Extensive testing, discipline with social distancing, transparency of government’s decision making.…A street-style photo essay is no place to discuss medical or political strategies, but the fact is that Germany has managed to flatten its infection curve and the federal government has decided to ease most of the restrictions and to reopen the country after two months of lockdown. Berliners are back in the streets and we are able to get a first glimpse of what post-COVID-19 street life looks like.
The situation is still far from normal and a visual reporter can easily be tempted to show one of its extremes. It is possible to photograph empty post-apocalyptic-looking vistas of usually crowded places like Alexanderplatz or Museum Island with a solemn mask-clad figure passing somewhere on the horizon. On the other hand, it is equally easy to take a picture of a park full of happy, picnicking families and to suggest that everything is back to normal, or — depending on the interpretation — people are acting careless. None of these approaches would be true. The truth — as usual — lies somewhere in between. The social dynamics of city life has changed dramatically in the times of lockdown. People live more locally, trying to avoid unnecessary commuting, shopping in local stores and rediscovering their boroughs. Parks and squares in the neighborhoods where people actually live tend to be overcrowded while central areas of the city that in pre-coronavirus times would be filled with shoppers, cinema and gallery-goers, tourists and commuters, feel eerily empty.
Protective masks are without a doubt the most visible “fashion” element of the post-COVID-19 urban landscape. According to legal regulations, covering one’s mouth and nose while being outside is strongly encouraged but not mandatory. Most Berliners have a mask somewhere with them: folded in a pocket or dangling on the neck and put them on only when it is necessary. Wearing masks is mandatory when using public transport, most of the the stores also require their customers to cover both mouth and nose. Shop staff usually wear masks too, for protection or simply to show their respect to customers and make them feel comfortable. There are myriad styles and approaches: from simple medical masks one can buy at the pharmacy to patterned cotton masks offered by many local stores or sewn at home, to masks that look almost like high fashion. Maybe it’s because of the good weather, maybe it’s due to the longing for human contact, but somehow there is no cyber-punk dystopian feeling in the streets of Berlin. Humans wearing masks still look very humane. These are pictures of some of them.