E. Coli Outbreak. From Produce Markets And McDonald's To Local Hospitals, Germany Asks: What Now?

The desperate search to find the source of what is a particularly virulent new strain of the bacteria has begun again from square one, and a sense of panic is beginning to spread.

A file photo of a produce market in Freiburg, Germany (Lendog)
A file photo of a produce market in Freiburg, Germany (Lendog)
By Ulrich Exner

HAMBURG - Empty produce markets, full hospitals, ever more infected people, and the certainty that Spanish cucumbers can't be blamed for causing the E. Coli epidemic. Bad news continued to outweigh the good, particularly in the northern part of Germany.

In Hamburg, for example, where—surprisingly, given the circumstances—the long rows of stalls at the weekly Isemarkt, a green market, were open for business as usual. However, at vegetable stalls where produce from Vierlanden, Niedersachsen, Schleswig-Holstein, and also from the local wholesale market, was on sale, much was amiss: not the usual, pressing throngs of customers; unsold tomatoes and cucumbers; only a few takers for lettuce.

All stall owners agreed that sales of other green produce were down as well, with from 30 to 80 percent less turnover overall. One of the market traders, Paul-Hermann Hell, summed it up by saying that it was as bad as Chernobyl, maybe even worse. He had made the trip in to Hamburg from Neuendorf an der Elbe and, he said, it was definitely not worth the effort. Still he didn't blame the customers, given the health crisis and still unanswered questions.

The number of overall reported cases of E. Coli infection, suspected cases, serious cases—and deaths—continued to rise. By Thursday, the death toll from the outbreak was at 17, with thousands reporting symptons. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization confirmed Thursday that the Escherichia coli bacteria is a new strain that has never been seen previously.

We now know that two of the four cucumbers from Spain that were taken from Hamburg's wholesale market last week, tested, and found to carry E. Coli, weren't carrying the same strain as the one that's caused the outbreak, and the other two are also expected to not be a match. So the search is back to square one.

The situation at hospitals is not encouraging. The Asklepios clinics in Hamburg are dealing with over 400 E. Coli patients, and about half those suffering from the severe HUS form develop neurological symptoms between three and five days after being infected. The symptoms include epileptic fits, impaired speech or vision, trembling arms or legs, and confusion.

In many instances, the HUS strain leads to acute kidney failure, and patients thus afflicted have to be placed on permanent dialysis. All of this means an increasing need for more medical personnel. "It's a crisis situation,"" said a staffer at the Hamburg-Eppendorf university clinic where the most seriously HUS-stricken patients are. Vacationing doctors and nurses have been asked to return early from leave, and some doctors no longer with the clinic were coming back to help out.

Meanwhile, in other German states, institutional kitchens are foregoing tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. "It's a shame, but as long as the official warning is not reversed, we can't serve any fresh salads,"" said Gerrit de Vries, manager of Stuttgart's youth hostels. A spokeswoman for the city's Studentenwerk, a service provider for students, said: "We've taken salads and fresh vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes off the menu.""

As a result of such changes, many German farmers aren't bothering to harvest vegetable crops. One of the nation's biggest fruit and vegetable producers‘ organizations, the Mecklenburger Ernte, has stopped vegetable harvests for the time being. The organization's managing director, Klaus-Dieter Wilke, noted that although tests have proved that lettuce and vegetables are free of E. Coli bacteria, sales continue to fall. "In many cases, sales are off by well over half,"" he said.

Over on the west side of Hamburg's Isemarkt, there's a very popular McDonald's branch. And here, ordering a ‘"Hamburger TS‘‘—the TS stands for extra tomato and lettuce—continues to be the most normal thing in the world.

There have been no changes to any of the usual McDonald's menus, and only a few customers leave bits of the ‘"TS"" they've removed from their burgers on their tray. The fact that the bacteria, if it were present here, could travel from the tomato and lettuce to the meat or cheese, apparently doesn't hit home.

Lines at the cash registers are long, and customers don't seem aware that there's anything unusual afoot. It's a good thing local fresh produce trader Paul-Hermann Hell isn't here to see this.

Read the original article in German

photo - Lendog 64

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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