Berlin's corona info site sucks

The city's website has information in English, Turkish, Polish, Russian and Arabic - but the site is hard to navigate and some of the info is out-of-date.

Multi-lingual advice at BER.
Multi-lingual advice at BER.imago images

Berlin-As you probably know by now, Berlin and Germany are going into a second lockdown on 2 November.

But you wouldn’t know it by looking at the city’s official website – at least if your German isn’t up to scratch.

The English-language page hasn’t been updated since 24 October. The same goes for the Polish information.

The Turkish page hasn’t been properly updated since 27 October. A Turkish-speaking colleague at Berliner Zeitung said, "It feels as if they worked with Google Translate. Totally un-Turkish sentence structures."

Pretty shocking for a city that's home to tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people who speak either English, Polish or Turkish as their mother tongue. There appears to be no heartfelt, coordinated effort to provide clear, reliable information for these populations.

We contacted Berlin's department of health press spokesperson to ask why the corona rules weren't updated more often in different languages but have so far received no reply.

The little chatbot that couldn't

Then there’s Bobbi, Berlin’s masked corona chatbot that is supposed to work in German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Polish and Russian. Sadly, Bobbi is almost useless when it comes to providing relevant information.

I gave Bobbi a test-drive: I selected English on the drop-down menu, typed “corona rules” in the chat box and hit enter. Bobbi spat out some headlines and the top result sounded helpful: “What rules apply in the event of suspected illness?” Sadly, that promising question was followed by a paragraph of German.

You’re cute and cuddly, Bobbi, but you’re about as reliable a source of corona information as my neighbour’s cat.

Even if the foreign language information was updated and current, looks like it was designed in 1999: it’s cluttered, hard to navigate and just generally confusing. And the foreign-language pages have German content mixed in at random places, for some reason. User-friendly it is not.

This is pretty embarrassing for a place that considers itself a cosmopolitan city and a forerunner in all things digital.

Stop pretending you’re open and international if you can’t deliver on that promise.

One could argue that people living here should just get their act together and learn German. Fair enough, but then Berlin shouldn’t offer any corona info in English or other languages at all. Stop pretending you’re open and international if you can’t deliver on that promise.

The coronavirus is no joking matter and potentially life-threatening to us all. Many of the people who are in Berlin temporarily for work, who have moved here recently or are just passing through might speak some German – but probably not enough to navigate a pandemic.

Of course, there are other resources such as Facebook and Reddit groups – and, of course, here at the Berliner Zeitung English Edition we do our best to provide daily corona updates. Over the last few weeks we've published articles such as this one on how to get a corona test in Berlin and we continually update our page outlining Berlin’s corona rules in one simple list of bullet points.

Polish site has reliable corona info about the situation in Germany, my Polish-speaking colleague assures me. And – run by the federal government – appears to have coronavirus updates in English, French, Spanish and Polish.

It’s a mystery to me why there’s no corona information there in Turkish or Arabic.

Access to local, accurate information has real-world consequences. Earlier in October, as the number of corona cases skyrocketed in Neukölln, politicians and many in the media were quick to point a finger at "Turkish weddings" and international party people ignoring the corona regulations. Maybe a better organised, concerted information campaign in some of the most commonly spoken languages in the city wouldn't be such a bad idea.

Maurice Frank is the editor of Berliner Zeitung English Edition.