At the Christmas market on Hamburg’s main square, only revellers who are vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently recovered will be able to indulge in steaming hot mulled wine and candied almonds or gingerbread under festive fairy lights this year.
The unvaccinated will still be able to enjoy looking at the wooden stalls selling handicrafts or sweets, listen to Christmas carols and admire the nativity scenes. But the gastronomic section will be off-limits behind a fence with security guards checking proof of vaccination or recovery at the entrance.
This market segregation is the latest example of new, creative rules in Germany that are hoping to contain a fourth coronavirus wave without imposing a blanket lockdown and to push those who are choosing to remain unvaccinated to get the jab.
Some companies are also creating separate areas in canteens for those who are vaccinated. And several of Germany’s 16 state including Berlin have made it obligatory to be vaccinated or recently recovered to access any gastronomic services.
“There has to be access restrictions,” said Marion Begas as she set up her pottery stand. “It is a way to protect everyone.”
Germany has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe at 67% and officials say it is imperative to get more people inoculated as the country reports new record highs in rate of infection.
But there is still no political consensus in Germany for mandatory vaccines that have been implemented in certain sectors like care homes in some neighbouring countries.
Meanwhile restricting access to social venues to those who are vaccinated, recovered or can provide a negative test have apparently not boosted vaccination rates enough to reach levels deemed to provide herd protection.
Germany’s famous Christmas markets were suspended last year due to the pandemic. Now that the country has returned to a new-normality following lockdowns and curfews, many are re-opening for advent.
But they must comply with strict safety rules that vary from state to state and are constantly changing amid a surge in infections across Europe as indoor gatherings due to colder weather foments contagion.
Vendors say they are happy to be able to set up their stalls this year but fear onerous regulations will hurt business. Some market organizers say the uncertainty is too great to risk holding the event at all.
And as cases creep up and hospitals warn they are having to postpone scheduled surgeries as intensive wards fill up, there are growing doubts over whether Christmas markets should be held at all this year.
“I find it completely perverse,” said Hamburg resident Bencke Brorhilker, “To be honest, we have an incidence of 300 and they are still building Christmas markets here. On the other hand, the Christmas market stand owners, farmers and organizers are not the ones to blame. There is no roadmap at the moment,” she added.
On Tuesday, Munich cancelled its famous Christkindlmarkt market, with Mayor Dieter Reiter telling broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk “the dramatic situation in our clinics and the exponentially rising infection numbers leave me no choice”.