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In response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus, Germany has enacted a general "ban on contact", effective starting today (Monday, 2020-03-23). It prohibits any gathering of more than two people in public and private spaces, except if they live in the same household.

What I am very unclear about is the extent to which certain behaviours are restricted by this regulation, as coverage in news is IMHO extremely unclear.

For instance, Berliner Morgenpost says:

Gruppen feiernder Menschen auf öffentlichen Plätzen, in Wohnungen sowie privaten Einrichtungen sind angesichts der ernsten Lage in unserem Land inakzeptabel.

In English:

Groups of partying people in public spaces, in apartments, as well as private facilities are inacceptable due to the serious situation in our country.

Tagesschau says:

Gruppen feiernder Menschen - auch im Privaten - sind inakzeptabel

In English:

Groups of celebrating people - also in private - are inacceptable

And Merkur.de says:

„Gruppen feiernder Menschen sind inakzeptabel“, erklärten die Politiker unisono. Jegliche Feierlichkeiten sind untersagt, das gilt auch für Geburtstage.

In English:

"Groups of celebrating people are inacceptable.", the politicians explained in unison. Any kind of celebrations are prohibited, this includes birthdays.

Now, what does this mean? At least some of the above statements can be interpreted in such a way that it's about the physically close group aspect. That is, celebrations whose participants meet in person in the same place are prohibited.

But then, all of those statements, and definitely the last one, also sound a lot like it's the very activity of celebrating that is prohibited, presumably because the "serious situation in our country" makes such a behaviour unbecoming. Thus, it sounds like restrictions similar to the Tanzverbot (that declare various overtly joyful activities to be unbecoming and thus unlawful on certain holidays) are in place.

Which interpretation is correct?

  • Am I violating the newly imposed restrictions if I meet with some of my friends (each of which is sitting at home alone, or at most with their families) via videochat and "celebrate" (whatever is meant by that, let's count any joyful or relaxing leisure activity) with them online to brace against the effects of social isolation and cabin fever?
  • And does it mean we cannot let our children have a joyful videochat with their friends whom they already cannot meet in person due to the closure of schools and child nurseries?
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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Mar 24 '20 at 18:11
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What most of your quotes are based on is this general consensus reached by the federal and state governments on how to proceed. The actually legal implementation happens on the state level in form of decrees. Therefore, the quoted texts are not to be taken as legal text, but human-readable¹. In particular they are not to be taken painstakingly literal, but context and common sense may be applied².

The actual decrees are much more specific and clear. For example, let’s take the decree for Northrhine-Westphalia (translation mine):

§ 11 Veranstaltungen, Versammlungen, Gottesdienste, Beerdigungen

(1) Veranstaltungen und Versammlungen sind untersagt. Ausgenommen sind […]

§ 12 Ansammlungen, Aufenthalt im öffentlichen Raum

(1) Zusammenkünfte und Ansammlungen in der Öffentlichkeit von mehr als 2 Personen sind untersagt. Ausgenommen sind […]


§ 11 Events, gatherings, religious services, funerals

(1) Events and gatherings are forbidden. Exempt are […]

§ 12 Gatherings and presence in public space

(1) Congregations and gatherings of more than two persons in public are forbidden. Exempt from this are […]

Most of this is clearly about in-person meetings. The only exception is the term “Veranstaltung” (event), which could be construed to cover online events. However, in other laws using this term, it clearly refers to in-person events. For example parts of this law governing the number of toilets available at an event do not make any sense for online events.

I see nothing in the decree that would forbid online celebrations. In fact celebrations are not mentioned at all (and are covered by more general terms in the degree, as far as they are in-person).


¹ To be fair, the actual legal texts are not that bad in terms in human readability either.
² Mind that I do not wish to accuse you of lacking common sense here. After all the consensus dissonating with your common sense made you ask this question.

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  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper: I think, when in doubt, language is to be interpreted as the lawmakers intended and not as commonly used. But that’s a topic for another question. Also see this question.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Mar 23 '20 at 9:23
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    The moral of the story: if you want to know what a law / decree says, look at what the law / decree says, not what some journalist has been told by someone who may or may not have looked at what the law / decree says. Mar 23 '20 at 20:10
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    @JörgWMittag: It’s not that easy. Most of the stuff is close to verbatim some official declaration that existed first. The difficulty is to know that you have to look for the state-level decrees (which is what my first paragraph is about).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Mar 23 '20 at 20:20
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    Its pretty obvious that during this time they highly prefer this "Online-Celebration" you mention over any in-person meeting ...
    – eagle275
    Mar 24 '20 at 11:06
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    Note that the decrees in various states differ as to meetings in private homes. Some states ban them, others apparently not (as long as the participants arrive single or in pairs). But using this loophole is widely considered morally unacceptable.
    – o.m.
    Mar 24 '20 at 19:26

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