LUBECK - Joachim Berger is a postcard-perfect host: sturdy, down-to-earth, a great storyteller, and a man with his heart always in the right place. For 34 years, Berger has been serving hearty German fare food that is good, rustic and rich in Kartoffelkeller, one of the many traditional pubs in the old town of Lübeck.
In his lifelong career as an innkeeper and restaurant owner, never could Berger have imagined this experience. One week ago, several representatives of the German factory inspectorate paid a visit to his restaurant.
When the officials arrived, they informed Berger that 17 members of a 37-strong party that dined in the restaurant on May 13th had been infected with the E-coli bacterium. One of the women who had fallen ill has since died.
The officers took samples of cucumber, lettuce and tomato from the restaurant's kitchen with them when they left. The results of their tests are not yet available neither are the results of the many tests that Joachim Berger has since commissioned on his own.
All of his employees have submitted stool samples. "We need to be able to rule out the possibility that the bacteria came from within our kitchen, Berger told Die Welt. He has chosen to speak openly about the subject. We have nothing to hide here, he says.
Salads have not been served in the restaurant since the relevant warnings were issued by the Robert Koch Institute. Instead, patrons can choose from pickled cabbage, beetroot, pickled cucumbers.
"There's not a fresh vegetable in sight, just as in the former East Germany," jokes Berger, who has not lost his sense of humor since the crisis began. Nor has he lost his clients. The business, says an employee, is doing super.
Could it be bean sprouts?
Throughout Germany, the search for the source of the deadly bacteria is still in full swing. In Lower Saxony this weekend, scientists believed to have found a new lead in the hunt for the origin of the pathogen: the bacteria may have spread on bean sprouts grown in northern Germany. However, German officials said Tuesday it may not have been the bean sprouts after all. The search continues.
On Friday, the Consumer Protection Department established an E. coli Task Force, in which federal and state representatives are working together with food experts to try to trace the course of the epidemic. Wednesdays crisis summit aims to address the progress of the many crisis groups.
Many hospitals have been pushed to their limits as they respond to the recent surge in patients being treated for E. coli, said Health Minister Daniel Bahr. "Over the weekend, Bahr visited the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf, in order to get a better idea of the current situation. He called on citizens to take special care in the coming weeks. "We cannot exclude the possibility that the infection source is still active, he said.
The majority of Germans are still calm in response to the epidemic. Thus far, the Consumer Protection Department's hotline has still heard far more from concerned citizens regarding the disaster in Fukushima. Even during a recent dioxin scandal in Germany, the Ministry registered more calls. Experts say this could be because the authorities have issued more information regarding the E-coli infection than they have about other crises in the past.
Read the original article in German.
Photo - Photo © year Britta Heise