition. Drought and rising temperatures over the past few years have led to infestations and diseases on a wide scale, says Berlin’s top ranger Gunnar Heyne. Thanks to more rain this year compared to 2020, though, the portion of trees that are “seriously damaged” has fallen slightly to about one third.