No beer for you!
Photo: imago

BerlinFor the first time in 71 years, Berlin's bars and restaurants have legally mandated hours of operation. Under the new corona rules, Germany's biggest city will be all but closed from 11pm to 6am with only pharmacies and petrol stations allowed to open their doors – and petrol stations will only be allowed to dispense petrol. 

The regulations, the first since 1949, become effective Saturday and will remain in place until 31 October – for now. 

Before the pandemic, Berlin was a city that never slept. Pubs, cafes and clubs could always be open. Somewhere was always in the throes of a long night, even during the day. Berlin not only lived but also created the myth of a European party metropolis. But the sweaty, boozy nights or hours of smoky chatter among friends relied on a historical event that is often forgotten today.

Like so many things in Berlin, it was related to the war. In 1945, the Soviet military government forced bars and restaurants in its corner of the city to close at 9pm. And the Allies, overseeing the city's three remaining sectors, followed suit.

When the Soviets raised closing hours by an hour, the Allies again mimicked their frienemy. The game of cat and mouse continued until closing time had been pushed back to midnight. France, the UK and the US all had to follow because every time the Soviets bumped up the closing time because the extra hour drew western drinkers. 

Restaurateur and budding hotel legend Heinz Zellermayer is the grandfather of Berlin's legendary nights. In June 1949, Zellermayer, who died in 2011, grabbed a bottle of whiskey and called on Frank Howley, the US general in charge of the Hauptstadt, on behalf of West Berlin's 1,200 bar owners and restaurateurs.  The result? Good-bye mandatory operating hours. 

Nightlife flourished. West Berlin became an El Dorado for party people, who mainly came from West Germany, where bars were still required to close for several hours every night. The legendary German pop song Kreuzberger Nächte Sind Lang (Kreuzberg Nights are Long) celebrated the city that never slept and big discotheques like Big Eden sprang up in the West. Owners, like Big Eden's Rolf Eden, who turned 90 this year, became celebrities only because of their ability to throw dusk-to-dawn –and beyond – parties. 

East Berlin developed its own party culture too, with special permission often granted to allow parties deep into the night. Although a 1955 law required East German restaurants to close at midnight on weekdays and 1am on Saturdays in the interest of public peace and order, night discos were open until the early morning hours.

But that's all over – for now. The first time in 71 years. 

This story was adapted from the German original for Berliner Zeitung English Edition by Andrew Bulkeley.