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Corona crisis: The impact for Berlin’s expat gastronomy workers

People from all over the world work in Berlin’s kitchens. But how are expats in gastronomy dealing with the corona crisis? And do they have access to the help and information they need?

Pictures from different days: Friedrichshain’s expat hang out Fine Bagels. (Photo: Fine Bagels)

It’s no secret that many expats work in Berlin’s gastronomy sector. After all, it’s they, among others, who have contributed significantly to the city’s culinary evolution over the past few years. But the current situation is also particularly difficult for them: “I speak pretty good German”, Des, a baker, tells us. “But this legal stuff is hard to understand!”. Simply knowing which forms have to be filled out and where they should be sent can easily confuse German speakers, let alone those who aren’t confident speaking the language.

Des, who doesn’t want to share her last name, is American and has lived in Germany for several years now. She’s currently working on getting her work visa extended, but isn’t sure whether she’d risk her residency permit if she applied for government help programmes such as Hartz IV. “I was self-employed for a long time, and only recently took up a job in a restaurant. But because of the coronavirus crisis, I’ve now lost it. And I don’t know whether I can get Hartz IV — or whether I should.”

“The information is as confusing in German as it is in English”

Laurel Kratochvila is in a similar situation: “I don’t know what it would mean for the renewal of my work visa if I accepted help from the state. I’m in a secure position, but I include that in my decision on whether to apply for help or not”. The Bostonian owns Fine Bagels in Friedrichshain, a book shop, café and bakery. She explains that information about the current situation and proposals by the state and councils is usually available in English. But often not provided directly by officials, translated instead by volunteers. “But I think the information is as confusing in German as it is in English”, she laughs.

And it keeps changing every day: last week, restaurants were allowed to open from 6am to 6pm. At the weekend they were ordered to shut completely. The only exemptions: takeaway, drive-through and delivery services. Many business owners now don’t know whether their insurance policies will pay out or not if they close down now.

Kratochvila, for example, runs a gastronomy business with a number of employees whose wages and benefits she still needs to pay. The state has promised interest-free loans for business owners like her. But she isn’t sure whether that’s a viable solution. “I don’t want to be in debt in the next few years. With my employees and running costs, that could easily amount to 100,000 euros or more in a few weeks”. She prefers to continue working. Her idea: a book and bagel delivery service: “It’s so nice to see where all my regulars live!”, she smiles.

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