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At Drive-in Disco, It ‘Feels like Saturday Again,’ Even Without a Dance Floor

2020-06-02 12:52:30

Patrick Kingsley, an international correspondent, and Laetitia Vancon, a photojournalist, are driving more than 3,700 miles to explore the reopening of the European continent after coronavirus lockdowns. Read all their dispatches.

SCHÜTTORF, Germany — At his first gig in more than three months, Dopebwoy, a Dutch rapper, climbed the stairs to the stage, turned to the right, and stared out at the crowd.

Before him was a sea of cars.

“Germany!” shouted Michael Jalink, Dopebwoy’s master of ceremonies. “Are you ready for Dopebwoy?”

And the cars honked back.

Beyond cinema, the drive-in format never historically found a place within live-event culture. But amid a pandemic, its time has perhaps come.

Few have embraced this drive-in concept as avidly as the owners of Index, a family-run nightclub in Schüttorf, a small German town just east of the Dutch border, where Dopebwoy played last Friday.

Index has been one of the pioneers of the lockdown drive-in, holding what it has branded a drive-in disco every weekend since early May. Revelers arrive at the club in their cars, park in the adjacent lot — and then stay behind their wheels to listen to D.J.s and watch performers like Dopebwoy.

The events have proved surprisingly popular, despite lacking most of the physical experiences generally deemed essential to a successful club night. It’s a good thing, too, because nightclubs like Index are not expecting to reopen their dance floors until 2021.

“This feels like Saturday again!” said Ronan Zwaagstra, a 19-year-old student attending Dopebwoy’s show in his hatchback.

Then he paused.

“But without the drinking.”

Another pause.

“Or the dancing.”

Yet these were just minor concerns for Mr. Zwaagstra, a Dutchman who was here for the second weekend running.

He likes the drive-in club experience so much that he drives nearly 60 miles to attend — and crosses a national border in the process. (Travel between the Netherlands and Germany has been less tightly regulated than other European borders during the pandemic.)

This isn’t the kind of drive-in where lovers go to find privacy. Staff members wander the aisles between the cars, and the cars themselves are parked close together.

But can people still flirt in a disco without a dance floor?

“Yes,” said Jenny Kollak, 24, a bank manager attending with her sister, Anna. “Oh yes.”

People write their numbers on balloons, and hold them up to people in nearby cars.

Or, said Ms. Kollak: “We scream at them. They scream at us.”

“Then,” she added, “you meet them in the toilet.”

Truth be told, the drive-in disco feels more like a music festival than a club night.

Guests arrive at 9 p.m., when the sky is still bright. The music ends at midnight, so as not to annoy the neighbors. The only time guests can enter the club itself is to go to the bathroom — and even then, they must wear masks to satisfy German law.

At all other times, they have to stay put in their cars in the parking lot. The passengers can drink alcohol, but they’ve got to bring it themselves. If they want to dance, they must settle for wriggling in their seats.

Yet over 100 cars attended Dopebwoy’s gig, with a driver and one passenger paying about $35 for the privilege (extra occupants are $15 each). Several were there for the second or third time, like Mr. Zwaagstra and the Kollak sisters.

And dozens had driven for over an hour to be there, including several carloads from the Netherlands.

To get into the spirit, many had adapted their cars for the occasion. Some of the Dutch had put police lights on top of their car roofs.

Anna Kollak, a 26-year-old driving instructor from Bielefeld, Germany, finished her lessons for the day before driving to the club in the same car she teaches in. She had brought confetti and glow sticks, and covered the roof with twinkling Christmas lights.

But the car door still read: “Driving School.”

“It is a bit crazy,” Ms. Kollak conceded. “Tomorrow, I will have another lesson and there will be confetti everywhere.”

  • Updated June 1, 2020

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

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      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.

Eccentric though it is, the drive-in disco is just the latest bold endeavor by the owners of Index.

Founded in 1988 by Holger Bösch and his two brothers, the club itself was initially an outlandish idea. They built Index from scratch in an empty field outside the small and otherwise unremarkable town, hoping it might attract visitors living further afield by hosting all-night raves.

Their hunch paid off. Over the next three decades, Index became a destination venue, hosting international artists like Snoop Dogg and Sean Paul, and allowing the brothers to expand the club.

Now it has six dance floors, a climbing wall, a swimming pool and Mr. Bösch’s pride and joy — a vast room built of ice, complete with its own bobsled run.

When the pandemic forced Index to close in March, it was the club’s first pause in operations since the Bösch family opened its doors more than 30 years ago.

“My wife loves my new job,” Mr. Bösch said of his role as a drive-in disco pioneer. “Now I’m home at 1 a.m., not 8 a.m.”

For his D.J.s, the drive-in experience was initially daunting, but ultimately refreshing.

On a normal dance floor, a D.J. can alter the set depending on the reactions of the dancers, said VYT, one of Index’s resident D.J.s. At the drive-in, however, it’s harder to gauge people’s taste.

Still, the drive-in has its advantages, he said. At a regular club, it takes hours for guests to warm up. “But here, when they drive in, they’re already hyped up,” said VYT, known outside the music business as Veit Engelker.

The drive-in disco is nevertheless not to everyone’s taste. At the back, it was difficult to see the stage. And after three hours, sitting in a car becomes uncomfortable.

”My legs are hurting,” said Denise Schut, a 27-year-old day care worker who said she wouldn’t be returning. “And my back.”

But artists like Dopebwoy are steeling themselves for months of honking and revving engines as they await reopening for nightclubs.

“There will be a lot of these car shows,” said Dopebwoy, whose real name is Jordan Jacott.

“We better get used to it.”


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