Berlin gives middle finger to anti-maskers in tourism agency ad

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Agency says it chose message that suits city’s outlier character but some politicians are critical

Philip Oltermann in Berlin –  The Guardian

A crop of the advert rebuking Berliners who fail to wear face masks. Photograph: Visit Berlin

Berlin has eschewed polite public messaging on the coronavirus in favour of a more direct reminder of the rules by flipping the bird to people who won’t wear a mask.

An ad placed in local papers by the German capital’s senate as part of a public information campaign shows an elderly woman presenting her outstretched middle finger to the camera, next to the words: “A finger-wag for all those without a mask: we stick to corona rules.”

In a city that prides itself on its Berliner Schnauze – the coarse-but-hearty “Berlin gob” – public service messaging could not afford to moralise from on high, said a spokesperson for Visit Berlin, the tourism agency that developed the campaign.

“We wanted to use a language that suits the Berlin character and that underscores the dramatic pandemic situation – and that we managed,” the spokesperson told the Guardian.

The motif with the angry pensioner is part of a broader campaign that launched in September with a series of typographic posters in German, English, Turkish and Arabic, with similarly offhand but slightly less aggressive slogans such as “Mask on. To keep the lights from going off.”

In the past, Berlin’s public transport company BVG has won numerous prizes for an ad campaign that embraces rather than apologises for the capital’s image as the shambolic outlier in a county priding itself on efficiency and respectability.

One tongue-in-cheek BVG ad lectured commuters that the price of a season ticket was absolutely justified because shutting a bus door in a passenger’s face required intense training.

Coming from the city government, however, the new coronavirus campaign has involved a change in tone that hasn’t pleased every Berliner.

The local leader of Angela Merkel’s CDU, Kai Wegner, has criticised the senate, which is run by a coalition of the Social Democrats, the Left party and the Greens. “The situation is too serious for stupid jokes,” he said.

The general secretary of the centre-right Free Democrats said the campaign was “neither funny nor unconventional but arrogant and offensive”. One independent delegate said he had filed charges over “incitement of the people”.

The local newspaper Tagesspiegel said the campaign may have already achieved its aim, however. “In spite of everything, it’s easier to understand than the nth extension of the umpteenth edict,” the newspaper said in its newsletter.

Visit Berlin said it was not currently planning to use the image with the angry pensioner again.

 

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