An open-air outdoor club at the Flutgraben water canal in Berlin, Germany. (Shutterstock/canadastock)
Berlin has long been famed for its raucous party culture but as the coronavirus crisis begins to bite, the German capital is fearing for its reputation as the world's nightlife capital.
"You know we love sick parties, but this is going too far," quipped Sisyphos nightclub on its website, as it joined the ranks of famous Berlin nightclubs closing their doors this weekend.
Police officers began shutting down bars, pubs and clubs across the city on Saturday evening, leaving many in the cultural sector fearing for their financial futures.
As the number of confirmed contractions continued to rise in Germany and its capital, city officials brought forward measures to slow the spread of the virus.
"Of 263 confirmed cases in Berlin, 42 can be traced back to nightclubs," said the city-state's health senator Dilek Kalayci as she announced the new ban on all public events.
"This is simply not the time for parties."
The new rules, which will be in place until at least April 19, also affect cinemas, betting shops, swimming pools, leisure centers and -- in a country where prostitution is legal -- brothels.
Private gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed, so long as the host registers them with the authorities and provides a full list of participants.
According to local media, some bars have jumped on that loophole, with plans to invite 49 registered customers at a time or allow in regulars who knock on the door.
Yet for many of Berlin's hedonistic haunts, the closures spell financial disaster and possible ruin.
The nightclub sector in particular expects to be hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.
The German capital's famous techno scene began to flourish just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and clubs such as KitKat, Berghain and Sisyphos now attract tens of thousands of tourists to the city every year.
"For us, it is the biggest crisis since the end of the Second World War, we've never had such a big threat to the cultural scene," said Lutz Leichsenring of local industry association "Clubcommission".
"It's possible that, by the end of this crisis, a large part of this culture for which Berlin is famous and thanks to which people feel good in Berlin, will disappear," he told AFP.
While theaters, orchestras and opera houses have also been forced to close their doors, they can fall back on public funds if the crisis continues.
"The difference between us and the city's other cultural institutions which have already closed...is that they are funded by taxes, whereas the culture we provide is funded by our clients," said Leichsenring.
Suddenly deprived of their revenues but still faced with significant running costs, many clubs fear that the virus could eventually force them to close for good.
"This is an existential threat for us. At the moment it looks like we could keep going for four to five weeks with the amount of money available to us, but after that it's definitely over," Florian Winkler-Ohm, managing director at gay club SchwuZ told Tagesspiegel daily.
The situation was also disastrous for freelance artists, he added.
Clubcommission is now in discussions with city authorities over possible compensation packages.
Yet without state aid, clubs like SchwuZ will be forced to rely on fundraising and online creativity to survive the crisis, Winkler-Ohm told Tagesspiegel.
At Sisyphos, meanwhile, capital clubbers are trying to stay positive.
"We are looking forward to going crazy with you again soon, and will use the time to make our club even sicker," the nightclub said on its website.
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