Want to go out for a meal indoors in Germany? Get a test. Want to stay at a hotel as a tourist or work out at the gym? Same answer.
For the many Germans who have not yet been vaccinated, the key to Covid freedom has come from the end of a nasal swab, and rapid-test centers have multiplied at a speed usually reserved for the country’s autobahn.
Abandoned cafes and nightclubs have been converted. Wedding tents have been repurposed. Even the back seats of bicycle taxis have a new use, as tourists have been replaced by Germans being swabbed by testers in full protective gear.
Germany is one of a handful of countries betting heavily on testing — as well as vaccines — to beat the pandemic. The idea is to find potentially infectious people before they can join crowds in concert halls and restaurants and spread the virus.
The testing system is a far cry from much of the United States, where in many places, people began dining indoors or sweating together in gyms with few if any requirements. Even in Britain, where the government gives out free rapid tests and schoolchildren have taken more than 50 million since January, they are not part of everyday life for most adults.
Uwe Gottschlich, 51, is one of those who is taking tests to return to a semblance of normalcy. On a recent day, he took a seat in the comfortable rear of a bike taxi that used to pedal tourists around Berlin’s central landmarks.
Karin Schmoll, the manager of the bike taxi company, now retrained to administer tests and wearing a green full-body medical gown, gloves, a mask and a face shield, approached, explained the procedure, and then asked him to remove his mask so she could delicately probe his nostrils with a swab.
“I’ll be honest,” Mr. Gottschlich said. “I’ve done this every day for the last three days.”