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Germany Is Struggling To Fill Its Farm Labor Shortage After Closing Its Borders : NPR

Fresh asparagus is pictured in a basket at a field in Bottrop, Germany, in mid-April. Farms across Europe are facing a labor shortage as a result of closed borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Fresh asparagus is pictured in a basket at a field in Bottrop, Germany, in mid-April. Farms across Europe are facing a labor shortage as a result of closed borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin Meissner/AP

Arne Garlipp has farmed his 150 acres of asparagus in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt for 24 years. For much of that time, he has relied on seasonal workers to help harvest it each spring.

“Our Romanian workers live with us on the farm,” says Garlipp. “In the fields they’re surrounded by fresh air, birds and very few people.”

But when Germany closed its borders to slow the coronavirus outbreak, Garlipp and hundreds of thousands of other German farmers were suddenly in panic mode. Each year, 300,000 seasonal workers — mostly from Romania and Poland — come to Germany to harvest asparagus, lettuce, apples and other crops that Germans rely on.

Germany’s federal government has given special permission and offered air travel for 80,000 seasonal workers from Romania and Poland to enter Germany to harvest crops, but farmers say it won’t be enough.

“There will be an impact in the market, and we will see this later in the year, in the summer,” says Udo Hemmerling, the deputy general secretary of the German Farmers’ Association.

It is a problem playing out in farms across Europe, as counter-virus restrictions disrupt work and supply chains, and risk leaving unpicked produce to rot.

The situation is so dire that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has urged member states to allow workers to come to their countries, treating fruit and vegetable pickers as essential.

In Germany, developers have created a mobile app called Clever Ackern — German for “clever plowing” — to help fill the worker shortage on farms while also addressing unemployment in cities.

“It’s a platform where people, students, young people and people who just lost their jobs register and tell us their availability on the upcoming weeks and months to help farmers on their fields,” app developer Fabian Höhne says.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Höhne ran a travel booking app that offered last-minute discounted airline tickets to students. With hardly anyone flying, he and his staff shifted gears and came up with the program connecting farmers and potential workers. The service is free of charge. Within days of launching in March, 40,000 people registered to become farm workers, the developer says.

“I think the great weather, of course, is bringing people outside, and they’re saying, ‘OK, yeah, let’s do something. Let’s help,’ ” says Höhne.

But farmer Garlipp is skeptical about the idea of city folks working in the fields, and he isn’t convinced it is a good idea health-wise, either.

“If I take on [Germans] to help with the harvest — assuming they’re fit enough for the job — the problem I face is that they’ll come from all over the region,” Garlipp says. “I have no idea where these people have been or who they’re mixing with at the end of the day, and the risk of [coronavirus] infection is much higher.”

Garlipp says he’s received more than a hundred offers from Germans willing to help him on the farm, but it turns out he won’t need their help. Thanks to the German government, his regular team of 80 Romanians is among those who will be allowed to bring in the harvest this year.

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Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

Police detain a demonstrator during a protest against the government’s restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, in front of the Reichstag, in Berlin, Germany, on Saturday.

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Police detain a demonstrator during a protest against the government’s restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, in front of the Reichstag, in Berlin, Germany, on Saturday.

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Police cracked down on large anti-shutdown protests in cities across Germany over the weekend.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the country’s largest cities — Stuttgart, Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt and Berlin — to voice their anger with government restrictions on public life. The demonstrations come even as officials have loosened some coronavirus-related rules and the Bundesliga soccer league started back up in recent days.

Each Saturday since German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, demonstrators have defied social distancing orders to protest the restrictions. But over the past two weekends, these protests have turned into bigger events attracting a broader range of participants that include anti-vaccination groups, conspiracy theorists and extremists from both sides of the political spectrum.

An intelligence official told Welt am Sonntag newspaper the weekend’s rallies were likely infiltrated by far-right extremists. Some demonstrators wore yellow stars — which Jews were forced to display during the Nazi era — and brandishing anti-Semitic banners. A spokeswoman for Germany’s federal police told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper that far-right extremists were exploiting the situation for their propaganda purposes.

Police in Berlin made 200 arrests as scuffles broke out, while in Hamburg, conspiracy theorists clashed with anti-shutdown protesters.

Police also announced an investigation after finding a mock tombstone in front of Chancellor Merkel’s electoral office in Berlin.

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Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

Hamburg soccer players head to the team’s training kickoff on Thursday.

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Hamburg soccer players head to the team’s training kickoff on Thursday.

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Germany’s federal government says the Bundesliga will be the first of Europe’s major soccer leagues to resume its season later this month, after play was postponed in March. The German League said the first matches would take place on Saturday, May 16.

The league has nine matches remaining, and it’s committed to end the season by June 30. According to its agreement with Germany’s Federal Health Ministry, players will submit to frequent COVID-19 testing and fans will have to watch matches on TV. The public will not be allowed inside or outside stadiums to watch the matches.

The Bundesliga, which attracts more fans to its games than any other football league in the world, has been in financial crisis ever since matches were suspended nearly two months ago. The league’s two main revenue streams — ticket sales and TV licensing — were suddenly gone for the foreseeable future.

German football journalist Tim Jürgens says the league was bleeding money and would have been financially ruined if it couldn’t resume playing to recoup its television revenue.

“The league wants to continue because it still has a potential revenue stream. But to do so when we still know so little about this virus is wrong. What happens if a player isn’t disciplined enough in his social distancing? It’s too risky and it sends the wrong message to the general public,” Jürgens tells NPR.

Football players’ behavior came into question recently when Hertha Berlin forward Salomon Kalou livestreamed a video of himself greeting teammates with physical contact and then bursting in on a teammate’s coronavirus test. The club suspended Kalou on Monday and he later apologized.

Some of the Bundesliga’s 18 teams are on the verge of bankruptcy and cancelling the league would have put around 56,000 jobs in danger. One Bundesliga club, FC Schalke 04, has called the pandemic “existence-threatening.”

In the first wave of tests on players, authorities found 10 cases of COVID-19. Full results from a second round of testing have not yet been released.

Elsewhere in Europe, Belgium, France and the Netherlands have cancelled their seasons. Italy, Spain and England hope for a possible June return to the pitch.

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