At half past nine in the morning, an employee opens the metal gates of the tourist information office at the Colosseum. The sun is shining – great weather for a tour of ancient sites in Rome, to fountains and stairs in the center of the Italian capital.
But the space in front of the information office is almost empty. Just like the street that leads to the ancient Roman amphitheater. "Rome is wonderful at the moment – wonderfully empty," says Oliver Kraushaar. The Berlin actor is one of the few holidaymakers who travel around the city with 2.8 million inhabitants.
The corona pandemic has changed half the globe, making Rome one of the most popular city destinations. Visitors and locals alike can experience streets and squares reminiscent of black and white photos from the 1950s. The lockdown is long over, since June 3, Italy has been open to EU citizens. But the age of mass tourism, which attracted almost 20 million guests in 2019, seems light years away.
Frizzy hair, sunglasses in his hair, the backpack slung over his neck, traveled with his wife, nine-year-old son and six-year-old daughter. "The hotels are currently much cheaper than normal," says the actor from the Berlin Ensemble, who has also played in the "crime scene". This phase is an opportunity. They could immerse themselves in art and history with the children: they had been to the Vatican, tickets for the archaeological temple area, the Roman Forum, had been reserved. "Of course we pay attention to corona protection," says Kraushaar.
The Berlin family is a typical example of new Rome tourists: you can see families with children, including many Italians. Young people, explorer types in small groups, cross the popular meeting point Campo de ’Fiori. The bus tourists, seniors' groups with travel guides and a large part of the wealthy Asians and Americans have disappeared.
The intensity with which Italy was hit by the virus wave is deep in the minds of those who want to travel. Germans are drawn to their own coasts or to Bavaria. "This is a psychological problem," says the city administration. Although the health situation in Rome was never critical and the number of infections in the Mediterranean country as a whole is often below that of Germans in mid-July, tourism does not start. For Chinese, Japanese, Americans and many others, a two-week quarantine applies anyway.
That is why you will immediately find a seat at the top of the Trevi Fountain with the best view of the water feature from the 18th century. On the Spanish Steps, a policeman whistles at a young man who is relaxing there. The city has banned sitting on the marble steps in 2019 to deal with the onslaught and garbage. Somehow the whistle sounds out of place a year later.
On the way to the Pantheon with its imposing dome, to Piazza Navona and to St. Peter's Basilica you cross the shopping street. Regardless of whether shops sell junk fashion or expensive designer goods: signs in many shops signal discounts of up to 70 percent. Even the latest collections are slightly reduced. Empty, abandoned stores are problematic. The noise of the large metro construction site in Piazza Venezia has always been avoided.
In Italy, tourism contributes around 13 percent to economic output. Against this background, the slump in Rome is even more drastic: in June 2020, the statisticians only counted around 6,300 arrivals of foreigners in hotels and pensions – around a quarter of them from Germany. A year earlier, more than 773,000 people stayed in Rome in June – down 99 percent. "Currently only around 200 out of 1200 hotels are open at all," says a spokesman for the Federalberghi Rome hotel association about July.
Piazza Navona is bordered by restaurants and bars. Much of the focus was on foreigners. Loveless tourist menus in some places scare off the Romans. Now waiters are waiting in front of empty tables, hands behind their backs or on their cell phones.
"It's a disaster," says Marco, who waits in the little street called "La Locanda Romana" on a side street. «The piazza is empty. No foreigners come. We don't know what to do. »
The first innkeepers at the square, which is characterized by baroque architecture, are realigning their offer: they want to become interesting for the locals. "We offer a spritz for 3.50 euros with a mini hamburger for 6 euros," explains Filippo De Sanctis of the traditional restaurant "Camillo" in the newspaper "Corriere della Sera". The family restaurant advertises the motto “Piazza Navona for the Romans” online.
Mayor Virginia Raggi of the five-star movement also announced that tourism should aim more to enable the Romans and Italians to "rediscover the wonders of Rome". Ancient Rome needed a strategy for a new "quality tourism". However, the city leaders know that families like curly hair and domestic tourists alone will not stop the crisis – a lot of Italian imagination and new ideas may still be needed.