When the coronavirus pandemic hit, music festivals and large-scale concerts were among the first events to be canceled because of concerns for public health.

After months of online concerts and outdoor events, event organizers are beginning to test the waters by putting on small-scale concerts for audiences, following strict hygiene and social distancing measures.  

Yet during this phase of cautious entry, one plan by concert promoter Marek Lieberberg is causing a stir. His company, Live Nation Germany, has announced the first major concert in Germany. It will be held at Merkur Arena in Düsseldorf and can accommodate 13,000 concertgoers for the big event on September 4. Tickets for the two-and-a-half-hour concert will go on sale August 11.

The Düsseldorf arena is the third-largest stadium in Germany with 54,000 seats. This means the venue will be at 23% capacity under Lieberberg’s plan. His concept includes strict social distancing and hygiene rules and has already gotten the green light from local authorities. Notable performers such as singer Bryan Adams, German chanteuse Sarah Connor and Irish singer and guitarist Rea Garvey are expected are on the playbill and likely to draw crowds. 

Read more: Musicians pile on Trump campaign for unpermitted song use

ARENA Duesseldorf (picture-alliance/L. Perenyi)

Germany’s third-largest stadium: The Merkur Arena in Düsseldorf

‘Give Live a Chance’

The event is titled “Give Live a Chance” and with it, Lieberberg aims to give hope to the music industry and set a positive example for what large-scale concerts could look like during a pandemic.

“It is very important that people have a sign of hope; that the industry, the fans, the artists and the many service providers have a reason to hope again,” Lieberberg told DW. Germany’s private events industry only receives a fraction of the assistance funding that state-sponsored institutions like German operas and theaters receive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lieberberg is a big-name concert promoter in Germany and is responsible for the annual Rock am Ring festival, which attracted 70,000 spectators last year. Like most events, the festival was cancelled this year due to the virus. 

singer Sarah Connor 2019 (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Heimken)

Also set to perform at the ‘Give Live a Chance’ event: German star Sarah Connor

Dangerous group gathering?

As soon as Lieberberg put his plan on the table, he received blowback from the North Rhine-Westphalian Minister of Health, Karl-Josef Laumann. The minister questioned the legal basis for the concert and warned that it was too risky: “To encourage people from all over Germany to travel across the country to Düsseldorf and come together in the thousands is simply irresponsible,” he told the German press agency, dpa.

Because the City of Düsseldorf has thoroughly investigated whether the concert complies with the regulations of the Corona Protection Ordinance, Düsseldorf’s Mayor Thomas Geisel stated that he saw no legal issue.

Lieberberg told DW he finds the negative reactions from the region’s politicians incomprehensible and attributes the controversy in part to a conflict of interest related to upcoming local elections. The respective proponents and opponents of his concert come from different political camps, he pointed out.

Read more: Germany rejects fans’ early return to soccer stadiums

Music promoter Marek Lieberberg (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Arnold)

Music promoter Marek Lieberberg

Strict security requirements

Among the measures to comply with the health and safety regulations will be staggered admission in groups at specific times. Concertgoers will be required to wear masks, even while seated. “Each seat is designed to have 1.5 meters of social distance in the front, back and sides,” says Lieberberg. The roof of the stadium will remain open.

Although fans of pop and rock music are not exactly known for sitting quietly in their chairs during a concert, Lieberberg is firmly convinced that the audience will be responsible. “We’re not dealing with hooligans or people who get into fights during an event. All of them come with one purpose: to experience music.” Alcohol will not be served to keep things peaceful, and at times, the musicians’ performances will be unplugged, i.e. without electrical amplification of their instruments. 

No encounter in a public space is safe

His initiative, says Lieberberg, has already attracted attention worldwide, especially in Europe and the USA, where in many regions large concerts are currently impossible to hold due to the pandemic. “The whole thing has made very big waves. It is clear that people long for culture, they long for concerts.”

Naturally, no encounter in public places is risk-free, but that applies to all situations in which people meet, says Lieberberg. He alludes to mass gatherings at demonstrations, in public places and on popular beaches where social distancing rules have been difficult to maintain. “We have a much better situation here in Düsseldorf in the stadium than in many of the popular places in Germany on the weekends” he said.  

Fearing for the industry

Without major events, Lieberberg fears the industry may not survive. He hasn’t seen a government plan to gradually make major events possible again. Cologne’s Lanxess-Arena has started with smaller concerts of up to 2,400 concertgoers. For Lieberberg, this is not an option, not in the least for financial reasons. “We can’t organize a concert designed for 10,000 people for 1,000. We have certain sales capacities for these events” he said.

Deutschland Corona-Konzert | Sefa bei Arena Now! (picture-alliance/Geisler-Fotopress/C. Hardt)

Concerts took place at Cologne’s Lanxess-Arena during the summer

Some researchers are currently dealing with the topic of large events. At the University Hospital in Halle in Saxony-Anhalt, the “Restart-19” project is running a “coronavirus experiment” centered around a concert by singer-songwriter Tim Bendzko.

At his concert in the Leipzig Arena on August 22, around 4,000 volunteers will be equipped with tracking gadgets, motion detectors and bottles of fluorescent disinfectant to determine how the coronavirus might spread. The researchers hope to develop a mathematical model that can be used to calculate the risk of a corona outbreak after large indoor events.

Meanwhile, for Lieberberg, Give Live a Chance is a first attempt to set a precedent for large open-air concerts — but he is not alone.

On September 3, Berlin’s Waldbühne also wants to start open-air concerts under the motto “Back to Live.” Out of the venue’s 22,290 seats, a maximum of 5,000 will be occupied, similar in terms of percentage to the Merkur Arena in Düsseldorf.