Last summer in Berlin, Christine Wagner could safely do something Covid-19 prevented much of the world’s population from doing: go to a movie theater.

The possibility of strangers sitting together, indoors, for hours, taking off masks to eat popcorn and other snacks, led even big chains like AMC to shut down for some time in the US. But in Germany, things were different: The virus was under enough control for the country to reopen with some social distancing and masking rules. So Wagner could go out — and indoors — with her friends.

“Everyone was free,” Wagner, the head of pandemic communication and strategy at a local German health department, told me. “We could go out to travel, meet friends. … It was like normal life.”

Dr. Christine Wagner, the head of the Covid-19 task force of the health office in Berlin.

That summer, the streets of Berlin and other German cities were busy. Foot traffic at retail outlets hovered around pre-pandemic levels, according to Google’s mobility data. The number of reservations to dine out actually increased

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