Finding A Way Back To Normalcy: Germany’s Slow Road To Recovery

Justus Mang, Peter Schwenkow & Bernd Breiter
– Justus Mang of Goodlive, Peter Schwenkow of DEAG, & Bernd Breiter of BigCityBeats
Germany is a patchwork of 16 individual states that have some leeway when it comes to implementing federal directives. In times of coronavirus, this situation has led to much confusion about what is and isn’t allowed in each state, making a touring nightmare even for domestic artists and their teams. So, while other parts of Europe, and especially the UK, are opening back up, Germany’s decision makers still haven’t communicated a clear reopening strategy. 
The situation remains “extremely unclear and complicated,” Justus Mang, Managing Director Touring Goodlive / Goodlive Artists, told Pollstar. “We also notice that it’ll take some time for ticket buyers to regain the confidence in concerts being promoted reliably and safely on site.” What doesn’t help, Mang continued, is the way in which decision makers communicate with the public, not instilling confidence but rather fear, which is why Goodlive continues to recommend delaying concerts when speaking with artists and their teams.
DEAG CEO Prof. Peter Schwenkow confirmed that planning tours was impossible due to the inconsistent rules for each state. He cannot overlook the fact that Germany is way behind the UK in terms of offering its promoters a pathway for the future. Since DEAG operates in the UK through a majority stake in Kilimanjaro Live, which recently promoted the first full-capacity show back at the O2 London, Schwenkow remains hopeful.
While there’s no reopening timeline, Bernd Breiter, CEO of BigCityBeats, says he “can feel that the German politicians are beginning to think.” Health minister Jens Spahn acknowledged that tying every coronavirus related decision to nothing but the incidence count, which has been the case in Germany since the start, should give way to looking at the occupancy of beds in the intensive care units of hospitals, which is low in Germany right now, Breiter explained. He emphasized that his team is taking the situation very seriously, but that it was also important to free oneself from this state of paralysis that has taken hold of the sector: “I know the administrative bodies are trying to create what they see as the maximum amount of safety, but it’s missing the middle ground. You’re not going to close off a freeway interchange because an accident might occur there. We need to take the pandemic seriously, but we also need to live with it. There’s no use in trying to run away or lock it out.”
Breiter’s team, which was forced to cancel their main World Club Dome event for a second year running, developed a safety concept for the smaller-scale WCD Pool Sessions in cooperation with medical and legal experts. The local authorities, however, laid out requirements that would have made producing the events impossible. Breiter went to court, which agreed with his main points and approved his safety guidelines and a daily capacity of 12,000 guests, Sept. 3-5. “It feels like a new beginning,” he told Pollstar, adding several of his German live colleagues have congratulated him on successfully challenging the viewpoint of the administrative bodies
 Each (normal) year,
Stijn De Grauwe
– Each (normal) year,
the Stadionbad Frankfurt turns into a festival site for the WCD Pool Sessions. This year’s edition, Sept. 3-5, received the green light from local authorities just before the event.
The live business would be in much worse shape today, not just in Germany, had the years leading up to 2020 not been so successful. Most companies were able to generate solid profits and build healthy businesses. In addition, companies like DEAG and BigCityBeats had some insurance coverage that helped limit the damage. Financial aid packages from government helped to keep businesses afloat. DEAG still had to fiercely focus on reducing costs in order to stay in business. Depending on the period, Goodlive was able to cover 60% to 70% of costs with the financial aid. However, none of them would have survived the past 18 months without the surplus generated in previous years.
Mang feels exhausted by the bureaucracy the situation demanded, but optimistic regarding the future. He considers it presumptuous to make estimates about the full extent of the pandemic’s repercussions on economic and private life, as Mang says he’s been surprised by both more than once during these past months. Hence, his optimism remains cautious. “But it’s great to see pictures of festivals and what used to be our daily life again,” he said, adding, “a year ago, I would have said that political failures were our biggest challenge. Today, I sense that the extreme demand on our psychological health is the biggest challenge. The current situation has painfully laid bare the immense motivation and strength we’ve gained from concerts and events year after year. I’m assuming everybody’s had a hard time compensating that through furlough and show postponements.”
For Breiter, the biggest challenge has been to extract something positive from the past months, but he’s succeeded: “I’ve explored many creative ideas, but also looked at the past, at all the things we’ve achieved.” This includes building clubs in stadiums, on top of a mountain, on trains, cruise ships, airplanes, in Zero Gravity and even on the ISS. “We’ve been suffering from tunnel vision, rushing from event to event, and we’ve used the downtime to reflect and rethink,” Breiter said. The biggest challenge for Schwenkow has been “to motivate staff and business partners by raving about the light at the end of the tunnel.” Mang was able to take away several positives from the crisis, most of all being able to spend more quality time with his family and being present during the first two years of his daughter’s life. He also noticed how the entire industry stuck together, even on issues that used to be ignored. He’s hoping that this positive way of doing business will remain in the long run. 
None of the promoters excluded the possibility of admitting vaccinated fans only going forward, unless it’s a ticket that’s been pushed since 2020. If such a ticket holder can only provide a negative test, they should be allowed in, said Mang. In Germany, three options currently get you through the door: proof of vaccination, of having recovered from coronavirus (valid for six months) or a negative test. Hence the system’s called 3G, while 2G gets rid of the testing option. Schwenkow said, “we’re solely dependent on the permissions granted. We deem the 3G arrangement to be the right one, but the trend clearly points towards 2G, if we want to get full capacities approved. And we need the full capacity!” 

Q’s With Reeperbahn Festival’s Alexander Schulz 

Alexander Schulz,
– Alexander Schulz,
founder and managing director of Reeperbahn Festival

Reeperbahn Festival is Germany’s most important event for the live entertainment sector, and one of Europe’s main events for new talent and industry professionals. The 16th edition, Sept. 22-25, marks an important step toward normality for founder and managing director Alexander Schulz.

Why are you optimistic the 16th Reeperbahn will mark a first step toward some form of normality?
We expect 40% to 50% of our audience and program, including artists, speakers, etc., compared to the last regular edition in 2019. In 2020, we offered close to 20% of the concert program and no program for on-site professionals at all. Everything is returning on site this year in smaller numbers than before the pandemic, but it is going to happen live.
Which program points would you like to highlight to the international audience?
The talk with Lyor Cohen, global head of music for Youtube/Google. Our final Show, the ANCHOR 2021, with Emily Sandé, Tony Visconti, Tom Odell, Tayla Parx, and more on the jury, presenting this year’s most talented international newcomer. A session with Michael Krause, general manager for Spotify in Europe, and The Creative Gender Balance Concert: Ry-X and the Kaiser Quartett in the Elbphilharmonie.
What’s been the most challenging and rewarding parts of organizing this year’s Reeperbahn Festival? 
The most challenging part was, of course, explaining the design and concept under the COVID restrictions of this year’s event to partners, customers, sponsors, etc. while not even knowing the design and restrictions and possibilities ourselves. The most rewarding part was believing from the beginning of this year, that we will have the chance to take a big step towards normality and knowing finally, as from now, that this is going to happen!