The German Covid Mystery

In the course of the last 7 weeks since we arrived in Berlin, our new home city, we have been presented with a unique and compelling insight into the commonalities and the differences between two major European countries, specifically the UK and Germany. Anyone who has visited Germany at some point in their life will have an inkling of some of the obvious cultural differences, and we are reminded of these on a daily basis as we become accustomed to our new life here.

At present, we are going through a period of adjustment and as with any change, we are finding some of the practices and customs at times frustrating and at times heartwarming. The comparison is even more pertinent at the moment as both countries strive to combat and survive the Coronavirus pandemic. How different it feels here in Berlin from what we encountered in York earlier in the year when the first lockdown was introduced. We don’t know what it felt like in Berlin at that time, since we weren’t here to experience it, but if the present is any guide, it feels very different. Apart from the fact that the restaurants, cafés, bars and hotels are closed for business here, most other walks of life feel fairly normal and the roads are full of traffic, the trains, trams and buses are well-used, and the commercial centres are not eerily silent and full of tumbleweed. Yet there is a sense of concern in Germany and in Berlin at the rise in coronavirus cases and a continued call for responsible behaviour in order to safeguard the vulnerable and elderly and to prevent the intensive care wards from becoming overloaded.

However, we don’t wish to revisit the debate of how we should tackle the crisis in this blog post, instead we wish to highlight some of the observations we have made. One glaring difference between the two countries is the much lower number of coronavirus cases and the number of deaths in Germany, something that is fairly well documented in the media. Why is this? What are the factors at play? We can only speculate, but we have our own ideas, and it very much links to the daily habits and lifestyle practices that Germans have adopted. We will suggest some of the possible reasons here.

How often do we associate the German diet with eating meat, lots of it, especially pork? This is a well-worn cliché and while it is still evident, meat consumption is reported to be declining. According to a recent study, the number of vegans in Germany has doubled in the last four years and 30% of Germans surveyed in the study now describe themselves as flexitarians. Whilst this trend is also evident in the UK (which was unfortunately not included in the comparison), it’s interesting to note this sea change in Germany. What is also evident, based on personal observation, are the foods that Germans appear to be buying on a regular basis. Fruit and vegetables feature highly in their baskets and trolleys, hardly surprising when there is such an abundance to choose from. Processed foods and convenience foods still play a part, as is surely the case everywhere these days, but apparently less so than in the UK. Perhaps this is connected with the importance of making time to sit down and eat meals together with other family members at a dining table.