The German word “Inselkoller” – the feeling you get when you’re on an island for too long and slowly lose your mind – may pinpoint some Irish experiences since Covid-19 entered our lives.
A combination of virus fears, restrictions and scaremongering not seen since Catholic Church years, coupled with round the clock Covid-19 talk would make one question their sanity from time to time.
Hence, it was refreshing to come to Germany to visit friends and family and experience how they have been ‘coviding.’ Besides the usual spoils of squeaky clean outdoor swimming pools, cheap beer, superior infrastructure, intuitive public services and respect for public spaces, I was happy to find that the virus doesn’t dominate the news or conversation 24/7.
That’s not to say, the Germans are cavalier – enjoying wild foam parties, mosh pits and free love in some kind of Shangri La- rather the people get public public health information and follow it without much ado. Variations occur in each federal state regarding guidelines, but it’s pretty much the same Covid-19 stuff you get everywhere else, bar the incessant talk.
I had a look at the newspapers. For obvious reasons the horrific recent flooding in parts of the country grabbed headlines in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, with the climate agenda also taking over column space. The front page of the Bild Zeitung, Germany’s leading tabloid newspaper featured a photo of someone attempting to make the Bratwurst of the year, then there was a nod to soft porn and a small piece mentioning numbers, but no C word. Other news was dedicated to the Olympics, and deep discussion about the woeful German football team’s recent performance at Euro 2020.
Conversations with friends who, like me, have been double vaccinated occur without a sense of imposing dread or judgement. We met outside, I even saw a live blues band in the square without being put into a circle of shame and surveillance. When I turn on the radio, they give you the updates, then move on.
Travel is not an evil word as vaccine passports and testing exist. There was no media presence at the airport asking travellers where they’re going and why. No one suggesting the population hide behind the couch until they get the unattainable and brainless ‘zero covid’, no RTE bias, no Nphet, no Pat Kenny discussing red lights for the unvaccinated, no talk of ‘indoor dining’ or endless puerile articles about staycations.
When I looked up case numbers- you have to dig to find them -the Delta variant has seen daily numbers increase from just 311 on July 5th to 1,928 on July 22nd. It is safe to say that Germany won’t be spared it’s evil spread. But with over 800,000 people vaccinated daily – 60 percent of the population has one vaccine and 50 percent has two- mask mandates and widespread antigen testing with tests available for as little as 80 cent in shops, there’s no reason for hysteria, judgment or infantilising recommendations from non-elected bodies. At 6 o’clock when the angelus rings in Ireland, preparing us for the foreboding news that lies ahead, there’s a quiz show on one of the country’s main TV stations.
People get treated like adults here, and behave as such. It seems like such an easy system. That’s why they enjoy freedoms that we don’t- like the accessibility to alcohol in places like swimming pools and kids theme parks.
That said, the response has by no means been perfect. The vaccine roll out was sluggish, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hesitant response to masks, her strategy of procuring vaccines through the European Union plus ridiculous bureaucracy stole precious time, while the cohort of hippie anti-vaxx experts who forgo vaccines due to ignorance and arrogance, could hamper the efforts at the last hurdle.
For the past few days, however, the dark cloud of fear has been lifted from me, as I escape insular island life and get to view our response from an outsider’s perspective. We’re all in the same virus infected boat heading god knows where, but in Germany, this summer, the quiet disposition is, ‘Don’t mention the war’ on Covid-19.