Germany has had twice as many diagnoses of Covid-19 but a much lower number of deaths than other countries thanks to mass testing and a fast lockdown. The state has also asked humanities academics to advise on ethical and human approaches to the lockdown. The 26-strong working group – historians, philosophers, and teachers – pulled together this report, working quickly via Zoom. The government of North Rhine-Westphalia, its most populous state, has also enlisted an eclectic mix of experts – businesspeople, telecoms executives, and legal advisors to share their views on the lockdown exit strategy.
I asked Achim Amann, co-founder of Black Label Properties in Berlin, how the pandemic has affected the real estate industry, and what support is available for freelancers & startups in the creative capital.
Germany has had a much lower number of deaths than in other countries. Why do you think this is?
As I see it, the main reasons are the mass testing approach and better organisational skills – one of the strengths of our culture plus a general acceptance of the shutdown measures. We do test a lot of people, but we still need more testing. If one hospital doesn’t have enough capacity, patients are being transported to the next one. Also, our lifestyle is very different from countries like Italy and Spain. We have fewer people per household, and elderly people live in their own apartments.
What measures have been taken in Berlin for the lockdown? Massive state surveillance or self-responsibility?
The state closed schools, kindergartens, cinemas, and cancelled events. There is less public transport, and people are working from home where possible. They closed down all shops that don’t offer food and drugs, etc. We don’t have massive state surveillance like Austria, and there is a lot of self-responsibility. Most people follow the rules I would say.
Do you think the state has handled the emergency well and fast enough?
Yes and no. Well enough – yes, but not fast enough. Our government wasted time in January and February when we could have done much more. Helping other European countries has only just really started. This should have been done much sooner, for example, with Italy. But since the government made their decisions, we all feel a lot better. The state has a lot of credibility right now. Especially when they decided to help the economy by giving freelancers 5k EUR and small companies up to 15k EUR – that was a sage move that helped to keep people calm and happy.
How has it affected the real estate industry?
We are fully operational. We have fewer vendors and buyers than last year but a higher quality of leads – there are fewer tourists out there as we say. Business, in general, is very good in our industry. We have decided that everyone should work from home if they don’t need to be in the office physically. We have implemented Zoom in our team meetings. We wear masks to do viewings and practice social distancing. With legal appointments, we make sure there’s enough space between the parties. We have cut costs on portal marketing and invested more into our own website and marketing team instead. The only real negative we can see is the lower speed of banks financing our clients. But they are still financing them, and we’re getting deals closed and exchanged.
What has the government done to support Berlin’s fast-growing startup scene?
They have given 5k EUR to one-man shows and up to 15k EUR to small businesses. This is generous plus tax reliefs and other advantages such as the government will cover up to 80% of employees’ salaries so the company is only paying 20%. It’s a very fair deal and much better than firing people.
Were you prepared for this – will it change how you operate?
Yes and no. We have a strong business and reasonable cash reserves. No, as we’ve invested a lot into new marketing on social media and Google. We wouldn’t have spent as much on a third party. We haven’t laid anyone off, but we have cut costs on two freelancers. So far, we are safe. We reacted very fast in January as our Chinese Sales team told us what was coming. So, we had an extra two months to get prepared.
Do you think China should offer some kind of financial compensation to other countries?
There is no point in finding a scapegoat. Actually, the Chinese are now bringing a lot of business to Europe. They are investing a lot in the German economy as well as in property. To start trade wars as the Trump government has doesn’t help.