Nowhere in Germany are the corona rules as relaxed as in Saxony-Anhalt. The meeting between the chancellor and the prime minister will not change that. Nevertheless, the anger towards the federal government is enormous. A journey through a country that is on the verge of a tip.
Albrecht Lindemann leans against a stone pillar and says, “Now the anger is growing. The people here are just fed up with the strict restrictions.” Lindemann is a Protestant pastor, standing in his church Sankt Bartholomäi in Zerbst, a small town in the middle of Saxony-Anhalt. Most of the ship has no roof since World War II and services take place outside in good weather. “Freedom, at least above your head,” says Lindemann, pointing up and smiling.
Lindemann, along with two other ministers in the town, cares for more than 3,000 parishioners. There is probably no one around who has a better sense of the mood than the 45-year-old. Every day at a quarter to eight he sits in his pastor’s office, every day people come in and tell him about their concerns during the Corona period – and about their anger against the federal government.
Only by the Prime Minister of Saxony-Anhalt
People, says Lindemann, increasingly wondered who was actually practicing politics in Berlin. Many measures on the ground have been relaxed, “but the frustration will not disappear any time soon.” He locks up the church and goes to his parish office.
Saxony-Anhalt is the only federal state in Germany where no fines are imposed on those who refuse to wear a mask. CDU Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff thus won alone against the Chancellor at the end of August. And even in the discussions between the Chancellor and the heads of governments of the countries this Tuesday, it doesn’t look like anything will change fundamentally.
For the 2.2 million inhabitants of Saxony-Anhalt, much is still possible that is unthinkable in the rest of Germany: football matches with a maximum of 5,000 spectators are allowed again. When weddings are professionally organized, they can accommodate up to 500 people. And from November 1, clubs and discotheques may reopen.
Parallel world in the pandemic
While other prime ministers want to tighten up anti-corona measures, Saxony-Anhalt has ruled out such a step. Also with regard to the mood in the country: a third of the people think the restrictions are too strict and 40 percent consider Reiner Haseloff’s looser course to be the right one.
In Saxony-Anhalt it can be noted that there is no such thing as one Germany. The tough measures taken by the government, as people in the sparsely populated regions see it, were taken in awe of the higher contamination rates in the big cities. This has made many people so bitter that a kind of parallel world has emerged in the pandemic. Politicians on the ground are now struggling to find answers to deal with growing discontent.
A journey through Saxony-Anhalt is nowadays a journey through a state that is on the brink. And it could be like a visit to the not-too-distant future: what is currently happening in Saxony-Anhalt could soon be happening all over Germany.
“Wear a mask at the train station” reads an advertisement on the platform in Zerbst. But nobody wears a mask. Even on the trains, many don’t put on the mask, hardly anyone keeps their distance. Anyone traveling here could believe they will be traveling in September 2019.
Albrecht Lindemann has now arrived at his parish office. He now wants to explain how the mood got so smooth. At the beginning of the pandemic, no one went out, the fear of the new virus was too great. The first report of a corona case was made in March. But in the entire time, seven cases were simultaneously the highest concentration of infections in the small town. That was the height of the crisis and since then the contagion rate has been falling again.
“We are a handshake area here”: Pastor Albrecht Lindemann in his church in Zerbst. (Source: Chillreport)
Lindemann says: “The number did not increase. In Düsseldorf, Berlin and Stuttgart there were always local outbreaks. There that was proof of the drama of the situation. As bitter as it may sound, we lacked this proof. And That’s why many take it. The threat is not serious. ”A total of 2,300 people in Saxony-Anhalt have officially contracted the corona virus so far. In Bavaria, which has about six times the population of Saxony-Anhalt and where the supposedly successful crisis manager Markus Söder (CSU) operates, there are almost 30 times as many.
It’s not that wild here – many people in Saxony-Anhalt share this impression. Even though most don’t want to be quoted by name. “The virus just seems insanely far away here,” says a young mother.
“I think Haseloff is fighting for the acceptance of democracy”
A new form of resistance is emerging, Pastor Lindemann says: “Now, demonstrative handshakes are an act of protest against the corona restrictions.” He estimates that only about 10 percent of people in the city wear masks where they are really needed.
The autumn sun is deep now, Lindemann’s working day is coming to an end. Does he believe that Prime Minister Haseloff and the state government are on the right track with the many easing measures? Lindemann is silent for a while and then says, “I believe Reiner Haseloff is actually fighting for the acceptance of democracy.”
At 41 kilometers from Zerbst, in the State Chancellery of Magdeburg, this Reiner Haseloff is seated and thinks that the pastor goes to the heart of his policy. The prime minister sits back and relaxes before saying, “Fines don’t win people over to fight the pandemic, you increase bitterness.”
He is considered a troublemaker in the CDU
Haseloff knows his role as a loner among the prime ministers, and Saxon Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer occasionally supports him in his course. But no one insists on easing as rigorously as Haseloff. He often sits in his high office chair during the rounds of the heads of state and talks to the Chancellor on his iPad.
In the CDU he is regarded as a troublemaker, someone who wants to win next year’s political election in the upcoming state election. But Reiner Haseloff also served as Prime Minister for nine years and grew up in Saxony-Anhalt. He knows the mood in the state. And he has already seen it fall: “In the refugee crisis of 2015, the state acted to give a clear opinion. As a result, the AfD is now in all state parliaments and in the Bundestag. Time to happen.”
In 2015, Pegida protesters took to the streets in East Germany in their thousands. Haseloff wants to prevent such demos from being repeated at all costs. He believes that if people are not given the maximum possible freedom now, they would be insulted a second time: whether you as a government strongly support the refugees or take tough measures in the corona pandemic – the impression of the strong state is decisive. . that would get stuck, says Haseloff. And that would provoke extreme resistance from the people of the former GDR.
Magdeburg: Reiner Haseloff (right) in conversation with Chillreport reporter Tim Kummert. (Source: Chillreport)
During the crisis, Haseloff looked with horror at Düsseldorf and Munich, where the respective heads of state used the Corona crisis to hone their political profile: the jovial Armin Laschet (CDU) and the hard-hitting Söder. Haseloff says, “The fact that one prime minister relied on relaxation and the other on caution in this debate was certainly a little confusing to the people.” It’s the soft way of saying that he sees his colleagues’ tactics as extremely dangerous.
Haseloff initially supported the direction of the federal government
With neither course would he have contributed to the unification and only strengthened political margins, he says. Unlike Armin Laschet, he supported the course of the federal government. When the federal states took back more responsibility, Haseloff abolished the toughest measures.
Halberstadt in Saxony-Anhalt is a town known for its sausages. The drive from Magdeburg there passes dilapidated factory buildings, fields and winding country roads. In a large factory building at the central station, Silke Erdmann-Nitsch is seated at a massive wooden table.
She is the general manager of the Halberstadt canning and sausage factory, which is one of the most important medium-sized companies in the country. The annual production of the sausages is 1,200 tons, the family business advertises with the slogan: “Everything a man like to be”.
The employees sit outside, close together
Anyone who speaks to Mrs. Erdmann-Nitsch learns a lot about the economic situation in Saxony-Anhalt. And about the connection between economic uncertainty and frustration. Erdmann-Nitsch explains how she had to take most of the measures herself among her more than 200 employees: “We started measuring the temperature of our employees very early, well before it was officially recommended.”
In Halberstadt, the number of Corona infections is hardly measurable, almost every test in the city is negative. Erdmann-Nitsch explains how she repeatedly had to remind her employees to distance themselves during the crisis.
She says, “Of course, many of our employees didn’t really understand at first why such restrictive measures were suddenly introduced.” While the manager is speaking, the employees sit outside, huddled on a bench in front of the window, taking their lunch break.
The short-term compensation will certainly come in 2021
In East Germany, where the economy is not strong anyway, the corona lockdown acted as a catalyst. Hotels are also part of the Erdmann-Nitsch company and have now again advertised new vacancies.
But finding the employees for that is not that easy, she says. Many potential candidates are happy to have landed on a reduction in working hours, which the federal government has extended until the end of next year.
These people are angry about their possible job loss. But given the uncertainty of the situation, many still prefer to sign a new employment contract now. In any case, the temporary payment will come until 2021.
“That’s a discrepancy that is emerging”
Although the measures have been relaxed, they can hardly absorb the economic damage. The decline in the Corona crisis is too dramatic: in Saxony-Anhalt, the economy collapsed by eight percent in the first half of the year and exports even fell by more than twelve percent. To deal with the corona pandemic, the state parliament approved 500 million euros in the spring to help companies and municipalities.
Hospitals and nursing homes in particular were hit hard by the pandemic. The “Elbinsel” in Magdeburg is a facility with 91 beds in single rooms. The enormous effects of the restrictions can be seen there as if under a magnifying glass. The head of the facility, Anja Riedel, diplomatically comments on the situation in the country: “Especially in our state, where the number of cases is so low, and yet the measures are so drastic, there is a discrepancy there.”
“For a moment the whole madness was very far away”: Anja Riedel in conversation with Chillreport. (Source: Chillreport)
In their home, the residents do not have to wear a mask, only the carers and nursing staff. “Some residents have already told us: we have already survived everything – what should the virus do to us?”
The real problem, however, was the family members, says Riedel. With them there was often no insight at all, but she does not want to be more precise. In a nursing home like the “Elbinsel” the situation often came to a head. You only get a rough idea of which scenes must have taken place here.
But once, says Riedel, a pop singer came along. There was punch for the residents, everyone sat outside, the musician played in the parking lot: “For a moment the whole madness was very far away.”