Berlin's coronavirus ad campaign showing an elderly lady giving anti-maskers the middle finger has sparked quite a furor. But then the German capital is used to a fair bit of controversy, writes James Jackson.
The Berlin Senate's new campaign has everything you would expect from the city. Rudeness, shifting the blame and a load of taxpayer-money wasted on PR. Rather than actually enforcing coronavirus regulations in crowded bars, apparently, it's easier to just swear and blame everyone else.
Don't get me wrong, there is no one more deserving of a disapproving gesture than anti-maskers. But ultimately the Senate got things the wrong way round. I'd rather be scolded by neighbors or fellow commuters, not a local government that saw 503 new infections on Wednesday. Berlin's government has a lot it needs to improve before they start pointing the middle finger at its residents, especially those who can't wear masks for health reasons.
In theory, Berlin should be excellent at stopping the spread of the virus. No one hugs each other, and Berliners are already used to being turned away from events for their wrong sartorial choice, so why aren't the judgmental bouncers applying the same approach to those avoiding masks? Some of the capital's party people would definitely have their fashion sense improved by a bit of face-covering.
That's without even getting to the infamous Ordnungsamt, a strong competitor for the most German word in existence. Intimidatingly named the Office of Order, these professional busybodies' tasks range from controlling the volume of street musicians to issuing parking fines. Surely for the public good they should be retrained as a squadron of crack-corona-commandos, pulling up droopy masks and scrupulously measuring social distancing with fold-up rulers?
The tendency to receive a sharp telling-off or unwanted feedback on your habits from Germans is known in some circles as "getting Deutsched." Whether it's a toe straying into the cycle lane or packing your shopping wrong, you're likely to receive an earful from passers-by. It's a shame this scolding only applies to petty matters and not stopping the spread of a respiratory virus that has killed over a million people.
Spending millions on PR campaigns with questionable humor is nothing new to the city. The "wirsindeinBerlin" campaign launched this summer pokes fun at the city's different tribes (Second Hand vs Second Benz) as well as the infamous "Berliner Schnauze," the tendency of Berliners to shout abuse at each other, apparently without hurting each other's feelings. During the pandemic I've been a little less tolerant of this gruff attitude, as sometimes the locals are so vociferous, there's a reasonable chance of getting coronavirus-infected spittle on your face.
This reminds me of one of my first trips to the club-crazed capital. Lucky enough to have an invite to a private party, it was less glitz and more grime. After a half hour on the dance floor, an acquaintance asked me rather brusquely, "you're not into dancing, are you?" I pointed out that actually I was a regular club-goer. "Oh then you must just not be very good at it," came the reply.
Germans do have a sense of humor. Normally it's fantastically dry. Other times it's quite silly and childish. But occasionally it can seem like more of an excuse to be mean than a reason to laugh.