During the morning at least, Palma’s S’Arenal beach and its six-kilometre stretch of sand still belongs solely to Mallorcans.
Three women, all in late middle age, were admiring the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean as they jogged along the shoreline this week. “I’ve never seen the beach look so beautiful,” said Mercedes Blázquez. “The water’s like glass and the sand is just perfect.”
Her sister Lumi agreed. “It’s divine, and we have it all to ourselves,” she said.
Both work in hospitality, Mercedes in a hotel and Lumi in a bar, and they know how important tourism is to the economy of the Balearic islands. Even so, they can’t help relishing the tranquility that Spain’s strict Covid-19 lockdown has brought to the archipelago.
“If there are no tourists, there’s no jobs,” said Mercedes. “And without the Germans, there’s no work.”
It is no exaggeration. In 2018, 4.9 million Germany tourists visited the Balearics, more than from any other country. Not for nothing is Mallorca known as the 17th state of Germany.
The main streets by the beach in Palma are nicknamed Schinkenstraße (Ham street) and Bierstraße (Beer street), while the party mile by the sand has long gone by the infamous title of Ballermann – German wordplay on slang terms for getting legless and letting go.
Many locals have been desperate for the staggered return to begin. Tourism accounts for 35% of the Balearics’ GDP and, at the moment, almost 75,000 people are unemployed – 92% more than this time last year. Meanwhile, the restaurateurs’ association estimates that only one in five establishments will survive the next two years.
However, the reason for welcoming Germans back first is not solely economic. The German holiday-makers arriving on 47 flights have been allowed to return because their country’s epidemiological situation is similar to that of the Balearics – and better than the UK’s.
Only a few hundred have arrived so far but they’re not hard to spot. Such has been the media interest in the pilot programme that almost every tourist is accompanied by their own camera crew.
The broadcaster ARD was there to record the first beach trip of Thomas and Karina Wiendandt, a couple from Finsterwalde in Brandenburg: “It’s raining at home but it’s sunny here!”
Bild, meanwhile, documented how Ela and Jörg Hauser from Cologne sipped their first beers while reclining in physically distanced hammocks: “The quality-to-price ratio is amazing!”
And then there were Joachim and Anne Hagen, who speak only to the print media: “We’ve come here because it’s quiet. We normally avoid areas such as Ballermann.”
Xevi Molas, a psychologist, has been watching the media show with an ironic smile. Having lived by the S’Arenal beach for 34 years, he’s something of an expert on its German visitors.
“If they’re young and in a group, all sense of individual responsibility is dispensed with – and our beautiful beach gets turned into a sewer,” said Molas.
Last year he and some friends got so fed up with the summer excesses that they organised a small flashmob.
Both the plan and its execution were simple: Molas and 15 others marched on to the beach armed with containers of tortilla de patatas and gazpacho and made straight for the heart of the drunken, sunburned German throng.
After sitting down to enjoy their picnic, chatting, and going for a dip, the party set about picking up rubbish from the beach.
“They were gobsmacked,” said Molas. “Our aim was to show them the kind of tourism we want on the island: something polite and respectful.”
Molas, whose father was a hotelier, is convinced that “another kind of tourism is possible” – and that the pandemic could yet be the catalyst.
He is not alone. The regional government of the Balearic islands recently issued a decree banning pub crawls, happy hours and other activities that tend to result in massive alcohol consumption.
Today, the move seems a little unnecessary. The virus and the subsequent lockdown have solved the problem in one fell swoop. The doors of bars and clubs such as Bierkönig and Mega-Park are closed, at least for now.
The only place open on Schinkenstraße is the San Siro, which is mainly frequented by locals. Martin Funke was leaning against the bar, smoking his first cigarette of the morning. He works for the Grillmeister chain – which specialises in German sausage – and was in a dark mood.
“The tourists they’ve brought us are not our target market,” he complained. “And the others won’t come now. The whole season’s been lost.”
He lit up another cigarette and added: “The party’s over. Ballermann is dead.”