Corona in Wiesbaden: my trajectory for the time being

Katharina
Wiesbaden, 10 de Maio de 2020

I. Daily life
I come from a year of traveling through Europe and Israel. Prior to this, I worked at one of the largest international market research agencies. I have many friends still working in the sector.

End of February, before the crisis had reached Germany, I had found a company to sponsor me pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science. I also found an apartment in my hometown and commuted to the office by train daily. The courses at the Hochschule (one form of university) were due to start on April 1st.

The first 2 – 3 weeks
As Corona hit Germany, the changes to daily life were rapid. One week, on Thursday, I was at a department meeting with about 50 people near the main office of the company in a different German state. By mid of the next week, I was one of two people still coming to the office. The company had recommended we work from home and almost everyone followed suit.
I continued to commute to work for another 2.5 weeks, as I did not yet have internet or relevant furniture in my place (I did have a mattress and a kitchen). The start of the semester was moved to April 20th.The railway line I took every day starts with 3 long carriages in my hometown Wiesbaden and continues to Frankfurt. On an average day, there are already people who do not find a seat in Wiesbaden. After the first week, everyone had 2 seats for themselves. After the second, there were approximately 10 free seats per occupied seat. Towards the first week of that phase, there was a situation where if it had not been so conflicting, I would have found it hard not to laugh. I was sitting on the train, looking at the reflection of two people sitting in a row each, each wearing a face mask. On the other side of the aisle, there was a woman enjoying her breakfast.
The musician usually playing at the train station where I work was no longer coming.

After about 1.5 weeks in this phase, I decided that it was time for me to register my new home address with the state. German citizens are bound by law to do this. I went to the place to do this; however I went on a Saturday and apparently, on Saturdays you need an appointment. The woman I talked to told me that I could make an appointment for the following week, but also said that most likely it would not take place. If so, she assured me, I would of course not be required to pay the penalty fee for not registering. I left without changing my address or making an appointment. Three days later, sure enough, their office was closed. From this office, I went to the library to browse a bit, only to find that their reading hall was closed. The place to pick up books was still open, so at least I managed to get a library card. A few days later, the library was closed completely.

During that time, while I was still commuting, grocery shopping was quite an experience. I live close to the train station in Wiesbaden, and the grocery shops I frequent are right next to the station. Aside from toilet paper and flour, fresh fruit and legumes were also largely out of stock. This however lasted only for about 2 weeks. I assume the store restructured the frequency of deliveries due to the higher demand. Toilet paper, flour and leaven remained largely out of stock. I ordered some toilet paper and leaven online; a month later, it has still not arrived.

As I did not have furniture, I had ordered some for delivery from Ikea. The night before they were due to be delivered, Ikea wrote me that they could not meet the delivery date. It was moved to a date 3 weeks later. I decided I had had enough of the commute and enough of not seeing my family due to the worry that I would bring the virus to them. That day, the stores were no longer open for business. I could not simply go to a store and buy the furniture, so I searched online for the minimum I needed in order to enable home office – a desk (I already had two foldable chairs). I rented a truck and picked it up from a private household selling it. I picked up the truck from a town nearby, taking the bus there. Getting there was the usual experience. I purchased the ticket from the driver and sat down.

Picking up the truck, it was noticeable that unlike usually there was some effort not to touch or come too close. For instance, I held up my driver’s licence and passport, so that the employee did not have to come into any sort of direct or indirect contact with me.

At the home of the family where I picked up the desk, I was asked to disinfect my hands, which I did. I was later, after having already walked into the respective room, to put covers over my shoes.I got the table to my place and brought the truck back. I decided to see if I could get toilet paper at the store in that town and entered the store. There was no toilet paper, but I bought some stuff anyways. The cashier had a newly installed glass or plastic cover. When a customer behind me walked around a bit whilst on her phone, the guy manning the cashier politely, but sharply told her she must keep the appropriate distance. When I waved this aside, he told me that this was important and I just answered “ok, as you wish” and let him do as he thought right. He caught her attention at some point and the young woman rolled her eyes and drew back. I paid, took my stuff and wished him a nice day. He smiled and nodded.

At the bus stop, there was a note across the bus schedule, saying that it was no longer up to date and one should check online when the bus would come. I sighed and did so and read that I would have to wait another 90 or so minutes for bus that usually comes every 10 to 15. I resolved to walk, but after walking a few meters, I looked behind me and saw the bus approaching. I ran back and wanted to enter through the front door, but the bus driver shook his head and pointed behind himself. I entered through the back door. There was a red-and-white tape about one meter behind the driver’s seat, separating driver and passenger. I did not purchase a ticket.

Even though I still had no internet at home, I decided work from home using my mobile connection. Thankfully, I do have a company phone and my awesome employer informed me that if my monthly data volume would not be enough to enable me to work properly, they would pay the difference.

3+ weeks
I waited introduced 14 days before visiting my family. By then, Germany had a restriction in place that a person may not meet more than 1 additional person outside of their household. As I was still registered at my father’s home, technically I may not have been breaking the law by visiting them. Either way, I would have visited them.

My father, stepmother and sister live in the same town as I, walking to them takes 45-60 minutes.

The first time I visited them I made a point to walk through the town centre. It was a Saturday, but shops were closed. The weather was beautiful and warm and there were some people in the parks, chilling on the grass. Usually, not more than 2 people, though a few groups did gather.

In the centre of town itself, there were a few families around, but otherwise the people seemed mainly the homeless and their friends. I finally got toilet paper and flour, but still no leaven products. The store in the part of town my father lives in was better stocked. It is a richer part of town, upper class where mine is working class. Working from home was boring. My boss was teaching me programming in Java, but as he has two kids at home and schools were closed, his time was limited, and I spent large stretches of time just reading a book and preparing my studies.

The management of the company is sending updates on the company’s situation on an at least weekly basis. It is not a big company; it has three offices in Germany. We are an IT consultancy, helping companies become more digital-affine. The business is going well, no one was let go, no one had to reduce their hours.

My studies have commenced as planned on April 20th. I do not work during the semester. The campus is closed to students and the semester is planned fully online. Some professors just upload video lectures, some walk us through the script in person. We have practical tasks to solve and do some of them in groups, and some of them alone. We have a WhatsApp Group or three to talk amongst the students. Generally, I am happy with the structure.

The winter semester, due to start in October, was moved to November in all states. The impact of the crisis on exams is still unclear but should be solved by May 15th.

It has been 2 weeks now that we must wear face masks when shopping. I made my own, as did many of my friends.
After the initial relaxations in the restrictions, things seem to spiral a bit out of control. Germany’s structure is a federal one, and every state chooses their own pace. This was a concern when restrictions were implemented until such a point as the states found a common ground and most restrictions were streamlined across the country. Now with the relaxations, the differences between the states are once again obvious. However, that may not be an altogether bad things, as we will more easily be able to judge which relaxations had which influence on the case numbers.

II. Talking with friends and family in Germany
The first few weeks were very intense. I was constantly on my phone, chatting with and talking to people. Since then, the contact has significantly reduced. No one seems to have much to say anymore. With one friend, I talk at least once a week, with the others, less frequently. With acquaintances, I generally talked once at the beginning of the crisis and have not heard from them since.

My family is doing well. My father, stepmother, mother and stepfather do not work anymore. My grandmother’s birthday came and went without visits. My father and stepmother go grocery shopping and take long walks. My mother keeps busy cooking and taking short walks. My stepfather probably mainly reads. They are all in various degrees of risk groups, mainly by age, my stepfather also by a chronical illness.

My sister is the CEO of the retirement home our father built up when he was younger. The place is doing well, no cases. The restrictions in this area are of course stricter. No visits are allowed, the kitchen has been restructured, to ensure that the kitchen can still operate even if someone gets sick and their team sent home for 14 days. The staff must wear the hard to come by face masks.

My sister is pregnant, and it may be that only one person can be with her in the delivery room. The furniture she has ordered to be delivered has not come, and she has not been given a substitute date. She is taking it amazingly relaxed.
Two of my friends have children. The closing of the day-cares affected them greatly. Always having your kids around is clearly exhausting. Taking care of your career is more difficult.

Some of my friends are affected economically.

One of my friends with a kid was working part-time when the crisis hit and is since on 100% short-time (a concept in Germany, where the German state pays the difference of up to 60/67% of the salary to reduce the burden on companies – if I understand this correctly: if someone works 40% of the time, the state will pay the difference of 20/27% etc).

Another friend has been on short-time for some weeks, but is now due to return to working 100% in two weeks. Even though this is hardly legal, her employer has pressured her to working 100% again even before the two weeks are over – without an increase in salary.

Another friend is being pressured into giving up holiday days.

Some of my friends are investing in the stock market.

The atmosphere in the country is hard to judge. I think with the relaxations, people are also more relaxed now, though personally, I expect this subject to come up again many times in the next 2 or so years.

Aside from concerns over the economy, there are concerns over the limitation to our rights, though so far I know only one person who thinks this is a great concern. By the parliamentary election in 2021 the mood in the country, which currently seems to be rather stoic and looks largely favourably at the to-date political elite, may shift, especially if there is another phase of (semi-)lockdown and companies start going bankrupt. Personally, I worry more about this than anything else. On the other hand, I notice myself starting to lose interest. I read less about corona, and particularly look forward to the reopening of the gyms on May 15th. Life goes on.