Berlin throws party to drum up vaccine tempo
It’s a typical Berlin scene: a long line of sharply dressed people waiting around the corner to get into a club.
The thud of music from inside the venue, strict entry controls and the chance of waking up with a headache the morning after are all familiar, too.
Only, on a rainy evening in the east Berlin neighborhood of Alt-Treptow, the draw isn’t just dance music but vaccines as well.
The German capital renowned for its clubbing scene is throwing three vaccination parties this week, giving patrons jabs to the sound of electronic music.
The site is Arena club - which had been transformed into one of Berlin’s five main vaccination centers over the last year, after it, like other similar venues, was forced shut to curb coronavirus transmission.
After delivering well over a million jabs a day at its peak, Germany is now seeing the takeup for inoculation against the coronavirus slow dramatically, according to figures from the Robert Koch Institute for disease control and prevention.
In a bid to incentivize more to take the jab, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Aug. 10 agreed with regional leaders to end free Covid tests from October 11.
In the Arena club, the scene is like a high-school disco with very limited dancing. Patients who have just had their vaccines sit spaced out on chairs under strobing lights, while one of the DJs - some of them well known figures of Berlin’s underground and some who have volunteered in the vaccination center itself - works away on a set of turntables.
Some are in full party gear, others in their regular clothes.
The idea to combine dance music and vaccines was hatched by Markus Nisch, the Arena vaccination center manager for the German Red Cross.
"We had relatively low expectations at the start," he says.
"But the queue goes all the way down there," he adds, pointing to dozens of social-distancing people waiting in line.
In all, about 420 people were vaccinated against the coronavirus at the Arena center on Monday, the Berlin ministry for health said.
The word was spread on social media. "I found it on Instagram, people were posting it widely," says Olga Kapuskina, 27, who recently moved to the city.
"It’s a Berlin experience to get vaccinated at a party," she adds.
As of Aug. 10, 52 million people in Germany - or 62.5 percent of the population - have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
Reaching the remaining 37.5 percent of the population - many of them younger - is a key challenge for officials.
Just vaccinating older citizens won’t be enough, Dilek Kalayci, Berlin’s minister for health, says outside the Arena center. "We need to reach younger people now and to motivate them, convince them to get themselves vaccinated."
Compulsory vaccination is unlikely to be introduced. Instead, officials are resorting to more ingenious means to get doses distributed. Berlin has been offering vaccines at Ikea, as well as organizing the three nights’ festivities at Arena.
In the town of Aue-Bad Schelma, in Saxony - where just 52.9 percent of people have had at least one dose of the vaccine, the lowest rate amongst Germany’s states, locals were offered a free bratwurst sausage with every dose.
Campaigns have been run at football stadia, too, giving fans an easy opportunity to get the vaccine.
The effort at the vaccine party appears to be attracting first-timers.
"This is my first dose of the vaccine," says Oriane Dosda, 23, who works in customer service. "I was a bit nervous but I said to myself eventually I’ll just have to get it done."
The convenience is as much of a draw as the line-up. Patrons can turn up at the center without an appointment or the need for any documentation.
"I had difficulty getting an appointment but here it’s easily organized," says Claudio Keil, 26, a language teacher in Berlin. "I’m mostly here for the vaccination, the music is just a nice extra."