Potsdam, Germany (CNN)Public life changed considerably for most Germans on Monday as the wearing of masks became mandatory in many public spaces across the country.
In an interior design store on the main shopping street of Potsdam, just outside of Berlin, all the customers were sticking to the new regulations.
Store manager Carolin Hucke said the masks made both her and her patrons feel calmer. "I can tell that people are more at ease," Hucke said while wiping shopping baskets with disinfectant, and adding, "they keep their distance and are more sensitive to the situation, but they are also less stressed and just watch out for each other."
From last week, Germany loosened many of the restrictions on public life that were designed to halt the spread of coronavirus. Shops no larger than 800 square meters (8,600 sq. ft.) were allowed to reopen. So were car dealers and bicycle stores, regardless of their size.
But there is a patchwork of rules and penalties across Germany on the use of masks. Fines for not ensuring that face coverings are worn range from €15 ($16) to €5,000, with rates differing across the country's 16 federal states. Some states are not imposing any fines.
When Chancellor Angela Merkel's government announced the relaxing of the regulations, it only recommended wearing face coverings when going back into public spaces. ''It is recommended that masks be used in public transport and while shopping,'' Merkel said on April 15.
As the restrictions were lifted, scores of people flocked into pedestrian zones in cities and towns around the country, eager for a slice of normalcy after weeks of near lockdown. And some states got creative in interpreting the rules, allowing even larger shopping centers to open as long as the single stores inside didn't exceed 800 square meters, or allowing larger stores to open the maximum permitted area while cordoning the rest off.
This led Merkel to warn that Germany risked squandering the gains it had made in beating back Covid-19. She said she fully supported the measures to loosen restrictions, "but their implementation worries me. Partially, they appear to be very bold, maybe too bold."
Germany has a decentralized system, and the federal government cannot force states into lockdowns or make masks compulsory. But the states all separately made laws making masks a requirement, even though the details vary. In most states, people are required to cover their mouths and noses while taking public transport or when going into stores.