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Germansplaining: How Germany keeps using the same approach for its problems

Dinner for One popularised the catchphrase "same procedure as every year". Now it's synonymous with Germany's Covid policy, writes TANIT KOCH.

A display board in Berlin about the Coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Lucas Werkmeister.

A little experiment to start with: Close your eyes and think of Deutschland.

Nein, not in that way: Just try to visualise things you culturally appropriated from us Germans (I would love to know the results BTW – please send your thoughts to letters@tnepublishing.com).

In my awfully stereotypical mind, I imagine many of you coming up with vocab like kindergarten, rucksack, the inevitable blitzkrieg. Or the Christmas tree. Possibly George Friedrich Händel. And the Windsors, of course.

Vice versa, I’m not sure you realise the generous gift you have made to my country, in particular on TV: Scores of German actors regularly dress up as English country folk and pretend to be landed gentry, butlers or bobbies in Cornwall to pay tribute to Rosamunde Pilcher. The romantic novelist – deceased for some time now – seems to have left enough screenplays to fill Sunday evenings on German public television for decades to come.

Later on Sundays, Inspector Barnaby makes German households believe there’s a county called Midsomer where no weekend passes without some sort of very British contest on the village green (baking, singing) followed by rural bloodshed.

But your longest-running cultural import has been Dinner for One, a 1960s black-and-white theatre sketch that aired on German television in its original language every New Year’s Eve since the 1970s. Thanks to Miss Sophie, her boozy butler James, a tiger-skin rug and the mulligatawny soup, the catchphrase “Same procedure as every year” is familiar to every adult in Germany.

As there’s no “th’’ in it, we mostly manage to pronounce the phrase correctly and due to German Covid policy, we get a lot of practice.

While the UK government has ruled out new restrictions (commentators in Germany speculate that the prime minister’s gamble may pay off), ours is taking Miss Sophie at her word: Same procedure as 2020, 2021 and so on…

Last week, it was decided that (yet again) Covid tests for restaurant-goers will be compulsory – unless you are one of the 35 million Germans who’ve had the booster jab.

In Germany, 25 million are “only” vaccinated twice, so restaurant owners rightfully worry about another catastrophic season.

People who haven’t been inoculated (and aren’t ‘‘recovered”) are banned from restaurants altogether, even if tested.

If you expect some sort of public outcry: It won’t come. Not here.

Meanwhile, politicians (yet again) praise this unanimous decision by the 16 German states. Which (yet again) turned out not to be unanimous at all, because two states have already defected and will probably spare the restaurants from further hardship.

Private gatherings (yet again) are also affected by the restrictions: there’s a limit of 10 people; if non-vaccinated and/or non-recovered are among the guests, the limit is one household with a maximum of two members from another household.

As no one wants to check a friend’s vaccination status at the doorstep, a large number of people raise an eyebrow at these measures and (yet again) behave as they see fit, some in a responsible, some in a risky, way.

PCR-testing capacities (yet again) aren’t close to what they could and should be.

If people weren’t ill before, they will be after queuing up for hours in the freezing cold at Berlin’s 11(!) cost-free PCR-testing facilities, which they must, if they want to leave quarantine.

The only new and highly controversial procedure about to be introduced is mandatory vaccination. But, yet again, speed isn’t Germany’s strong suit: The discussion could last longer than the fourth, fifth or sixth wave. The law could be passed as late as July, by which time the critical voices may have even more reason to argue against punishing unvaccinated people with fines.

But, unlike Westminster, there are no libertarian revolutionaries in our governing parties (or among the Christian-Democrat opposition).

The Free Democratic Party (who called for our own version of “Freedom Day” during the election campaign last year) pretty much gave up that role when it joined the government coalition, but it could opt for the slightly less invasive Italian version: Mandatory vaccination solely for the 50+ generation.

And according to most polls, a majority of 60-70 per cent of the population is (yet again) in favour of further measures, mandatory vaccinations and lockdowns for the non-vaccinated. So as surely as butler James trips over the tiger-head in Dinner for One, Germany will keep the restrictions going

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