Germany begins to reopen cultural sector after coronavirus lockdown

Germany has begun to gradually reopen its museums after nearly six weeks of the coronavirus lockdown. This comes as the country’s infection rate fell under 1.0 in mid-April, although the public is still being advised to stay at home as much as possible.

According to the government, cultural institutions across Germany’s 16 states will be eased back into normality, provided they can fulfil strict social-distancing guidelines. These include “requirements for hygiene, access control and avoidance of queues.”

The first museums in Thuringia and Brandenburg – mainly smaller rural ones – opened their doors to the public last week, with Dresden State Art Collections to reopen in a few days. “Probably not all of our museums will open that day,” said a spokeswoman for the collections. “We have to implement a lot of new measures and we are working on a concept.”

New guidelines supplied by the Brandenburg Museum Association include building plexiglass shields for ticket desks, only accepting contactless payments, providing disinfectant for staff, regular cleaning, and limiting visitor numbers to one person per 15 square metre. Group tours will also no longer be allowed and special time slots with extended opening hours for vulnerable visitors have been recommended.

Dorothee Entrupp, who is coordinating the reopening of the Museum Barberini near Berlin, explained the museum will be taking extra precautions, which include compulsory mask wearing. “We have developed a sophisticated hygiene and security concept,” emphasised Entrupp. “The safety and health of our employees and visitors is our top priority.”

Whilst smaller museums have adapted quickly to the changes, bigger institutions have struggled. “We think it will take longer for museums which are major tourist destinations to open,” suggested David Vuillaume, the general manager of the German Museums Association. “There is a financial issue in that increased hygiene and security measures will incur higher costs, but there will be very few visitors because of a lack of tourism, and therefore little income.”

Last year, nearly 115 million people visited the 7,000 museums across Germany, which turned a healthy profit as a result. Fewer visitor numbers this year will certainly impact museum profits; yet costly extra staff will be needed to comply with the new hygiene requirements.

The German government has responded to these concerns by establishing a €10 million support programme to help museums survive the aftermath of the coronavirus closures. Monika Grütters, minister of state for culture, said the government “recognise[s] that culture is not only a luxury one indulges in during good times.”

In the last few weeks Germany has also begun to unwind their stay-at-home measures for religious institutions, zoos and playgrounds, but social distancing restrictions will remain in place there until at least 10th May.

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