BERLIN (Reuters) – Laughter and glasses chinking, bright lights and warm colours shining through steamed up windows are staples of winter life for Berliners, used to relying on the party city’s many bars to get them through the long, cold evenings.
But not this year. With Germany in lockdown since November as it struggles to contain a second wave of the coronavirus, the city’s distinctive scene of makeshift bars open all hours has gone dark for the first time in decades.
For an army of bartenders, used to mixing up cocktails, counselling some customers and slinging out others, the silence is eerie.
“I always thought the bar scene was crisis-proof because people always wanted to drink. But I was wrong,” said Max, barman at the Big Bad Wolf. “This year has shown that you can be flexible and you have to be.”
Many bars and restaurants switched to selling take-out mulled wine, but under tightened lockdown rules that went into force on Wednesday, even that is no longer possible.
Berlin’s bar scene exploded in the 1990s, when young people flocked to a city newly opened after decades of Cold War division, attracted by many empty buildings that could cheaply be repurposed as flats, studios or watering holes.
That created the bar’s distinct look of eclectic furniture, inconstant lighting, and tables crammed higgledy-piggledy into spaces designed a century before for other purposes.
“You can count on the fingers of two hands the nights on which the Milk Bar has been closed since 1988,” said Nevi, its barman. “Now, unfortunately, those hands are tied.”
Despite the challenges, many remain hopeful, however.
“It’s been a really tough year for us,” said Evelyn, barmaid at the Wiener Blut. “I’m still optimistic: I think bars will survive this, and then things will take off again.”
(Writing by Thomas Escritt; editing by John Stonestreet)