Country reports


Ulrike Blumenreich
Last update: 14th December 2021

Covid-19 and culture in Germany:
Supporting Measures + Timeline of COVID-19 regulations for cultural institutions

1. Support Measures

Politics and administration have developed a variety of support measures at federal level as well as in individual federal states and in 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. There are general and culture-specific instruments. Civil society also supports creative artists and cultural institutions with donations and funds. In the following text, the measures taken by the federal level will be presented. To illustrate the variety of measures by the federal states selected measures are shown.

1.1 Support measures by the Federal Level

1.1.1 General

  • “Bridging assistance” Programme (Überbrückungshilfe): It supports all companies affected by the COVID-19 pandemic a) from all sectors of the economy, b) the solo self-employed and freelancers and c) non-profit organizations and companies, in covering fixed operating costs from a drop in sales of 30 percent. The bridging assistance has been extended at the end of 2021, and applications can be submitted until March 2022.
  • “New start-up assistance plus”- Programme (Neustarthilfe Plus): It supports a) the solo self-employed, b) corporations and c) cooperatives whose economic activity is restricted due to COVID-19. It amounts to a maximum of 9,000 EUR for the solo self-employed and a maximum of 36,000 EUR for corporations and cooperatives for the total funding period July 1 to December 31, 2021.
  • 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%, and from the eighth month onwards – 80% or 87% (limited until the end of the year).
  • Simplified access to basic security (also for cultural and media professionals): Access to unemployment benefit II.
  • Liquidity aid and instant loans through the KfW Development B
  • (Already completed in May 2020, the “COVID-19 Immediate Assistance” Programme of the Federal Government, an aid package for the self-employed and small businesses: Federal funds. Immediate financial aid in the form of grants (for ongoing operating costs) for 3 months, for small businesses with a max. 5 employees – 9,000 EUR and for companies with a 10 employees – 15,000 EUR. Applications were accepted from March to May 2020. A total of around 1.8 million applications were successful in the amount of 13.6 billion EUR (as of mid-August 2021)).
  • (Reduction of the VAT rate from July 2020 to December 2020 from 19% to 16%. In the cultural sector, the reduced VAT rate also applied, for example, to books, which reduced from 7% to 5%).

1.1.2 Sector specific measures – for the cultural sector

  • “NEW START CULTURE”- Programme

The programme was launched in summer 2020 by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media – with an original budget of 1 billion EUR. This budget was increased in February 2021 to a total of 2 billion EUR. The more than 60 individual programmes are implemented through 40 cultural associations and funds.

In the first programme phase, the focus of funding was on: a) pandemic-related investments (up to 250 million EUR), b) maintaining and strengthening cultural infrastructure and emergency aid (up to 480 million EUR), c) promoting alternative, including digital, offerings (up to 150 million EUR) and d) supporting federally funded institutions and projects (up to 100 million EUR).

The second project phase included 3 key areas: a) pandemic-related investments (100 million EUR), b) preservation and strengthening of cultural production and mediation (800 million EUR) – within this pillar was a focus on scholarship programmes to support artists, c) support for federally funded institutions and projects (100 million EUR). The programme includes both cross-sectoral funding and sector-specific funding for museums, dance, theatre, literature, visual arts, music, memorial sites, libraries, socio-culture, and film. The funds can be used until the end of 2022. (

  • Special federal fund for cultural events

The fund was launched in summer 2021 and has a volume of 2.5 billion EUR. Responsibility for the fund lies with the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media. The special fund supports the resumption and planning of cultural events with two central components: a) The economic efficiency aid grants a subsidy on the income from ticket sales if fewer tickets can be sold for reasons of infection control, b) With the cancellation insurance, the special fund assumes most of the cancellation costs in the event of COVID-19 related cancellations, partial cancellations or postponements for eligible events. (

  • Artists’ social insurance: Adjustment of contributions based on current reported income expectations.

1.2 Support measures by selected federal states for the cultural sector

Due to the cultural sovereignty of the federal states, which is anchored in the German constitution, the responsibility for culture, and thus also the measures to support it, lies within the federal states. They complement the federal government’s support measures. Each of the 16 federal states has launched their own measures. A large number of those programmes are already completed, while a few are still available. This sub-chapter is only for illustrating the variety of measures at the different federal states.

Still available

  • North Rhine Westphalia: “Arts and Culture” strengthening package: In order to maintain the diversity and vibrancy of North Rhine-Westphalia’s cultural scene, the federal state had earmarked a total of 185 million EUR for the cultural strengthening package in light of the effects of COVID-19 for 2020-2021. The programme consists of two pillars: a) a grant programme for freelance artists and b) a cultural strengthening fund for cultural institutions. a) is already completed. b) This strengthening fund contains various programme lines for socio-cultural centres, for municipal theatres and orchestras, for clubs, music ensembles and venues, museums and art associations, literary houses, regional theatres and orchestras, the independent performing arts and the independent music scene, for private theatres with and without public funding, children’s and youth theatres, festivals and numerous non-profit and other institutions. The first phase of support is already completed but the fund is still open.
  • Lower Saxony: “Lower Saxony turns up the heat” Programme: In autumn 2020, the state of Lower Saxony launched the special COVID-19 programme “Niedersachsen dreht auf” (“Lower Saxony turns up the heat”) to support the solo self-employed and cultural institutions. It consists of 4 lines: a) support for cultural institutions that engage the solo self-employed for cultural events, b) support for cultural institutions that engage the solo self-employed in the field of cultural education, c) support for cultural projects and d) support for the solo self-employed working in the non-public sector. Applications for funding lines a), b) and c) can be submitted until 31.12.2021. For line d), the last application deadline was 31.7.2021.
  • Bavaria: Extension of support measures in the cultural sector: The government decided at the end of November 2021 to extend the support measures for arts and culture professionals until the end of March 2022. The support programme for solo artists and actors of culture-related professions, the venue and event organizer programme, and the support programme for amateur music and the fellowship programme to support artists in the early stages of their professional work will be extended


  • Hamburg: 550 Hamburg Future Scholarships: For Hamburg artists in the visual arts, literature and music who have been particularly affected by COVID-19 related restrictions of the past year and a half, the Ministry of Culture and Media of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg launched a scholarship programme worth 3.3 million EUR. In cooperation with the Cultural Foundation of Hamburg, the Hamburg Association for Visual Artists and the Hamburg Council of Music, the Ministry has awarded 550 one-off Hamburg Future Scholarships in the amount of 6,000 EUR each. The aim was to enable freelance artists to develop artistically and realize projects despite the COVID-19 restrictions. The application period ended in August 2021 and the decisions were announced in November 2021.
  • Saxony: Emergency Hardship Grant Culture: With this grant, the Free State of Saxony supported (non-profit recognised) independent sponsors in the field of art and culture, companies under private law in the form of partnerships and sponsors of small and medium-sized cultural venues in the fields of performing arts and music whose economic performance is impaired as a result of the official measures taken during the COVID-19 p Non-repayable grants of up to 10,000 EUR were available to bridge financial bottlenecks. The application deadline was 20.11.2021.

2 Timeline of COVID-19 Regulations for Cultural Institutions

2.1 First Wave: Mid March 2020 – Mid May 2020

On March 13 2020, the first federal states (e.g. Schleswig-Holstein) prohibited all public events effective immediately. This also applied to theatres, cinemas, museums, adult education centres, libraries, clubs, etc. After other federal states (including Bavaria, Saarland, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate) and municipalities followed, the federal government decided on a hard lockdown effective from March 22.

At the end of April, a first easing of the lockdown took place: On April 20, shops up to 800 square metres were allowed to reopen, as well as bookstores that were previously closed in 14 of the 16 federal states. University libraries and archives were also allowed to open again. At that time, the first museums and memorials were also reopened.

On May 6 the federal and state governments decided on a further easing of the lockdown. They also agreed to strengthen the role of the federal state governments in combating the pandemic: The federal states were to decide on the gradual opening of public life under their own responsibility while taking into account regional trends in COVID-19 infection numbers. So each federal state set its own regulations, including those for cultural institutions. In North-Rhine-Westphalia for example, on May 11 open-air concerts were allowed to take place and music schools could be reopened; on May 30 cinemas and theatres were allowed to open (with special hygiene and social distancing guidelines). At the end of May, the phase of openings for the cultural sector began in all federal states.

2.2 Second Wave: September / October 2020 – February 2021

After a prolonged period of low incidence levels during the summer months, the second wave of the pandemic began in September / October. On October 14, the federal government and the federal states’ governments agreed on new joint rules to contain the pandemic. The first federal states cancelled the Christmas markets.

On October 28 2020, the federal and state governments decided on a partial lockdown. From November 2, social contacts were to be limited to two households, the catering and tourism industries were required to close for the entire month of November, as well as cultural institutions. Schools, commerce and business, on the other hand, were to be kept running. On November 2, public life in Germany would be shut down in large parts. Cultural and leisure facilities as well as restaurants and hotels would have to close initially until the end of November. On November 25, the federal and state governments decided to extend and tighten the partial lockdown, which initially ran until the end of November. On December 2, the partial lockdown was extended until January 10 by the federal and federal states’ governments. After some federal states (e.g. Saxony) announced a hard lockdown, the federal and federal states’ governments agreed on a hard lockdown from December 16 to January 10. Similarly to the spring, schools, day-care centres and most businesses were closed.

December 27 was the nationwide start for vaccinations.

In January 2021, the federal and federal states’ governments agreed twice (January 5 + 19) to tighten the hard lockdown, which was also extended until February 14.

On February 10, the lockdown in Germany was extended until March 7. Schools and day-care centres could open earlier at the discretion of the federal states (e.g., in Saxony on February 15).

2.3 Third wave: March 2021- June 2021

Although there was the first easing of restrictions at the beginning of March, and bookstores were allowed to open again from March 8, the 3rd wave began almost immediately. On March 3, the federal and federal states’ governments agreed to extend the lockdown until March 28, while also committing to an opening schedule.

On April 24, the federal COVID-19 emergency brake went into effect. The central content: that if a county or a county-free city exceeded an incidence of 100 on three consecutive days, additional, uniform federal measures would be applied there from the following day. This also had significant consequences for the cultural sector: theatres, operas, concert halls, music clubs, museums, memorials had to remain closed. This also applied to cinemas, with the exception of drive-in theatres. (Individual stores could remain open, including bookstores).

On May 9, a new regulation went into effect that for the first time provided relief for those who were vaccinated and those who had recovered.

Depending on the regional development of the incidence figures, there were different easing of restrictions in the various regions in May and June. The federal emergency brake expired at the end of June.

2.4 In-between Time: July – October 2021

In July, large events – in the fields of sport and culture – were allowed again.

This period was marked by discussions about the introduction of the so-called 3 G rules (geimpft, genesenoder, getestet – vaccinated, recovered or tested) and the 2 G rules (geimpft oder genesen–vaccinated or recovered), respectively; the latter imposing numerous restrictions on unvaccinated individuals. On August 23, the 3 G rules came into force: With an incidence above 35, indoor areas including cultural institutions were only accessible to those who had been vaccinated, recovered, or tested. Just one day later, the first federal state (Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg) started to implement the 2 G rules. After that, cultural institutions (and restaurants) were allowed to open under lower COVID-19 requirements, provided that only vaccinated and recovered people were allowed to enter. Unvaccinated people would then also no longer be allowed to attend with a negative test result. Other federal states followed (as e.g. Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia) during the following weeks.

2.5 Fourth wave: since November 2021

The incidence figures started to rise again very sharply, especially in the southern federal states. On November 22, in the first federal state (Saxony) a new partial shutdown came into effect, thus restricting large parts of public life and all cultural institutions had to close again.

Other federal states (e.g. Thuringa) implemented the so called 2 G + rules (geimpft oder genesen sowie getestet – vaccinated or recovered AND tested) for parts of social and cultural life, for instance access to clubs or discos or singing in choirs. Other federal states still follow the 3 G rules.

On December 2 the caretaker federal government, the future government and the federal states agreed on nationwide restrictions for the unvaccinated. These include contact restrictions, for example. Access to retail outlets, cinemas or restaurants will also be restricted. It was also decided that vaccinations would be compulsory for all employees in hospitals and care facilities.