Berlin’s coronavirus cases are on the rise again — with a record 111 cases registered this week.
At the same time, the German capital is seeing the longest heatwave of the year. And judging by the trail of bathers heading to the city’s lakes, parks, and pools, it seems the heat bothers Berliners far more than the risk of catching the coronavirus.
“We don’t have too many pretty days like these in Berlin, so we have to make good use of them!” says one bather as he approaches the narrow shore of Schlachtensee, in the south-western part of the city. As it is easily accessible by public transportation, it is one of the prime destinations for those looking to cool down and chill out.
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However, city authorities are concerned it will soon become a pandemic hotspot. On Twitter this week, Berlin police have been reminding lake-goers to keep a distance and to wear masks — but they can’t do much more than plead with the public and hope for voluntary cooperation.
This weekend temperatures have exceeded 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in some parts of the country. With many Germans on summer holiday and some foreign travel restrictions still in place, authorities feared that people heading to lakes would not respect social distancing. However, crowds at Germany’s lakes were somewhat smaller than expected.
Such hot temperatures and little or no rainfall mean that most of the country is under a fire risk warning. Despite this, German people are taking the opportunity to barbecue. There are warnings for storms in the coming days across the country.
In parts of the UK, temperatures are up to 36 degrees Celsius, the hottest August temperatures recorded for almost 20 years. Cases of COVID-19 remain high in Europe’s worst-affected country, but many revelers still headed to popular seaside resorts like Brighton to enjoy the water.
Travel warnings are in place for all or part of Belgium for many European countries, including Germany, after coronavirus cases spiked in the province of Antwerp. Belgians nevertheless took the opportunity to head to the beach as temperatures reached the high 30s.
Shortly after Paris made face masks for all compulsory this week, the French capital saw a heatwave alert system put in place by the government. Tourists are being urged to respect social distancing and continue wearing masks despite the heat.
Back in Germany, authorities in the state of Schleswig-Holstein called for beach visitors to keep respecting social distancing. Many feared that beaches would be overwhelmed. School summer holidays are drawing to a close and families took the chance to have a dip in the Baltic Sea — normally a place synonymous with freezing temperatures.
Park inspectors overwhelmed
The park inspectors who are in charge of maintaining peace and order, protecting nature and preventing fires, now find themselves busy with crowd-control. In the afternoons, after working hours, up to ten thousand people flock to Berlin’s parks — the number rises to fifty thousand on weekends. The park inspectors struggle to find ways to try to spread out people searching for a tiny piece of land to sit down.
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“We are in full capacity and busy to the maximum,” says Max Hoppe, the park manager who oversees the inspectors teams. “The coronavirus added a lot to our workload. We can’t just stop our fire-prevention efforts, but there’s also a lot of aggression between visitors. We have to mediate and also deal with implementing coronavirus rules. So we try to combine everything and we appeal to everyone to exercise self-discipline and behave responsibly.”
Berlin’s outdoor pool ‘Prinzenbad’ limits the people who can go into the water at the same time
More flexibility required
One suggested solution to the overcrowding of the regional lakes is to change the quota system in the city’s 15 open-air pools. This summer they operate under strict limitations, forcing bathers to register online beforehand, and restricting the number of people in the water. The pool in Pankow district, for example, sells 474 tickets each afternoon — but allows only 170 bathers in the water at the same time. That means ticket-holders are allowed on the pool premises, but end up stuck in long lines when they actually want to get into the water.
Local opposition politician Paul Fresdorf points out that about 10 percent of registered clients do not show up, and calls on the pools to start selling tickets at the entrance.
“There’s a heatwave hitting the city — but still the public pools association will not let more people in, despite having the capacity — just because they did not order tickets online,” he complains.
Pressure seems to have been working, and five pools have started being more flexible to ensure older clients and people with limited mobility who cannot travel to the lakes have a fair chance to enjoy a casual refreshing dip.
But wherever you want to go for a summer dip in the German capital, you may want to hurry up, as hot summer days in Berlin are usually numbered.