Country reports


Ulrike Blumenreich
Last update: April 24th

Corona and culture in Germany: Timeline, support measures and discussions

As in all areas of society, the spread of the corona virus also has an enormous impact on culture. The closure of cultural institutions and (cultural) education, the cancellation of cultural events as well as the annulment of art and cultural projects, pose enormous challenges for all cultural actors. This, in turn, also threatens the livelihood and subsistence of artists, cultural associations, cultural institutions and companies in the cultural and creative industries.

This contribution consists of three parts: a) a timeline of selected events regarding culture and COVID-19, b) an overview of support measures that have been implemented at the federal and state levels and by the cultural sector itself, and c) an outline of the ongoing points of discussion with regard to culture and corona.


At the beginning of March, the first significant impact of the corona pandemic on the cultural sector becomes evident: two major trade fairs – the Leipzig Book Fair and the Frankfurt Music Fair – are cancelled. These developments are soon followed by the cancellations of any large events and in mid March all events involving groups of people are prohibited. Due to the federal structure of Germany, many decisions are made at state level. Depending on the state, cultural institutions were closed on either March 13, 14, 15 or 16. An end to the closure of cultural institutions has not yet been announced. According to the agreement of the federal and state governments, major events will not be possible until at least August 31, 2020.

A timeline of selected events regarding COVID-19 and culture in Germany

  • On March 3, the annual book fair in Leipzig is cancelled.
  • On March 4, the annual music fair in Frankfurt, originally scheduled to be hosted in spring, is cancelled. It is Europes largest trade fair for the music industry.
  • On March 10, a number of federal states (Bundesländer such as Northern-Westphalia and Bavaria) announce the ban of events with more than one thousand attendees. Other federal states emanate this in the days that follow.
  • On March 11, the German Council for Culture calls for a joint emergency aid fund for artists by the federal and state governments. Further demands for specific programmes and emergency aid from other cultural associations follow.
  • On March 13, the first federal states (e.g., Schleswig-Holstein) prohibit all public events effective immediately. This also applies to theatres, cinemas, museums, adult education centres, libraries, clubs, etc.
  • On March 15, Germany partially closes its borders to France, Austria and Switzerland.
  • On March 16, the German Orchestra Association sets up an emergency support fund for freelance musicians and calls for donations. Other actors and associations will follow this example.
  • On March 19, the first federal states start with immediate support programmes. Hamburg initiates a cultural sector specific fund of EUR 25 million. Other federal states follow.
  • On March 22, after the first lock-down restrictions by some federal states (including Bavaria, Saarland, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate) and municipalities (including Freiburg), the federal government decides to ban all forms of contact. Gatherings of more than 2 people are prohibited. Gastronomy facilities also have to close.
  • On March 22 at 6 p.m., musicians all over Germany made a joint statement by playing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from their balconies or by open windows.
  • On March 23, the federal government decides on a EUR 50 billion programme to support self-employed people and small businesses.
  • On March 25, the Ministers of Education make the executive decision to allow final high school examinations (Abitur) to take place. This after some individual states (e.g. Schleswig-Holstein) discussed cancelling exams.
  • On March 28, it was announced that the restrictions and lock-down will continue until April 20 at least.
  • The Bayreuth Festival, which takes place every summer, is cancelled on March 31.
  • On April 2, an event contract law (Veranstaltungsrecht) is adapted. Event organisers can now give out vouchers.
  • On April 15, it is announced that, despite easing up on business opening hours, restrictions and the lockdown will continue until May 3.
  • On April 15, the Ministers of Culture of the federal states discuss reopening schools, especially graduation classes, from the end of April onwards.
  • On April 17, Saxony is the first federal state to allow church services on a small scale, after religious events have exclusively taken place online in recent weeks.
  • On April 20, shops up to 800 square meters are allowed to reopen as well as bookstores that were previously closed in 14 of the 16 federal states. University libraries and archives are also allowed to open again.
  • On April 20, the German Cultural Council and the Competence Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries start a survey of the federal associations of the cultural and creative industries on the implications of the corona virus. Every two months, a panel survey will take place to access developments.
  • On April 21, the Munich Oktoberfest, which takes place every autumn, is cancelled.
  • On April 22, a hearing on the effects of the corona pandemic on culture, creative industries and the media takes place in the culture committee of the German Bundestag. Proposals on “Help for events, culture and the media” from various parliamentary groups are discussed.
  • On April 23, short-time work benefits from the fourth month onwards are increased.
  • On April 23, the ban on people gathering is lifted in some federal states (e.g., Thuringia and Berlin). Meetings with a limited number of people and in compliance with distance and hygiene regulations are again permitted.

Support measures

Politics and administration have developed a variety of support measures at federal level as well as in individual federal states and in some municipalities. These measures consist of a set of direct financial benefits (grants, loans), indirect financial benefits (tax relief) and changes in Access Rights and grant provisions as well as coaching advice. There are general and culture-specific instruments. Civil society also supports creative artists and cultural institutions with donations and funds.

In the following, a selection of measures is presented, at the federal level, from three selected federal states and measures provided by the cultural sector itself.

Measures on federal level


  • Short-time work allowance for employees (not applicable to freelancers): Employees receive 60% of the net wages lost during short-time work (with children 67%), from the fourth month onwards 70% or 77%, from the eighth month onwards 80% or 87% (limited until the end of the year).
  • Aid package for the self-employed and small businesses: Federal funds of up to EUR 50 billion: Immediate financial aid in the form of grants (for ongoing operating costs) for 3 months, for small businesses with a max. 5 employees EUR 9000 and for companies with max. 10 employees EUR 15,000.
  • Simplified access to basic security (also for cultural and media professionals): Access to unemployment benefit II.
  • Encouragement fund for consultation services for companies: Up to EUR 4,000 each, through the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.
  • Adjustment of the ‘Event Contract Law’: Organisers can issue a voucher instead of a refund of the ticket for events that cannot be realised due to COVID-19.
  • Liquidity aid and instant loans through the Kwf development bank.
  • Tax relief: Deferrals of income, corporate and sales tax until the end of 2020.
  • Other general measures such as: Bankruptcy protection, protection of tenants, etc.

Cultural specific measures

  • Artists’ social insurance: Adjustment of contributions based on current reported income expectations.
  • Financial security for beneficiaries: Extensive waiver of claims for events and cultural projects funded by the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media and for film funding.

Federal state measures (Bundesländer)

Cultural federalism in Germany (cultural sovereignty in the federal states in accordance with Art. 30 of the Basic Law) is also evident in the very different forms of support measures that are implemented in the federal states — both in terms of the amount of funding and the establishment of specific programmes for artists or cultural institutions. The practical implementation (access authorisations, periods, handling grants, etc.) also differs per federal state (see discussions about this further on).


  • State programme: Support for ongoing living costs of EUR 1,180 per inhabitant for 3 months.
  • Emergency aid programme for small and medium-sized companies with 11 to 50 employees in addition to the federal programme to secure livelihood and bridge liquidity shortage for up to 3 months with the amount of EUR 30,000.

North Rhine-Westphalia

  • Emergency aid programme: One-time emergency aid for artists in the amount of EUR 2,000 (this fund of in total EUR 5 million is already exhausted).
  • State programme in addition to the federal programme for small and medium-sized companies with 11 to 50 employees. The programme is setup in order to secure their livelihood and to bridge liquidity problems for up to 3 months each with the amount of  EUR 25,000.
  • Pay-out of project funding, even if events are cancelled and postponed.


  • Emergency programme of the Senate for small and medium-sized companies and freelancers. Measures in addition to the federal programme include: Self-employed EUR 2,500 (federal+federal state EUR 11,500), up to 5 employees EUR 5,000 (federal+federal state EUR 14,000) up to 10 employees EUR 5,000 (federal+federal state EUR 20,000) up to 50 employees EUR 25,000 (only federal state), up to 250 employees EUR 30,000 (only federal state).
  • Aid package of EUR 25 million for cultural institutions (including private theatres and music clubs) by the office for culture and media.
  • The Hamburg investment and promotional bank offers a stimulation package for cultural businesses in addition to the national emergency aid fund, amounting to EUR 50 million.
  • Funding security for beneficiaries.
  • Interest-free deferral of rent for tenants of urban real estate.

Municipal measures

Some municipalities have also launched specific cultural support programmes. In Cologne for example, institutions, initiatives and festivals sponsored by the Kulturamt Köln are entitled to apply to the ‘emergency fund for free culture’ worth EUR 3 million.

Support measures by the culture and media sector itself (direct or indirect)


  • “Land INTAKT” is an emergency aid programme for Cultural Centres in rural areas (up to 20,000 inhabitants) run by the Federal Association of Socio-Cultural Centres. It provides funds for modernisation measures and programme-related investments per institution amounting to a max. of EUR 25,000 (within the framework of the regular support programme “Culture in Rural Areas” of the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media, funds from the Federal Programme “Rural Development” of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture).
  • An ad hoc “Inter-Action” funding programme by the Sociocultural Fund. It provides non-profit organisations under private sponsorship EUR 5000 for the development of new formats.


  • GEMA emergency aid programme offers EUR 40 million in two umbrella funds for members.
  • Emergency aid programme of the Society for Ancillary Rights offers authorised music representatives who suffer a loss of fees, a one-off amount of EUR 250.
  • Immediate financial aid from the German Orchestra foundation. It offers an immediate one-off payment of EUR 500 for freelance musicians (financed by donations).
  • Immediate financial aid from the magazine Crescendo. It offers musicians a one-off immediate payment of EUR 500 (already completed).
  • Musikland Niedersachsen: Telephone hotline for advice.

Performing arts

  • Funding programme “take care” by the Performing Arts Fund: for freelance performing artists for a project up to EUR 5,000.
  • One-time emergency aid from the Performing Arts Alliance in the amount of EUR 500 for performing artists in need (financed by donations).


  • Emergency aid programme for libraries in rural areas “On site for everyone” — via the German Library Association from 15 May on: Funds for improving digital equipment and implementing modern concepts per institution in the amount of max. EUR 25,000 (as part of the regular support programme “Culture in rural areas”, see above).


  • Emergency aid programme for local history museums in rural areas via the German Association for Archaeology: Max. 25,000 euros per institution (as part of the regular support programme “Culture in rural areas” see above).

Film and television

  • EUR 15 million aid programme by the film funding agency and state funding. The funding includes support for production, distribution and video.
  • Numerous programmes for the individual broadcast stations, e.g. ARD, ZDF, media group RTL, ProSieben and Sat1.
  • Emergency aid programme for art house cinemas in Berlin and Brandenburg through the Media Board Berlin-Brandenburg.


A specific programme to support the cultural sector at federal level is required

On March 11, the German Cultural Council had already called for its own emergency aid fund for artists and cultural workers. The Federal Government has launched numerous support measures, some of which also apply to those involved in the cultural field. However, there is no specific federal support programme designed to meet the specific needs of the cultural sector. This is still being demanded by the German Cultural Council (April 22), the Cultural Council of North Rhine-Westphalia (April 16) and other associations, in the form of a cultural infrastructure fund.

Different interpretation of federal support instruments in the individual federal states

The federal government’s programme for the self-employed, freelancers and small businesses is implemented in the 16 federal states, but practically, it was handled differently. For example, while in NRW the funds could also be used for private living, in other federal states the use of funds was reserved exclusively for (commercial) operating costs. This distinction is particularly important for artists, since they generally do not have high operating costs, but usually use their (low) income to finance their livelihood. Since the federal government insists on uniform use, NRW changed its regulations on April 1. A corresponding online petition demanding that the funds also be used for private living costs was signed by more than 100,000 people within a few days.

Differences in support instruments in the individual federal states

The possibility of claiming support services — in addition to the instruments at the federal level — is also very much dependent on the state the applicant lives in. This applies to the existence of support programmes as well as the amount of funding grants available. While some states such as Baden-Württemberg have an emergency aid programme for freelancers that allow them to apply for EUR 1180 grant money for up to three months, Bavaria offers EUR 1,000 a month in basic payments, but only for members of the artists’ social fund. In Hamburg, self-employed can apply for EUR 2,500 in addition to federal funds. In Bremen, artists can apply for up to EUR 2,000 in emergency aid (in addition to a purchase programme for visual artists); in Saxony-Anhalt EUR 400; and in Mecklenburg Western Pomerania there are bridging grants for artists available in the amount of  EUR 2,000. The support fund for artists supported in NRW (EUR 2,000 per month) was only equipped with a total of EUR 5 million, so that only a small proportion of the applicants could take advantage of this fund. Other federal states (e.g. Berlin and Saarland) had to discontinue their support programmes due to over expenditure. In other federal states there are — in addition to the federal programme — no state programmes, for example Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia.

Discourse on a cultural policy system after COVID-19

The Kulturpolitische Gesellschaft (Association for Cultural Policy in Germany) issued a position paper on March 31 entitled: “Cultural policy must have a lasting effect — 10 points for a cultural policy after the corona pandemic”. This initiated the discourse on a cultural policy system after COVID-19. The demands include the recognition of culture as systemically important, the integration of free non-profit organisations in the support measures, the sustainability of the emergency measures and the continuation of the greater use of digital media by cultural actors — in short: the use of the crisis as an opportunity for programmatic renewal.

Limitation of fundamental rights

The restriction of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Basic Law, such as the right of gatherings (Art. 8, Paragraph 1 Basic Law), which has been invoked by all individual federal states with reference to the Infection Protection Act, has lead to intense discussions. These are carried out in print and on social media as well as in court. Different courts at the state or federal level (from higher administrative courts to the Federal Constitutional Court) decide on the respective urgent applications with different judgments. Individual federal states lifted the ban on assemblies on April 23, with restrictions on the number of people.