Does this kind of photo look familiar? Does the pleasing scenery evoke feelings of yearning for travel as you stare at it longingly, wondering where it is and when you might be able to visit it? Have you realized that you can barely remember what it feels like to pack a suitcase? Yeah, same here.
Now that we are more than a year into this pandemic, we can’t go one day without hearing something about the vaccines, the masks, or the virus itself. We’ve even got a couple of new mutations of the virus keeping our ears full. So, I decided that yet another post about the coronavirus would be welcome. I am writing this post as we enter our third full lockdown here in Potsdam.
I apologize in advance, but I’m not going to go about writing this post in my usual preferred style in which I link to external sites for further reading. It takes a lot of time for me, and I put so much pressure on myself that I end up procrastinating and never writing the post. So instead, this is going to be mostly just a record of our experiences.
Actually, in regards to my blog as a whole, I am taking on an attitude of “done is better than perfect,” so a lot of my posts are going to be thrown together in just a few hours, with minimal editing. I’m sure my eye will stop twitching any moment now.
The first case of COVID-19 was detected in Germany in January 2020. I can remember seeing a brief notice several weeks later on the television in a tram in Potsdam, reporting that the virus had arrived in Brandenburg, the state in which K and I live.
If I wanted to, I could go and find the memes that I was sharing with friends about the new virus, back before I began to realize the seriousness of the situation. But a week into the month of March, infection rates were beginning to climb in Germany, and reality was about to set in.
Starting on March 13th 2020, all schools closed, meaning that K’s German language classes went on hiatus. I was on a break between semesters at the time, but the beginning of the summer semester was delayed by one week, until April 20th, and classes were to be held online for at least the first half of the semester.
Additionally, almost everything else closed as well. Grocery stores remained open, but almost everything else was shut down, with the now-familiar term “essential” as a key word.
At the time, the government didn’t want to call it a lockdown, and I didn’t either. But looking back, I don’t know what else to call it. If it walks like a duck, and all that.
Toilet paper shortages were a thing here, too, but that started a few weeks after it was reported in the US. It seemed like people only started panic buying here because they were reading about it happening elsewhere.
All things considered, Germany’s response at the beginning of the pandemic was in my opinion rather good, and most Germans took the first lockdown very seriously. Hospital capacity remained high, fatalities remained low, and infection rates were relatively quickly stabilized,
Restrictions ease, hopes rise
After the first few months of the pandemic had passed and infection rates were brought under control, the lockdown ended and social distancing restrictions were gradually eased. I can’t remember now exact dates, but infection rates were quite low by June, and lots of places opened back up.
Schools resumed allowing students in person in many places, and playgrounds and daycares were open again. K’s language classes didn’t resume until the end of July, but he found a job doing landscaping at a local golf course, and so he only went back to the school for a few weeks. My classes remained online throughout the summer semester, which wrapped up at the end of July.
K and I were able to enjoy the summer months as much as we could while coordinating around our school and work schedules. We went to Berlin a few times for some sightseeing, and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery in Potsdam, where the many lakes, parks, and castles make a walk or bike ride in any part of town a memorable one. We even attended some one-handed swordfighting classes for a while, which were offered through Uni Potsdam.
The pandemic was still a hot topic over the summer, but thanks to adherence to restrictions and sanitation guidelines, infection rates were under control in Germany.
However, extremist groups continued to protest the restrictions, and months before the attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC, one protest in Berlin ended when a group of right-wing extremists attempted to storm the parliament building known as the Reichstag. I’m making an exception to my no-searching rule here and providing a link to an article covering this story, because I think it’s important.
Coincidentally, that happened on the same day that K and I visited the German Spy Museum in Berlin. We saw police all over the city, and street blockades were visible from the train, but we had no idea until we read the news later.
The grip begins to slip
By autumn, I had largely stopped following current news about the progression of the virus. I was swamped with work for my masters program, and I figured that if things were getting bad again, then I would hear about restrictions coming back.
Well. Apparently during the month of October, infection rates were rising exponentially, but the German government was spending its time hoping that if they stood really still, the virus wouldn’t see us and would move on. I guess it’s easy to confuse a coronavirus with a T-Rex.
When officials did finally respond at the beginning of November, it was with the choice to implement a sort of semi-lockdown. This saw the closure of all restaurants and cultural institutions such as museums, theaters and such, and the return of some social distancing regulations. My classes, which were intended to be held in person for the winter semester, were suddenly returned to online format.
This “lockdown light” as it was called was intended to last for one month, and in combination with hopes and prayers would get Germany back in shape in time for the holidays. Well…
…at the end of November, it was extended until mid-December, and then…
…on December 16th, Germany transitioned from “lockdown light” into its second hard lockdown.
Christmas and other winter holidays were tough for many people, due to the closures of businesses and the restrictions on gathering with family and loved ones. Also, Christmas markets were not allowed to take place, which usually brings six weeks of festivities (and Glühwein!) to most cities in Germany at the beginning of winter. These were sorely missed.
But for the two of us and our pets, the Christmas days weren’t really different than they would have been otherwise, since our closest loved ones are many miles away from us anyway. We enjoyed good food and video chats with family and friends.
Dark days drag on
I have to apologize, because I really can’t remember when the major mutations were first detected in Germany, but these more contagious variations of the virus have made these past four months pretty tough.
The hard lockdown was supposed to end during the second week of January, but it was extended and in fact increased in severity several times.
By the end of January, everyone had to ditch their cloth masks, filter or no, and don a medical-grade face and nose covering if they wanted to enter public transportation, grocery stores, and some high-traffic streets in town.
Pandemic fatigue has started to really set in for many people since the new year began. Although we did get two beautiful weeks of snow this year, winters in Germany are usually cold and grey, which doesn’t help to keep spirits high. A lot of people continue to protest restrictions, while a lot of other people are disappointed with the slow and inadequate implementation of the second lockdown.
To add to the frustration, Germany has been very slow at rolling out vaccinations. I’ve heard several explanations for this but I’m not going to mention them, because I’m not sure what is accurate and what isn’t. But the fact is that vaccinations have not yet been the huge aid that many people hoped and expected they would be.
Suddenly, at the beginning of March, the lockdown abruptly ended and restrictions were eased. I think almost all businesses and cultural centers opened up, or at least most of them. This wasn’t entirely inappropriate, as the incidence rate in Potsdam at the time was I believe around 35, but unfortunately infection rates have been climbing since.
Now, instead of a federal lockdown, the sixteen states have agreed to implement their own “emergency brake” system. This means that any city that exceeds the incidence rate of 100 infections per 100,000 people for three days in a row will have to enter a lockdown.
Where we are now
And so here we are, on a Thursday afternoon on the first day of April, in the part of Potsdam known as Waldstadt (which means “forest town”), having entered into our third official full lockdown, as the city exceeded the critical incidence rate for the third day in a row on Monday morning.
To be honest, now that I’ve been able to hit the home improvement store at the beginning of March, I don’t think I notice a lockdown anymore. Like I said before, I’m inundated with uni work.
I’m only writing this post now because “blog” has been written on my to-do list for several months and it’s giving me anxiety, and I’m riding the high of finishing my lengthy research paper yesterday on the survival capabilities of cryptoendolithic fungi within the subsurface of Mars. Why? Because uni, that’s why.
Kyle has also been quite busy for the past few months, as he began a bachelor’s program for horticulture at Oregon State University. Hooray for online schooling opening up possibilities!
K and I are thankful for each other and for our health, and for the opportunity that we have had to experience these (sorry, gotta say it) unprecedented times in Germany.
We also moved apartments in January, right in the middle of the hard lockdown. I’ll write more about that in another post.
I really hope that the messages that our communities take away from this pandemic are ones of unity and understanding, and the knowledge that anything can happen at any time. We can also take this opportunity to discover the beauty and excitement in the world around us, rather than in far-off places.
All we can do is our best to stay informed and prepared, which doesn’t mean we have to be scared, just smart. And maintaining our empathy for our fellow citizens of this world wouldn’t hurt, either.
Thanks for reading!
Update: April 17th, 2021
The third lockdown in Potsdam has ended, and we can now pick up rapid self-test kits at pharmacies, with a ration of two tests per person per week. With a negative test, we are allowed to go shopping in any store or shopping center that is open, which seems to be most stores now. Medical-grade masks are still required in public spaces.
I took my first Covid-19 test earlier this week, which I was able to administer myself. It was a really easy process and only mildly uncomfortable. My result was negative, so I was allowed to go work at the lab where I have been doing a mini internship.
Update: April 21st, 2021
Germany has now established federal regulations for responding to rising incidence rates, so individual states are no longer allowed to set their own lockdown restrictions.
Update: April 28th, 2021
Potsdam went back into lockdown over the weekend, and there is now a nightly curfew after 10 pm.