A quiet street in Rheda-Wiedenbrück: a bakery, a net market. Three VW Bullis pull up in front of a two-story house. The facade is washed out, the hole in the roof is covered with a film. The broken bricks are lying in a heap in front of the house.

Red Cross workers get out. You look like from a catastrophe film: full body suits, FFP masks, blue protective gloves. They set up a beer bench in front of the house and put forms on it. Then they test the residents for the corona virus. All are Tönnies contract workers or their contact persons. Some live in a room for six.

The men in the neighboring house stand in the front yard and look over. They don't understand German well and they don't quite understand what's going on. They also work in the Tönnies factory, and they too have been tested. "Test was plus," says one. "But nothing!" He touches his head, then his heart. No pain, no symptoms. Because he got infected with Corona, like almost all of his colleagues, an entire city is now hostage.

Rheda-Wiedenbrück is the buck of the republic because Rheda-Wiedenbrück is the city where Tönnies is at home.

Tönnies, that used to be a small butcher shop. Today Tönnies is the market leader for pork in Germany. Dozens of slaughterhouses for pork and beef, in Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Poland. The departments in the company are called " Division Pork " or " Division Convenience ". 16,500 employees work for Tönnies worldwide. Sales in 2018: around 6.7 billion euros. Tönnies had the Tönnies Arena football stadium built on the factory premises, with 4,000 seats and artificial turf. Tönnies and Rheda-Wiedenbrück has long been a story of advancement and success. Until now. About two weeks ago, 1,500 out of 6,000 employees at the Rheda-Wiedenbrück location tested positive for the corona virus. The workers have been in quarantine since then. The empire is shaking. And with it an entire city. 

The government has imposed a lockdown on the Gütersloh district since last week, and thus also on Rheda-Wiedenbrück. Restaurants and supermarkets are allowed to open further. Anger grows in the village. About the fact that the holiday falls into the water because guests from the Gütersloh district are suddenly undesirable across Germany, unless they submit a negative corona test. That the children can't go back to school after all. The temporary help in the bakery is annoyed because her graduation certificate fails. The saleswoman in the strawberry hut fears that she will not be able to start her apprenticeship. 

The city is united in its anger, it is so divided who is to blame for the misery. The butcher Tönnies? The government? The Eastern European workers who allegedly introduced the virus? And another break becomes obvious: the division into supporters of Tönnies and opponents of Tönnies. 

Men with knives and butcher buckets

Tönnies' headquarters are around four kilometers from the city center. The area stretches over almost a square kilometer between grazing calves and single-family houses with designed front gardens. It has grown over the years, the buildings on it are of different heights and widths and look like assembled parts of a modular system. 


A cheerful trio of animals - pig, cow, bull - is spinning on one of the white cubes. Beneath it, bees hum over a colorful, specially created flower meadow. The rest stands still: the slaughterhouse is dense, the food business, the factory outlet, the cutting plant, the shipping. Usually, more than 30,000 animals are slaughtered here a day. Contract workers, mostly from Eastern Europe, cut pork halves and cut them into chops and chops in a chord. 

It has always been like this. At least since Matthias Schmidt can think back. Schmidt, in his early 30s, grew up in Rheda-Wiedenbrück. His childhood memories include men in white suits, the slaughter bucket in one hand and a knife in the other. In the morning, at noon, in the evening, they were collected by buses before the shift and brought back home after the shift. Home, that meant: in the "Poland houses". These were scruffy, slippery houses, says Schmidt. The front door was often open. You only met the residents in the supermarket when they bought cigarettes and vodka. "You knew that they were precarious," says Schmidt. But there weren't that many back then. In general, the whole business was more of a "little green meadow", as the people in Rheda-Wiedenbrück say. Hardly anyone bothered about it.

The wall that shields the factory premises is around six meters high. © Daniel Pilar for ZEIT ONLINE

The wall also came later. The meat company Tönnies built it years ago. At first it was only a few meters high, today it protrudes six meters into the landscape. It delimits the site on two sides from a residential area and a railway line. It separates the one in Rheda-Wiedenbrück from the other: the workers in the factory from the people in the single-family houses. And it saves the residents from seeing the Tönnies plant. 

Sometimes it gets loud. Especially at night, says Wolfgang Günter *. Günter, a man in his 50s who does not want to read his real name in this article, has alarmed the police several times. The company never stops at the Tönnies factory, even in the middle of the night, trucks and banging factory gates. Günter lives three houses from the wall in a brick house, together with his wife and two almost grown children.

His sister-in-law is carrying a number of shopping bags out of the car to her front door. The family still has a week's quarantine ahead of them: the son works in the office at Tönnies. Günter is leaning against his car, he is wearing shorts and a T-shirt and has his arms crossed over his stomach. He is upset. Annoyed by the media and the people who hit Tönnies: "Everything is now being passed on to Tönnies. What can he do if the air conditioning system distributes the viruses in the company? Why is nobody talking about what he did for Rheda-Wiedenbrück? "

The shooting club, for example. "Say someone, there would still be without the Tönnies. I laugh myself dead!" The entrepreneur put several million in the new city hall, without him the city would have already fallen into disrepair. The city at all - not even the quarantine can control it properly. Employees also came to his front door, handed out forms, but no one had checked whether it was true that the children were at the back of the pool. "I know people who do not keep the quarantine at all," says Günter.