For a Night at the Theater, Bring a Negative Coronavirus Test

A pilot program in Berlin is reopening some of the city’s landmark cultural venues, despite surging numbers of infections and toughened restrictions in other areas of life.

By Christopher F. Schuetze

BERLIN — On a snowy, gray morning last Friday, as a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic in Germany was taking hold, Anna Schoras, 30, lined up outside a pop-up testing site inside a repurposed art gallery in Berlin.

Cultural life in the German capital has largely shut down because of the virus, but if Schoras’s test came back negative, she would be allowed to attend the first live stage production in the city in about five months, scheduled for that evening.

“I’m just really looking forward to getting out of the house and to consuming live culture,” she said, adding that before the pandemic, she would go to the theater or the opera about twice a month.

Earlier that week, Schoras had been among the lucky few to secure one of 350 tickets to the show at the venerated Berliner Ensemble theater. They sold out in four minutes.

The performance was part of a pilot project, coordinated by the city of Berlin, that allows its landmark cultural venues to put on a show in front of a live audience — as long as the audience members wear masks, maintain social distancing and present a negative result from a rapid test taken no longer than 12 hours before curtain. The test, which is included in the price of the ticket, must be administered by medically trained workers at one of five approved centers.

Along with two nights at the Berliner Ensemble, live performances are being held at two of the city’s opera houses, the Philharmonie and Konzerthaus, and at the Volksbühne theater. Holzmarkt, a nightclub, will also host a sit-down concert. The short run of shows is intended to test whether organizers can put on cultural events safely, even as infection numbers soar.

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