“Can this be a time of healing, of solidarity, of art, or will I just go crazy?”
Germany, Berlin, 19 March – 2 May
I am a student of anthropology, living and currently situated in Berlin, although my family is from a different city. I have some experience with and very much enjoy writing, for instance I have a personal blog for travel stories. I am also a performer and part of a queer artist collective, which is very dear to me. These diary entries are all very personal and introspective, mainly due to the fact that obviously I can’t talk face-to-face to many people while in lockdown. Another factor worth knowing is that I have a mental illness which makes the isolation and insecurity of the current situation particularly hard on me. My native languages are German and English, I have mostly written in English to make the diaries more widely accessible but sometimes have relapsed into German when I couldn’t find words in English. These bits I later translated, the original German is added.
Day one – 19.03.2020
First day in quarantine. One week ago, I was sympathetic with a friend who was outraged at a party of hers getting cancelled. “It’s only one hundred people!” she stormed. At the time I thought it an overreaction of the government to close down such a small event. We were supposed to perform tomorrow in front of hundreds of people. Now I am sitting alone in my room, only having left the house to bring out the trash today. Social distancing.
I am part of an artist collective. We make our money by giving shows. Some of us are more dependent on the financial factor, some less. I am fortunate to be less dependent on the money, although I will notice the loss. I worry for those who are fully dependent on it – how will this crisis impact our collective? How will it impact the art community and the queer community as a whole? There is a newly opened café/bar around the corner that is run by two queer men and has become the rallying point of the collective. Where do we go if that is closed down? And is it selfish to be worrying about these things, when people’s lives are at stake?
I stopped taking the public transport yesterday. I will still go out to the park, because I need fresh air and exercise. I am worried about how this situation and especially the lack of social contact will affect my mental health. I need people around me. I can’t stand being on my own. And yes, I hear people saying: “you should be able to deal with yourself! You shouldn’t need other people to get along! This is the chance to get to know yourself better!” In my opinion, this is naïve and borderline disrespectful. PTSD isn’t known for getting better in long lasting high pressure situations, and I have no sense of security, no way of knowing what will be going on next month, next week, tomorrow even. When will I see my family again? Which of my friends will be affected? How will being forced to stay in my apartment affect my mental health? Can this be a time of healing, of looking inwards, of thinking of solutions, of solidarity and social movements, of art, or will I just go crazy?
My hands are raw from washing them. I am sweating through my shirts every night. I went from waking up early in the morning every day due to exam stress to feeling fatigued at eight pm.
My mother called to say that she expects a lockdown soon and if my brother and I want to come, we should do it now. Travel through half of the country? When I have so much exposure to possibly infected people in Berlin? It’s not exactly as if I could avoid them, I go shopping, until two days ago I took the metro. I might be infected without knowing it, or I might catch the virus while on the road. I explained that I won’t be coming. She is sad but hastens to ensure me that her mental health is not affected by the quarantine. I read stories about families in quarantine, what it does to you to be stuck with the same people for weeks on end, without the possibility of reclusion. A friend tells me about cabin fever: when the European invaders in what is now the USA started moving west, seeking riches, they would sometimes have to spend entire winters – months! – stuck in a tiny cabin with whoever they had with them, often their families. Sometimes, they would go crazy due to being locked in and murder everyone on sight. This is more of a cultural tale than a medical condition, but it describes well what can happen to humans if they are confined in one place for too long.
Day two – 20.03.2020
I rewatched a month old video from the heute show (note: a German political satire). It talks about the Corona virus in a very “calm down everyone, wash your hands and we’ll be fine” fashion. I remember watching when it came out and how I thought it was impossible that drastic measures such as are in place now could be installed. Rewatching it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
We had an online seminar today. The director of the Disaster Research Unit at my university offered it. It was very interesting. A question that is pressing on my mind, and has been since the first shutdowns were affected, is: how are mental and psychological tolls being balanced with physical health? Basically the entire public life has been shut down to save people who would otherwise die of the virus. But what about those who suffer from the lockdowns? The mentally ill, the instable, the ones living in a situation of domestic abuse? How many of them will die or be seriously harmed due to the shutdown? When, if ever, will this toll be weighed higher than the virus-induced ones?
Day three – 21.03.2020
Heute Show uploaded a new video on the virus. I didn’t watch it.
My collective is having a live stream with makeup and performances. It’s great to see my friends again, it feels like so much longer than the week it was. It makes me sad, though, being reminded that we can’t see each other in person and don’t know when we will be able to again. The internet connection is really bad too. There are press reports saying the data transfer system is being heavily used but will be up to the strain. I am not so sure.
I am worried that my flatmate and I will get into fights. My flatmate’s boyfriend might not be able to enter the country anymore in a few days’ time, and I’m worried she will be jealous of me being able to meet my partner. Till now we’re doing fine.
I made a birthday cake for a friend today. She is having an online party. I will eat the cake without her.
My brother had contact with a known Corona case. He refuses to report himself. My mother isn’t bothered either. I am so exasperated. Can’t they see how important this is? Gatherings of more than ten people have been banned today, effective tomorrow. Restaurants and cafés must close. Everything that is left of social life is slowly getting shut down.
Day four – 22.03.2020
More restrictions have been announced today. Starting tomorrow, groups of more that two people are forbidden in public. Of more than TWO. Except if they live together. My flatmate joked at it, but it gives me an uneasy feeling. How strictly will these rules be enforced? Do I have to fear police in the park, berating people?
„Zeit“ published an article in which they call Corona “the virus of loneliness”. They are right. How long will this all last?
The article can be found under https://www.zeit.de/2020/13/coronavirus-naechstenliebe-einsamkeit-ausnahmezustand-zusammenhalt
Many reasons for the virus are being cited. Globalization over all, flights, high mobility.
Day five – 23.03.2020
Today the new rules started. In public, groups of more than two people are now forbidden. MORE THAN TWO. I still can’t believe it. There was police patrolling the street today. Out here in Wedding. Admittedly right next to the Virchow Klinikum, where many people are being sent for Corona testing. It’s kind of scary to think that hundreds of sick people are waiting in line outside, mere hundreds of meters next to my apartment. I was in the park for a very long time today, talking to a friend. She too is stuck in her apartment; she too didn’t travel back to her parents due to the crisis. I wonder how many family relations are being damaged due to people making hard decisions about where to stay. I read an article today stating that this is the biggest infringement on basic human rights we have had since the Second World War. That had to sink in. I am experiencing the period that is host to the biggest human rights infringement since the Second World War. Does that make this war times? The comparison to a war unsettles me. Of course I know that there are wars going on – Syria, Afghanistan, the European borders. At this moment thousands of people are stuck right outside of the European borders, pent up in huge camps. Nobody cares. Nobody is talking about them.
Day six – 24.03.2020
I just read an article about how Sweden is handling the crisis. Their schools are open, cafés are less frequented but not shut down, older people are advised to stay at home, but all in all, public life is continuing. Quite the opposite from the rest of Europe. Apparently, there are many critics of this strategy, but in my opinion, having critics is not a bad thing. That’s part of democracy, right? My professor told us last week that now is not the time to criticize politicians and the government too much. I thought that weird. It is a time of great change, and without assessing what went wrong before, how can we move towards a better society? I think it quite dangerous to just relax and wait till “everything has calmed down again” before analyzing the situation. At that point, most changes will have already been made, for better or worse.
So how does Sweden reason its strategy? Apparently, no cases have been found where kids have infected their parents, so closing schools seems not necessary. Moreover, in Sweden, anybody who does not have symptoms is deemed not infectious – quite the opposite of what is being said in Germany. Here, anybody without symptoms could be carrying the disease and passing it on unknowingly. Why does Sweden not believe that? They have a number of cases, but the spread is very slow compared to other countries. I probably should read up more on this, but I limited my intake of virus information to one newspaper website because even that gets overwhelming. I tried to write a blog post earlier and couldn’t get past the first few paragraphs before I broke down. I am so fucking tired. This is day six in the diary already. Almost a week in quarantine. Of course, not proper quarantine. But still: a week without contact except to my flatmate and partner, a week without seeing my friends in person or going somewhere other than to the park and grocery shopping, a week spent almost entirely at home. I miss my friends. Moreover, I miss my freedom of movement. I miss going to my favorite café and almost always meeting friends there. I miss being able to plan things. I talked to a friend yesterday, asked her how she’s handling planning ahead. She isn’t. She avoids it at all cost. I am doing the same as much as I can, but with my collective, we need to plan ahead. Our show at the end of April has not officially been cancelled yet, but the event space said they most probably will not be able to host it. I know it’s stupid, but I was putting high stakes in this show. I need to perform. I need my art. So many people say I should use this time to create. But now, I can barely even think of new ideas. Creation needs creativity and creativity, contrary to popular belief, is not born out of misery.
Day eight – 26.3.2020
The US now has the highest number of infections worldwide. I spent the afternoon making a music video with a friend. We don’t know if it will be allowed on YouTube, seeing as it is a classical lipsync format, but we made it anyway. It felt good to be making things again.
Day nine – 27.03.2020
Nine days in quasi-quarantine. Wow. I wouldn’t have believed it possible but here I am. Still more or less sane.
Today was a tired day. I didn’t even work out yesterday, as would have been according to my “plan”, but still. I feel completely exhausted. Tomorrow I have a performance on a streaming website with my collective. Due to bad internet, I have to preproduce the video. I hope tomorrow I will have more energy.
My partner has been here for a week today. We have had some quarrels, but no big fights. This is really a testing time for all social bonds
Day eleven – 29.03.2020
I have been feeling very strapped for words these last few days. Time feels like a haze. There are barely any deadlines, no appointments, no places to be. I float free. Which day is it? Sunday, oh yes. The only day really worth knowing, as the supermarkets and remaining shops are closed. This is the only thing that differentiates one day from the rest. Of course, this is not quite true, but for me in my home quarantine it feels very real.
Yesterday I “performed” on my collective’s live stream. I use quotation marks because I prerecorded a video and then sat on my sofa, without makeup, to watch myself on the screen while the hosts of the show danced along in a small screen in the corner, and the comment section went wild. We cheer each other on online as we would in real life. It was an amazing feeling. Even though my artistic part was already finished, I felt hot with excitement. The quarantine has had the effect of making these shows more accessible for people with disabilities, people in other cities, or people who can’t stand the crowded and often smoky atmosphere of the bars we perform in. Still, the show was different. There was the constant threat of the video being stopped due to nudity (very common in the art scene, often not accepted by streaming platforms) and copyright issues. I miss my collective. We are a family torn apart, not knowing when we will reunite.
It is quiet these days. The US is facing massive problems due to the virus. Merkel is in home office. I can’t bring myself to follow the news very much. It is too stressful.
Day twelve – 30.03.2020
The virus seems to be melting out of my consciousness. It is weird: everything is shut down, people are panicking, people are dying due to the virus, but I don’t think about it. My life has shrunk to my apartment and the park outside.
It snowed today. Big, fat snowflakes, the biggest I’ve seen this winter. We went outside and laughed, it was beautiful. This time feels like the days between Christmas and New Years’: time seems to be endless, everybody is on a break, nobody seems to be doing anything, life is mostly stopped, calm.
Day 14 – 1.04.2020
Two whole weeks. Wow. April Fools! I wish.
Day 15 – 2.04.2020
Sweden is slowly restricting more public spheres, in the US more people have registered as unemployed than ever, the strict measures in Germany were extended until April 19. Told you we wouldn’t come for Easter, Mama.
I was biking today. I went to the Kanzleramt and Reichstag (Chancellor’s office and parlament) – it was weird. There were people around, but very very few. Two police officers stood watch on the stairs of the Reichstag, overseeing the empty park. I went to lay down several paper airplanes for Mission Lifeline. There were five of us and maybe twenty airplanes. One woman said there had been many over the course of the day, but they were put away.
Note: Mission Lifeline is an organization that charters flights from refugee camps at the European borders and does political lobbying so that the refugees are allowed to enter Germany.
Day 17 – 4.4.2020
I was angry today. Frustrated at technology. I went for a run to calm my nerves, but it didn’t help. There are so many people outside, even in groups of five, although the official limit is two. I am very happy there were no police in the park. In the inner city, even single people are being shushed out of parks. The police union stated a few days back that they would have to close the parks soon, although till now no new statement has been made. I seriously hope they don’t close the parks. Where will we go otherwise? People need to move! Even people reading solitarily on benches have been asked to leave, “because of the picture it presents”. What is this stupidity? There is no risk of infection because of sitting on a bench. We should be able to hold on to these small moments of beauty.
My Lebanese aunt hasn’t answered me in weeks. The situation there is eerie: the state is recently bankrupt, the health systems fragile. Till now there are very few cases but it is hard to imagine what would happen if the numbers start sky-rocketing. My aunt is a nurse, at the forefront of the battle. I am scared for her and for my friends.
Day 18 – 5.04.2020
In the web seminar last Friday, one professor mentioned the phrase “disaster utopias”. I was intrigued and started researching them, although I did not find much in the sense of anthropological literature. What I did find was the book “A Paradise Built in Hell” by Rebecca Solnit, whom I only know as a feminist writer, not a sociological one. The book wasn’t available to read online and all purchasable copies for less than 20 euros were sold out, so I signed up for an audiobook streaming service specifically to listen to this book. I wonder how much Big Data is profiting from this whole crisis.
The book is very good, although a bit difficult to follow when listened to. As far as I understand by now, a disaster utopia is the state of feeling calm, connected to others, and happy during a disaster. Laws and common social rules no longer apply, solidarity is great, and neighbors band together against whatever disaster they are facing. This state is always only short-term but is remembered as a beautiful and blissful time.
Day 19 (written on 21) – 7.04.2020
I got tested for Corona today. First my flat mate was having unclear symptoms, then I started getting them. I was pretty sure I didn’t have the virus, but the majority of cases are completely asymptomatic, as far as I know. My partner is supposed to go back to her apartment tomorrow, so that we can have some space. Suddenly the prospect of being completely quarantined seemed so much more frightening. We have gotten through two weeks just fine, why do two weeks more seem so intimidating, so endless? It is very necessary to go outside. I think I would go crazy if I had to stay inside for two whole weeks.
The testing was eerie. I walked to the clinic, was redirected to a specific entry and sent to a group of tents. There I was asked to fill out a questionnaire. After a while I was ushered into another waiting room and from there into a sealed cabin. The doctors seemed quite calm and friendly, not overly harassed or as if they had been working nonstop. They told me that my symptoms would usually not qualify for testing, but as I am working as a volunteer for a food bank, they would make an exception. I waited some more for the actual testing, which harbored a very different atmosphere: the nurses there were intimidating, asking me how I would get home and handing me a large stack of papers stating that under no circumstances I am allowed to leave the house before the test result comes back negative. What do people do who rely on public transport to get to the testing center? There are not that many spaces to get tested in Berlin. Not everybody can walk or bike. How do they get home? Does the clinic pay a taxi? How does the taxi driver keep safe? Are the tested expected to pay themselves? What if they don’t have the money?
Day 20 – 7.4.2020
A feeling of normality has started to creep in. I am missing going outside less, although every time I do leave the house I wish I could be outside so much more. I am slightly worried about this weekend, as Friday and Monday are the Easter holidays and the supermarkets will be closed. But as we have made it this long with slightly unclear food supplies, we will make it through one weekend of closed shops. The only thing I would be sad about is if I couldn’t get any eggs – I want to make my Easter brioche, hold on to some small part of tradition. I will probably be spending Easter Sunday alone. Not that it is an incredibly important holiday to me, but I do miss my family.
Day 21 – 8.4.2020
Today was difficult. The morning was fine – I woke up early, had a chat with my family, and studied. I was anticipating filming another performance in the afternoon, one that will be part of a web series, so a big deal. By the time I could start filming however, it had become more and more difficult to focus on anything. I could feel myself slipping into a depressive state: nothing mattered anymore, I didn’t want to do anything. The performance I wrote yesterday night, the one I was trying to film, is about exactly this state: being locked in and trying to be creative. In the end I forced myself to film the biggest part, mostly because I couldn’t bear the idea of having to do the complicated makeup over again on another day, although I have plenty of time. In the middle of filming I desperately needed a break, so I went outside – makeup be damned. For context, I was wearing very real-looking drag makeup. That means I try to look as much as a cis man as possible. Most people in the park did not remark upon me, a sign that the makeup was well done. I did get some looks though. I don’t like going out in public spaces in drag very much, but today I couldn’t have cared less.
The new normality scares me. Hungary had officially been labeled a dictatorship. Authoritarian tendencies have crept up in many countries. Where will this development go? How much freedom will be regained when this crisis is over?
Day 26 – 13.4.2020 – Easter Monday
Almost four weeks. I still can’t grasp the length of this mess. Slowly, a new normality is creeping in, surprising me at times. I could never stand staying in my apartment the entire day. I needed fresh air, needed to move, needed to be under open sky. Now my apartment is my entire time, only interspersed with trips to the park or the grocery store. I helped with a food donation organization on Saturday. Shortly before I went I realized it would be the first time in weeks I would be interacting with strangers, meeting new people. I got really excited. Amazing how this little thing suddenly became so special.
The following measures will be debated on Wednesday. The numbers of new infections have gone down significantly, I dare to hope that the measures will be loosened.
I found out my younger brother is ignoring the lockdown to go visit his new girlfriend in a different town. I am really mad, what if he spreads the virus? What if people like him, who also outwards give the impression that the measures are not being held, cause them to be prolonged even more? And wasn’t he the one who, just a few weeks ago, told me off for worrying about the isolation?
Easter seemed to be cancelled. Nothing splits the holidays from the normal days. There are no festivities, but also not the usual feeling of slowing down, as we’ve already done a full stop.
Day 27 – 14.4.2020
Somehow, interacting with others leaves me feeling more isolated. Remembering that the world outside exists shows me exactly how locked in I am. Every time I got outside or interact with someone on a computer screen, I get a rush of happiness, but afterwards am left sadder and more exhausted than before. I miss my friends more than I can say, but I also just miss people. I miss interacting with strangers. I miss looking at people on the subway. I miss smiling at the barista when getting a coffee. I miss staring aimlessly out a café window and seeing people walk by. Just now, I participated in an online fitness class for a very specific group, which meant there were only nine people present. Two remarked afterwards how nice it was to be able to participate without having to show their face, as they were feeling very body dysphoric and would have not left the house on regular circumstances. I understand that this is a great opportunity for some people facing these problems. Giving them the option of not being seen makes things more accessible. For me, not being in the same room as others makes me feel isolated and alone. How can we bridge these different experiences? Can there be a way to incorporate both needs?
Day 28 – 15.4.2020
Full four weeks. Oh man. Today further restrictions were discussed, reaching till April 20th. I was carefully optimistic, but too early so: the restrictions are continuing in this form till minimum May 4th. But there are harder blows: cafés, bars and restaurants will stay completely shut, which will threaten their existence. Additionally, all large scale events till August (!) are cancelled. What is a large scale event still has to be defined, but we can forget about the festival in June. And still I hear voices say people shouldn’t be complaining, people are dying, so we have to refrain for certain things. When will these voices understand that people are dying either way? That this crisis massively threatens the marginalized, women prominently among them, and brings them to the brink of existential crisis? The pandemic shows how male-oriented the leadership system is after all. No mention that women are additionally shouldering even more care and house work.
Someone I know commented on the restriction: “No compulsory masks, how dumb!”. I don’t think compulsory masks automatically are useful. When used incorrectly, masks can do more harm than good.
Day 29 – 16.04.2020
I had a very up-and-down-day. In the morning I had a big disagreement with one of my friends about how the restrictions are being slowly lifted. She thought they should not be lifted until everybody, especially a common friend who has a serious disease, can safely go outside again. I don’t think that is a good measure of things. Of course I want this mutual friend to be able to go outside and live their usual life again, but will that time arrive sooner if we all stay indoors even more? Where do you put the balance between the freedom of the few vulnerable people and the many, who suffer more from lockdown?
I noticed how even the slowest form of the restrictions being lifted sparked a furious longing for this lockdown to be over. I struggled to understand why people in my circle of friends and age group still wanted to restrict seeing each other. The full emotional toll of this situation is yet to come, I’m afraid.
Day 32 – 19.4.2020
It feels like people are coming out of their shells again. I rode my bike through the city yesterday. It was emptier than usual, which is very pleasant when riding a bike. There were stories that the government had reassigned some lanes to bicycles, because less people were using cars and more people bicycles due to the virus. I haven’t seen any reassigned lanes, but I do like the idea.
Day 36 – 23.4.2020
Imagine the forest around Tschernobyl is burning, has been for weeks, and nobody cares. This is what’s happening. The topic has been floating through the media, condensed in the corner “Everything but Corona”. The world is ending and nobody cares. Time seems frozen. All plans are suspended, so planning is useless. The day before yesterday there would have been a show I deeply cared about, helped plan and was really looking forward to. Puff. It barely makes a difference anymore. What good is planning for. Time has stopped existing. A full month in lockdown. I haven’t seen my friends in weeks.
Saturday I took the subway for the first time in a month, at night, back home. The way there I had taken my bike (more than ten kilometers!), to avoid the subway. Also because riding my bike gives me a feeling of connection with the city. On the bike, many things seem the same as before the lockdown. There are less cars, but only barely. The city is still standing. Sometimes you have to remind yourself of that. Yesterday I also took the subway to meet two friends in a park. There were so many people in the park. I took it all in as if it were the first time. I can’t grasp how warm it already is. Spring seems to have been cancelled, although it gets shorter every year anyway. Incredible that I can stand being in my room so much.
Maybe I will become a disaster anthropologist. Everything else seems so irrelevant. “A Paradise built in Hell” by Rebecca Solnit fascinates me. I want to write about what this pandemic is doing with us on a societal level.
Day 40 – 27.4.2020
According to the bible, the time of lent would be over now.
Day 41 – 28.9.2020
My partner and I had a date yesterday. We went to a park, had some food and wine and went back to their place. In other times this would be completely unremarkable. Now, it feels like defying logic to gain a little bit of normality.
First of all, getting food. We went to a sit-down restaurant and ordered food to take away. A few months ago I would have felt slightly abashed, it is not common to go to a restaurant for takeaway. Maybe we would have just gotten more typical takeaway food or sat down and actually eaten in the restaurant. Yesterday, the restaurant had its front gate sealed and a friendly waiter took our order at the gate. Secondly, going to the park. This has been common in the last few weeks too, but is still officially discouraged. You are only supposed to leave the house for important business. Many people have been ignoring this rule though, and have been sitting in parks all over Berlin. I honestly don’t understand why it is forbidden, as long as you keep the safety distance. Yesterday we sat in the park for two hours with many people around us and it just felt so… delightfully normal, if you discount the underlying fear the police might come at any moment. Thirdly, going to my partner’s house. Usually I am there at least once a week, yesterday was the first time in six weeks I came to their house and even the district it is in! We had to take the subway, which is another thing I have been mostly avoiding for weeks.
Day 44 – 1.5.2020
It’s not any day, it’s Tag der Arbeit, labor day, Kampftag, day of struggle. Usually, tens of thousands of people would be on the streets today, protesting the traditional Nazi demonstrations, protesting for better working conditions, against capitalism and for a more just system. Nobody knows what will happen today. There are still protests going on, but they call for keeping distance. It is unclear whether that will be possible though, as the police have shown several times that they don’t care about how well protesters stay apart. The police have actively forced protesters who were maintaining a safety distance together in a tight circle. Usually the police don’t even wear masks.
Yesterday there were razzias against mosques and other institutions in Germany that allegedly have a connection to the Hisbollah. In one of the mosques, the police raided the entire building for several hours and left destruction behind. They ripped apart Korans. It is not allowed to touch the Koran with bare hands, and they ripped them to shreds. I am still shaking with anger. I really want to join the protests, to do something, to make this incredible injustice visible. But I am scared to go. What if police trap me in a close group with others? What if I get the virus because of that? What if they arrest me? I am not a violent person, but simply being on the streets is cause for arrest these days.
Update, several hours later:
I went to a protest, but not to the biggest one. That would have been too much for me, I was afraid of getting arrested even though I would have loved to be on the streets, loud, active. So many struggles are not being seen, so many people ignored. The car industry is calling for subventions so people buy more new cars. Idiocy, I say. We need less cars on the streets, no matter how efficient. This moment should function as a momentum towards a sustainable and environmentally just system. The calls for going back to a status quo that never was sustainable, to push traditional economy over all other concerns, are woefully ignorant and downright dangerous. It is the moment to reorganize everything, but big bosses don’t want to lose a single cent and many people are afraid of the changes that might come.
Day 45 – 2.5.2020
The restrictions were prolonged, again. Only a few days but still. Some articles are starting to talk about a second wave that might come in fall and how it could potentially be much more deadly.