It is late March, and the noon sun is beating down on the beach in Palma, on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Seven German tourists have hung a dark red hammock between the wooden posts of the lifeguard tower. Dressed in shorts, their skin has already turned a bright pink as they drink beer and listen to music on a cellphone.
Sasha, 35, explains through his cloth face mask that they have arrived here from different parts of Germany: Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Hamburg. Some of them met at the Mallorca hotel where they are all staying. “I’m healthy, I’ve brought my negative [PCR] test,” he says.
“In Germany, everything is closed right now, but over here we can hang out at the beach, at a sidewalk café, and when everything shuts down we can go back to the hotel, play music and stay there,” adds his friend Anton.
Mallorca has become a magnet for Germans fleeing the tough coronavirus restrictions introduced by their government to curb worsening infection data. On March 14, Germany took the Balearic Islands out of its risk zone map, in a move that reactivated flights to Mallorca.
Even though German authorities have asked citizens not to leave the country on non-essential travel, hundreds of them have been coming to the Mediterranean island during the last week of March.
There are between 3,000 and 4,000 available hotel beds in Mallorca, which is also subjected to coronavirus restrictions even though the Balearic Islands have the second-lowest 14-day incidence rate in Spain at 50.5 cases per 100,000 people.
In Mallorca, where the incidence rate is 53.2, indoor restaurant dining is not possible and outdoor seating areas must close by 5pm. Non-essential stores have an 8pm closing time, and there is a 10pm curfew in place. This has changed the nature of tourism on an island that has long made headlines for the alcohol-fueled excesses of foreign visitors in places like Magaluf.
“For us, the best part is that we’ve rented a car to explore the island and see the north, which we didn’t know. We were surprised by the quiet, by this other side to Mallorca,” explains Johan, while his friend Allan nods in agreement.
There is a row of closed establishments on the seafront promenade, but a restaurant named Zur Krone soon appears on the horizon, like an oasis in the desert. This place is famous among German tourists, and its outdoor seating area is full of people drinking beer and sangría, and having either late breakfast or early lunch.
In Germany, everything is closed right now, but over here we can hang out at the beach, at a sidewalk caféGerman tourist Anton
“Right now I feel safer here than I do in Germany. People who came here had to take a test and there were tough controls,” says Timo, 28, who is a resident of Grimmen in northeastern Germany, as he sips on a glass of sangría. He came to Mallorca by himself to spend six days, and doesn’t mind the restrictions. “It’s a good measure to prevent infections,” he says about the 5pm closing times for bars. “I spend the rest of the day doing exercise, relaxing on the hotel balcony or reading.”
The owner of Zur Krone, Christian Lafourcade, remains hopeful despite the sight of the deserted beach that greets his eyes. Business has been picking up since Monday of last week, when two hotels reopened in the area and the German tourists began to show up again.
“Around here, tourism drives 90% of business,” he explains. “I’m very optimistic because there are signs that the summer will be better. This week my business volume has grown 20%.” But there have been times this year when he has only sold takeaway food and revenues have just barely covered expenses. “God willing, we’ll be able to have a normal season.”
But right now, only 11% of hotels near Palma beach are open, and a walk down the promenade shows a succession of shuttered businesses and piled-up chairs inside empty premises. The odd clothing store, as well as a few car and bicycle rentals, are still open on an avenue that is hard to recognize because of the unusually quiet atmosphere.
532 flights from Germany
Flights between Germany and Mallorca for Easter are half of what they were in 2019, the year before the pandemic. There are 532 programmed flights between Palma and several German cities for the period between March 26 and April 5, representing a 51% drop from Easter 2019.
Over at the Bikini Beach restaurant on the seafront promenade, Heidi and her husband have just sat down at an outdoor table and ordered a couple of beers. “We’re taking this opportunity to relax, jog, read and go for walks,” she explains. The couple is working on their tan as they sit in short sleeves under the sun, and they hope to look even more suntanned by the time their six-day vacation is over and they have to return to Düsseldorf.
Heidi says that there are far fewer restrictions on Mallorca than in Germany. “I think it’s normal that we have to wear a mask and that places are closing early; I understand,” she adds. “The whole world has stopped being normal.”
English version by Susana Urra.