BERLIN (REUTERS) - With most Christmas markets closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, open-air mulled wine stands have popped up across Germany as bars and restaurant owners try to bring festive cheer and earn some income as the nation's "lockdown light" grinds on.
But with infection numbers in Germany remaining stubbornly high, politicians fear gatherings of people drinking alcohol, often without wearing masks and sticking to social distancing rules, could hamper efforts to bring case numbers under control.
"Mulled wine stands are in full swing tonight," SPD health policy expert Karl Lauterbach posted on Twitter at the weekend, referring to the situation in Cologne.
"Those infected today will infect others next week. Is it similarly catastrophic in other cities?"
Health Minister Jens Spahn has criticised people for acting carelessly, saying that while some crowd around mulled wine stands, healthcare workers are working around the clock to save lives in intensive care units.
Under Germany's "lockdown light", bars and restaurants have been ordered to close until Jan 10, but they are allowed to sell takeaway food and drinks.
For some owners, serving mulled wine to Germans seeking festive spirit in the absence of Christmas markets is a way to help make ends meet.
"You simply don't have any financial means available for daily needs, food, insurance and so on," said Mr Tobi Epping from the pub Die Wache in the west German town of Bonn, which has organised a mulled wine walk with seven other establishments on Fridays and Saturdays in December.
"It's not really a great business, but there is a little bit left over," he told Reuters TV.
Mr Ragnar Fleischmann from the pub NYX said he thought the initiative was a sensible measure as people might otherwise meet indoors at private homes.
But similar events in other German cities have led to throngs of people.
On Saturday (Dec 5), police in Heidelberg, in south-west Germany, broke up a crowd of almost 200 people who were taking part in a mulled wine walk.
Bavaria, which has so far had the highest death toll from the virus, will impose a state-wide ban on selling alcohol in the open air from Wednesday, while the south-western state of Rhineland-Palatinate has banned mulled wine "to go".