No events, no orders: Freelancers and small business owners are particularly hard hit by the current situation. Seven sufferers tell what is going on and how they could be helped.
“I am now unemployed until mid-May”
Michael Hofmann, 38, sound and light man
For me, all orders for March and April were canceled. I am now unemployed until mid-May. But even after that, nobody can estimate what will happen next. I’m afraid that the open air will also fail in summer, actually I would have been booked for the Southside Festival and Rock im Park in June. For the free time now, I thought about helping my neighbors in the fields, but during the day I take care of our five-year-old son. The daycare centers are closed and my wife works in the public service, so far she has not worked in the home office.
The problem in the event business is that we can’t open again like a barber shop and the business is running again. Corporate events, concerts, trade fairs, all have a lead time of several months. In March alone, I missed over 4000 euros in sales due to the virus cancellations. I can already see how it eats me. I’ve been sleeping badly for a few days, although I’ve never had any problems with it. Most of my industry can bridge the breakdown for maybe two months, but then it’s all about existence – about the fact that we can pay for our apartments and insurance and have money for food. If we take out a loan now, the problem will only shift. If we are unable to work for several months, debts accumulate that we cannot repay. I can’t work twice as much in autumn. I hope the government’s announced aid payments will reach us quickly. It would also be nonsense economically if the self-employed had to run in rows to the office or used up their pension completely.
Aniko Willems, 44, management consultant
I usually go to companies and hold workshops, moderate events and advise on changes. It’s been seven days since the dates have been canceled at one go. Most companies no longer have meetings over ten people. I mainly advise industrial companies and automotive suppliers, almost all employees who are not on the assembly line have to stay in the home office. I am lucky that I not only live from the on-site appointments, but also do concept work and that some meetings are held virtually. A colleague of mine is only doing training, from one day to the next all orders have broken off. But for me, too, the financial loss from the crisis is now 7,000 to 8,000 euros. In the long term, the Corona crisis is a good time to think again about an unconditional basic income.
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The self-employed would no longer have to live with the fear that their livelihood will be lost from one day to the next. Everyone should also think about solidarity. I avoid social contacts, work in the home office and go for a walk instead of meeting in bars or restaurants. To protect others and because I know what it means if I drop out completely because of an infection. We self-employed do not get paid when we are sick. It is really oppressive when you see pictures of full hardware stores or the Viktualienmarkt in Munich, where people are close together. Many of them are likely to be employees and are not immediately threatened in their economic existence by the virus.
Jad Kobeissi, 36, fitness club owner
The club was closed last Saturday at 6 p.m. by order of the health department. They said on the basis of the Infection Protection Act. But we’re still working. Not with our members, but we are currently producing training videos for our website. Then our members can at least do something. Otherwise they go crazy, five weeks without a fitness club. That is difficult enough for us.
We are not part of a chain, we are a sole proprietorship, 23 permanent employees and 50 freelancers. There is, of course, a fixed number of paying members, but the business also runs in such a way that 30 to 40 cancel each month. This is always the case, but 30 to 40 new members are added. Only now nobody comes and we lose around 5000 euros a month. This can be maintained for a while, only if there is now a wave of fear and more and more people are quitting, at the latest then we will have a huge problem. Then I can close.
Politicians have announced aid, of course. There is no need to worry. In fact, at the moment nobody knows who gets what and when. Our tax advisor knows nothing and the offices are all closed, the hotlines, IHK, health authorities and so on, you can forget that. Nobody answers. At the moment we are completely on our own. At the same time, my members write to me whether we can hour their contributions. For example, the bus operator, Corona hits him hard – and you don’t want to be inhumane there.
Salome Balthus, 34, prostitute
I am a high class escort and only work for myself. Politics have prohibited the operation of brothels and agencies – but I could actually go on. It is difficult in practice. My customers are visitors to trade fairs and congresses. If they are canceled, they will not come to Berlin. I also meet them mostly in public spaces, in restaurants or in hotels that only work to a very limited extent or have closed.
It is also psychologically difficult. I am afraid of getting infected and running around as a virus thrower. In addition, my business concept no longer works properly. I sell lascivious, excessive sex in a stimulating atmosphere, with talks on current topics. Who has the head for that? I had a date this week – probably the last for months. I took a shower, made up – but the idea of kissing a stranger right away was too much. I canceled the man. It is extremely difficult financially.
I have reserves for about two months, I don’t know what will happen after that. Other colleagues are hit much harder. Women who are drug addicts or have high debts often live from clients to clients. And many of the colleagues from Eastern Europe are now on the street. The borders are tight, they don’t know where to go. We have little hope of government aid. Our profession is still very stigmatized. I would like society to recognize in the Corona crisis that we are part of it. It requires us not to do our job out of consideration for others. Solidarity should also come back.
Hanns Otto, 38, set builder
I learned theater painter and have also been working for film productions for a few years. Fortunately, there are still directors who don’t trust the computer and who produce everything virtually. Wes Anderson is one of those who works a lot with miniatures, for example in his film Grand Hotel Budapest. So instead of large backdrops or computer images, he has many of his motifs built as small models. Then these are the rough structures that I then paint. This actually gives the film a completely different expression, the colors, the patina, that makes a lot of things. Some productions are also about swords and other weapons: in mass battles it would be far too expensive to equip all actors with real equipment. In addition, insurance does not allow that.
I have just started a new order for a large production in Babelsberg. The actors need weapons and other equipment made from a mix of materials made of plastics and wood. I have to paint them so that they really look real. Only now they have put the shoot on hold. How long the production will be suspended or whether it may have died completely is currently unclear. Anyway, I’m a freelancer and my girlfriend is on parental leave until August. The money for the rent is there for now, but of course it always follows in the back of your mind how that will develop. The job would have been safe work until summer. The only good thing about the situation is that I can see our one year old son more now.
Georgia Tsopoulidou, 29, hairdresser
Older customers in particular call to cancel their appointment. That is also correct because they belong to the risk group. But there are still people who make new appointments. I don’t think it’s right that hairdressers are still open. We are a small company, I have two employees. I prohibited my father from continuing to work in the business. He is over 60 and diabetic. I am very afraid that he will be infected. Having my own shop has always been my dream. It worked two years ago, I’m not going to give that up now. I want to do everything I can to keep myself and my employees afloat.
If we no longer serve customers, the reserves would perhaps be enough to continue paying rent and wages for two months. Somehow we have to keep a cool head and don’t panic, it does more harm than the virus itself. If I have to close the shop, I want to use the time as positively as possible. Then I think about styling techniques and test new color combinations. If we have to close longer, it is important that our employees are paid unemployment benefits or that we get other support. Otherwise I can imagine that some companies cannot open again. I am usually happy when the shop is full, customers are talking and there is a lot of laughter. Unfortunately, the new reality looks different, that can overwhelm you. But I get strength from it when I take a look at the kiosk on the corner opposite. Then I realize that we’re all in the same boat. It helps to smile at the kiosk owner – you even get a smile back. “
Helene Stolzenberg, 41, shop owner (design shop)
I opened “Nordliebe” in 2012 and since then we have mastered some difficult situations. This is because we are really a great team. But this is getting really violent. I had to close my shop on Tuesday evening. I understand this measure and I think it is right. But for someone who has been passionate about the business for years, this is a really tough step. My customers want to shop with us and I close the store in front of them. I stop the train at full speed. Regular customers came to buy vouchers on Tuesday because they want to support us. I have 22 employees, a large shop, an office and a warehouse for online sales, salaries, rents, everything wants to be paid. That doesn’t stop there. Only we stop.
We have to make sure that we make up some of the lost business with internet sales. Therefore, anyone who orders from us for more than 40 euros will have their items delivered free of charge within Berlin. We’ll think of a few other actions. But at the moment I’m busy trying to figure out what kind of support we can get. It’s not as easy as politics do. On Monday I talked to the employment office for a day about my employees, on Tuesday and Wednesday I have to speak to my bank. The problem is that they don’t know what the financial aid for the self-employed looks like. For me this means that I have to advance rents and salaries for March and probably also for April. My business is really worth it to me, but it really does matter.
You will find all current information and recommendations from the Ministry of Health here.
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