Merkel considers 18-month entertainment closure

Merkel considers 18-month entertainment closure


norman lebrecht

April 14, 2020

A senor adviser to Angela Merkel’s government has said ‘it would certainly be very wise’ to keep places of public entertainment – including football stadia and concert halls – closed for the next 18 months.

The advice comes from Gerald Haug, president of the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences.

He added: ‘There are also more optimistic assessments of the situation. But it will certainly last several months more, it could go up to a year-and-a-half.’

The Cabinet is due to discuss his recommendation tomorrow (Wednesday).

UPDATE: Here is a fuller report of the paper that has been sumbitted and its proposer:

“It will certainly take many months, it could be up to a year and a half,” Leopoldina President Gerald Haug told German television news on the ARD on Monday when asked how long visits to football stadiums should be avoided. The 52-year-old pointed out that the Corona pandemic will not end until a vaccine against the virus has been found. Until then, he said, it was “certainly wise” not to go to the soccer stadium. 
However, the Germans might not have to give up the Bundesliga completely this year. The German Soccer League has scheduled an extraordinary general meeting for Friday. Then a decision is to be made about a possible continuation of the season in the Bundesliga in May. 
For the time being, the DFL is planning “ghost games” in order to save at least a large portion of the outstanding TV money and sponsorship income of around 750 million euros. 
Opportunities that hardly exist in the cultural industry. The big music festivals in Germany, such as Rock am Ring, have been cancelled for this year. Theatres and operas are closed, the Bayreuth Festival is also cancelled. 
Admittedly, the Leopoldina’s letter of recommendation to politicians states: “Depending on the possible spatial distance and the contact intensities of those involved, social, cultural and sporting events should gradually be made possible again.
At the beginning of the Corona crisis was the emergency, then came the contingency plans – curfews, contact bans, business closures – and now it’s all about one thing: the exit strategy. The question of when a normal life is possible again. 
And the answer from politicians and experts is “not by a long shot”. 
On Monday, the National Science Academy Leopoldina did indeed outline a roadmap for lifting the exit restrictions in Germany. Step by step, primary and lower secondary schools, retail and catering are to be reopened. The economy is to be got going again, quarantine and isolation of almost the entire society is to be ended. 
But there are reasons why many representatives of the people are talking about a “new normality” that is waiting for us in the coming months. “New, because measures such as wearing masks, keeping away and banning parties will continue for months to come,” as Health Minister Jens Spahn told CNBC on Monday evening. 
This means in plain language: The Germans will have to do without many events for a long time to come. Bundesliga soccer, for example.
That basically excludes concerts in clubs or halls. As well as congresses and trade fairs. Church services and visits to theatres, the opera or the cinema are more likely to be possible – at least if there are fewer people in the audience and the rules of distance are observed. 
In an internal letter from an industry association for further planning in the Corona crisis, which is available to business insiders, it says: “Large and mass events, whether private or public, will remain prohibited; concerts or Bundesliga football with spectators will probably no longer be possible in 2020.”


  • Gustavo says:

    The problem is that the Leopoldina as such is severely biased towards medical dignitaries in white coats who are negotiating time and massive research funds to capitalize on the gold rush following discovery of an antidote and/or vaccine (should there be one in reach).

    Ruthless profit-driven decision makers these medical professionals! Only concerned about their own business and reputation.

    They were unable to predict the pandemic in the first place, so there is no more reason to trust anyone wearing a white coat and a mask – at least not for the next 18 months.

    Alas, play on musicians, let Rome burn and don’t believe anything these medieval quacks tell you!

    • Doctor and Music Lover in Confinement says:

      While I understand your frustration and fear about what has been recommended here, that concert halls need to remain closed for at least 18 months, it is completely wrong to give people the impression that this recommendation is being made in the medical profession’s self-interest or for their monetary gain. It is not! Please, before you state things like this, PLEASE speak to a medical person or any person with a strong knowledge of biology, epidemiology or medicine.
      The reality is that bringing large numbers of people into a closed space, i.e. a concert hall and have them seated literally where they are touching each other, is the perfect environment for this deadly virus to spread mercilessly throughout that group. Add into the mix that the average age of the majority attending a classical music concert is 50+ and then you should really see the danger that is posed. They are the most high-risk group.
      I doubt that few people would risk their life to hear a concert, no matter how great it may be. And remember that enjoying music has many alternatives for the average music lover, namely listening to recordings, streaming online and also watching live and filmed concerts from the safety and comfort of your own home, knowing that the coughs and sneezes that you are hearing in that video of a live concert are not a risk to your health and life.
      This is all very sad, even tragic, but we can not be in denial of the reality and the risks that saying what you state above pose on the health and safety of the public.

      • Gustavo says:

        But it’s in fact an ethical issue, isn’t it – nothing natural science can really grasp unless someone is able to present robust estimates of the risk of individual mortality due the virus as a single factor.

        You state that “the reality is that bringing large numbers of people into a closed space, i.e. a concert hall and have them seated literally where they are touching each other, is the perfect environment for this deadly virus to spread mercilessly throughout that group.”

        People have been seated like this over evolutionary time, and a diverse range of pathogens has evolved in this environment.

        The “deadly virus” is presumably not so in all cases and spreads by chance. But you may know more by now. At any rate, only humans can be merciless, e.g. through terrorism, hooligan attacks, lethal accidents caused by driving over the speed limit.

        Whenever was an opera or a concert cancelled because of the risk of ingesting salmonella on a salmon canape, catching norovirus while sipping prosecco from a poorly rinsed glass, suffering a stroke, hart attack or getting run over by a bus while wandering off after Wagner’s Ring?

        Come on, medical experts – tell me the odds! Focus on the individual – average age.


        • Ron Swanson says:

          Now you are just talking drivel. If you look what happened to the populations of Central America after the Spanish landed you can see what the effect of infections to which no one has immunity. The first medieval black death outbreak killed between 20-30% of the population of Europe. The Spanish flu outbreak of 1918-19 killed over 2 million worldwide.

          • Gustavo says:

            So there you have it.

            The population matters, not the individual!

          • fools abound says:

            Actually, the Spanish flu killed about 50 million worldwide. And don’t worry about Gustavo’s comments. If he follows his own advice, we probably won’t be hearing from him all that much longer…..



            Sir, I am a research scientist and a microbiologist. A very important correction to the information that you gave in your entry above, is that the 1918-1919 ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic killed, at the absolute minimum, 50 million people worldwide and some estimates put the number of dead at closer to 100 million! 2 million as you state would already be terrible, but that pandemic was far far worse than that.
            The actual coronavirus, COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is actually a far more deadly pathogen and more contagious pathogen than the virus that caused the 1918-19 pandemic and the current COVID-19 virus is ten times deadlier than the H1N1 (H1N1pdm09) ‘swine flu’ virus that was behind the global outbreak in 2009. So there is a lot to fear right now and anyone who thinks or imagines that concert halls will see crowds coming into them before 2021 or more probably 2022 are delusional.
            The music business and many musicians will be devastated and ruined by this, but these are the facts. Its better to face these facts now, rather than realising them while lying in a hospital bed unable to breath after having caught COVID-19 in a crowded concert hall where 15-25% also became infected and where 3-5% of them died.

          • Cyril says:

            The 1918-19 flu pandemic killed at least 50 million worldwide – and that’s believed to be a conservative estimate.

          • Tamino says:

            Ron, look up how long theaters and concert halls were closed during the much more dangerous and deadly Spanish Flu outbreak. You are in for a surprise…

          • John Borstlap says:

            According to the many expert information available thus far, the following estimates can be made. This nasty corona virus is for ca. 80% of the people who pick it up, nothing more than a cold or a mild flu (there are also many people who experience nothing at all). For ca. 20% it is like a real flu. For 10% it is dangerous stuff with possible lethal outcome. Since this 20% is filling-up the hospitals, it is not difficult to estimate that many more people are infected without knowing it, it is the top of an iceberg. The medieval plagues made themselves known very quickly, as the Spanish flu did. These were very different diseases.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Many people suffered serious health issues after sitting through the Ring. Also Tristan had an average of risk comparable to grave flu infections, even killing conductors during act two (I’m not making this up).

          When visiting the Bayreuth festival and attending a Tristan performance, the Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu fainted and had to be carried-out the hall…. etc. etc.


      • Brian v says:

        Dear Dr.
        You are correct I have naim audio and b@W speakers at home the sound is fantastic classical/jazz. Until we get back to normal this is the next best thing

      • Tamino says:

        Leopoldina is not a trustworthy entity, period.
        They recommended a few years ago to reduce hospital bed capacity in Germany by 80% to get rid of – in their opinion – overcapacity. The closure was supposed to happen in regional hospitals that are not focused centers of specialty treatment and equipment.
        It was clearly a hostile move by a lobby to get rid of competition.
        Nobody should take their recommendations at face value.

    • Ron Swanson says:

      The lack of data about how many individuals have been infected is the why the closure could be between a few months and 18 months. Covid 19 appears to have a large number of people who have minor or no symptoms. Early German data suggests that 15% of the population might have already had Covid 19 which means an early opening is possible. If the number of people that have are only 5% of the population a much longer shutdown is needed. There isn’t enough information, currently, to make an accurate determination on how long things must remain closed. As time goes on a better understanding of the true number of infections becomes clear, then the length of the shutdown can be better predicted.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    Don’t know which would be the most difficult audience to persuade that this is in any way possible, post any lockdown easing elsewhere in the economy. Those who attend concerts of all types and the Opera Houses or the Football fans.

    So far, and for understandable reasons populations are by and large observing what is being asked of them. But I suspect that this compliance is not open ended, particularly if the virus is contained.

    If of course it isn’t then the ongoing toll makes everything else largely academic and few of us, if any at all, will be around to either float hypotheses like the one above or comment on them on blogs like this which will be as much a part of history as the music we can no longer access.

  • SVM says:

    Supposing that concerts were allowed, but with restrictions on maximum audience size? Only a very small proportion of musicians and promoters are able to get audienecs in the thousands, and many of them are overrated anyway. So, a maximum audience size may actually benefit the rest of the profession.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Crazy idea. There would be thousands and thousands of very capable performers who have no place to go to, and conservatories and music faculties all over the world would be shut – because there would not be any work in post-graduate life, and thousands of concert halls and opera houses would fall in disarray or be re-invented into warehouses or stock spaces.

    • NYMike says:

      And the proximity of musicians to each other on stage??

  • Westfan says:

    Until testing is ubiquitous, for both the virus and for antibodies for the virus, there is no way of safely going to an event of any kind. It is not a risk I am willing to take. And then ultimately once the vaccine has been created we can relax. That is a long ways off. We can’t even get enough tests for sick people right now, let alone antibody tests, in the US.

    • Tamino says:

      You are changing the fundamental equation then.
      Because what you describe was not common modus operandi ever.
      Based on your fearful asessment, we need total shutdown every winter during flu season as well.
      Flu kills half a million every year. Corona still „behind“ (but catching up likely)

    • SVM says:

      Apparently, “testing is ubiquitous” in Germany already, unlike most countries in “the West”.

      And I do not think we can rely on a vaccine any time soon. Although it has become possible to develop vaccines in a couple of years, a *new* vaccine is still very much experimental and unreliable **in the first instance** (and may have horrible side-effects). Moreover, many viruses have the propensity to mutate rapidly (this is why the influenza vaccine has to be adjusted constantly, and why vulnerable people get a new influenza vaccine every year). And even if covid-19 does not mutate significantly, there will be other viruses that can become pandemics.

      As a society, we *must* address the lack of resilience in our healthcare systems (which is the main reason why lockdowns have been necessary). Our abuse of other animals (covid-19 is thought to have started in a wildlife market), our urbanisation, and our hypermobility make more pandemics inevitable.

    • Gustavo says:

      “It is not a risk I am willing to take.”

      That sums it up.

  • Djeedo says:

    I read the original article in german,my mother language.
    The context refers more to festival concerts (pop/rock).

    And a 18 month orchestra lockdown would kill EVERY orchestra in Germany, more than 130!
    This will not happen!

    • Gustavo says:

      Luckily, Angela Merkel is both, a natural scientist and a Wagnerian.

      That gives me hope.

      • John Borstlap says:

        My fly on the wall tells me that Mrs Merkel had a serious bout of depression after finally reading the libretto of Gotterdammerung, while having enjoyed the Ring so much during so many years. So, it is possible that she will fall back on science rather than music while she is rounding-off her reign.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Gustavo: In Europe they have “a public healthcare system”. Nobody can really make money out of medicine or a medical disaster since they get the same salary with or without a medical emergency.

        The coronavirus seems to kill somewhere between 1-in-100 (high estimate) or 1-in-500 (low estimate) of people who catch it. These are very preliminary estimates; it will be a while before we know more. Most (but not all) people who have died have serious underlying health problems.

        In somewhere like Italy, between 2 million and 8 million people have (or have had) the virus. If 8 million have it, then we are well on the way to “herd immunity”.

        Waiting for a vaccine is not a very good strategy. It will take 18 months minimum for a vaccine to be produced. But we might not be able to produce one even then. We might have to wait many years for a vaccine. We obviously can’t wait a decade to end the lockdown.

    • Lausitzer says:

      Freiburger Barockorchester says that already the seven-digit losses from the termination of the remainder of this season threaten its existance:

      Someone with iron nerves could try to imagine what would remain of the cultural landscape of Germany if there will be no 2020/2021 season whatsoever. But actually the consequences of such a scenario are not foreseeable at all.

      The federal ministry of interior does not deny the existance of an internal paper that projects how a prolonged “shutdown” would end: With society dissolving in anarchy. No one would ask about such things like some Leopoldina anymore.

  • Marc John Ramirez says:

    Ok. This is our new reality. It was time to change our classical music performance models anyway. It will be interesting to see where all this goes now that we are in uncharted waters.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Change our models how exactly?

    • Tim says:

      I find comments such as the above, ‘it was time to change our performance model anyways’ more hackneyed and cliched than the ‘performance models’ themselves.

    • Tom says:

      Absolutely not. You base that on cultures that are not keen to the idea of going to classical music venues as a social norm, but that is coming back at a rapid pace, if you even had a damn clue.

    • John Borstlap says:

      One thing is already appearing on the horizon: the need to get rid of the nonsense eroding the art form: the routine, the programming laziness, the vanity, the money grabbing, the snobbism, the indulgence into additional visuals, the disruptive pretentious ‘modern music’, the anxious populism. Only the idea of meaning and substance can help the art form surviving.

      But it is quite possible that exactly the eroding elements will be supported by governments in a foolish urge to ‘serve the community’ in its broadest illiteracy, to be ‘fair’ and ‘accountable’. In this way, well-meant support (in Europe) will kill the art form once and for all – because it has already been prepared over a long time, in our egalitarian society.

      It is to be hoped that a serious debate will emerge, which will be able to make distinctions between what is essential and what not, as symbolized in these two rather different expressions of music as an art form:

    • Jaura says:

      Why was it time to change the music industry? You sound like one of those American right wingers who so deeply resent the fact that orchestral musicians make a living wage with good benefits. Give me a break.

  • Alan says:

    This is a horrifying thought!

  • Mick the Knife says:

    Wait to see if there is a second wave, reinfection, and development of treatment before making such statements. One thing I have learned from these months of advice from medical “artists” is that they are not scientists and generally inept with data.

  • Rap Jesus says:

    I will agree with Merkel and her chums if they sing live, on ‘BR’, the (satb) solo from any of the movements of ‘Missa Solemnis’ (in honor of Beethoven) and then break dance to ‘Rap God’ in honor of Eminem.

  • Tom says:

    Irresponsibly reported, in this case. If you had waited even a few hours, you would have seen this unnecessary to post.

  • Karl says:

    The problem classical music has it that the audience is old and it has been shown that age increases mortality.

  • Julien says:

    Life is a very risky disease. It always ends with death. The reality is if you add asymptomatic cases and the sick people with low symptoms, it’s more than 90 % of people. Let’s protect weak persons (old and with chronicle disease). We live in a society who wants to live with zero risk. Before people accepted fatality and believed in God. Now we have the pretention to control everything, even the death.

  • Mr. Knowitall says:

    It has been decided for now that no large-gatherings will be allowed until September 1st.

  • M. L. Liu says:

    May I suggest this.

    One solution — until treatments and vaccines become available — is to provide adequate personal protection equipment for participants of these events. Not just face masks, but something (preferable reusable) that provide reasonable protection for a gathering such as a concert.

    I personally loathe to think that I won’t be able to go to a concert for a year. I would accept the risk, if I can maintain an adequate degree of isolation via protective equipment during the event .

    Furthermore, there will likely be other pandemics to come. The world cannot afford repeated lockdowns, nor would life be worth living.

  • Simon S. says:

    Just as an update for readers not following German media: In a (virtual) meeting yesterday, the Federal Chancellor and the state prime ministers decided that Corona lockdown will essentially remain in force until (at least) 3rd of May, and public events will be banned until (at least) 31st of August.

  • Mark Perlman says:

    If they open concert halls too early and as a result thousands of 50+ year old concertgoers die of CoViD19, this would kill off the classical audience. That would indeed doom the future of classical music.

    And if it is not clearly safe, opening concerts will lead to playing to empty halls, for people will be afraid to go.

    Better to wait till it is safe.