For nearly 40 years, German pop singer Nena has pitched herself as the singing canary in the coal mine.
In her 1984 UK number-one hit 99 Red Balloons, the 24 year old warned that the cold war nuclear arms race had left the world poised on the brink of annihilation.
At a Sunday evening concert in Berlin, the singer declared war on Germany's Covid-19 response, encouraging concert-goers to disregard social-distancing "boxes" and gather before the stage.
After several confrontations with concert stewards, a crowd gathered at the stage apron and the singer told them how the promoter was “threatening . . . to cancel the show” unless they dispersed.
“I’ll leave it up to your sense of responsibility whether you do it or not, everyone can make a free decision,” said the 61-year-old singer. “Just as everyone can make a free decision whether to get vaccinated or not.”
According to reports, the concert ended after the full song set, but before encores.
“Switch off the electricity or have the police get me down from here, I don’t f***ing care, I’m sick of this,” said Nena.
It was a dramatic intervention two months before Germans elect a new federal government – amid a slow but steady fourth-wave rise in Covid-19 infections.
Currently Germany has an incidence rate of 14.3 cases per 100,000 residents, nudging up steadily as the Delta variant spreads. Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief-of-staff, Helge Braun, warned on Sunday that modelling forecasts predict an incidence rate of 850 by election day on September 26th.
This could complicate polling and pose an unsustainable burden on the health service, added Braun, a medical doctor, floating the idea of a new wave of restrictions.
“Things such as visiting restaurants, cinemas and stadiums would no longer be possible even for unvaccinated people who have been tested because the residual risk is too high,” he said.
About half of the German population, 41 million people, is fully vaccinated, with 89.4 million doses given.
Braun's remarks, seen in Berlin political circles as a test balloon from Merkel, encountered firm blowback from Armin Laschet, the man hoping to succeed her as chancellor.
“I don’t support anything like compulsory vaccination and I don’t think anything of indirectly putting pressure on people to get vaccinated,” said Laschet to public broadcaster ZDF.
But senior Merkel cabinet members, who are likely to serve in a caretaker capacity long into the autumn during coalition talks, came out in favour of additional restrictions.
"A person who has not been vaccinated must realise that we have to protect society as a whole and therefore can only allow those who have been vaccinated to attend major community events," said Horst Seehofer, federal interior minister.
Echoing Merkel, he argued against following France’s example with mandatory vaccines for particular groups.
“We must not start that in Germany,” he added. “We have to convince people to get vaccinated.”
Leading medical figures backed Braun's ideas. Dr Frank Montgomery, president of the World Medical Association, said it was "not about privileges for vaccinated people, but about [ending] restrictions on fundamental rights".
On Monday, Merkel’s spokeswoman warned infections were up 75 per cent in a week which, if the trend continued, would require “additional measures”.
Such talk has triggered Germany’s thriving Covid-19 sceptic network. The largest group calls itself the “Querdenker”or “lateral thinkers” and has joined forces with traditional anti-vaccination groups.
Their arguments appear to be gaining ground given nearly 30 per cent of Germans are “definitely not” getting vaccinated, up from 18 per cent in January, according to a long-term study by the University of Erfurt.
In recent months, Querdenkers and anti-vaxx groups have cheered on entertainers who have joined their number – including Nena. Earlier this year, she predicted on social media the “panic that is streaming in on us will eventually be taken apart”.
Footage of her angry intervention at Sunday’s concert prompted cheers and jeers online, exposing a growing faultline as Germany enters election season.
“The question is not what we are allowed to do,” she shouted to cheering supporters, “but what we allow to be done to us.”