“Are you still sleeping with that old boy? The one who didn’t know that Wales wasn’t part of England?” I ask my tiny friend Zandra, who can sometimes have really bad taste in men, especially old men,
“Of course not!” she says, outraged. “I’ve been socially distancing! I’m only having casual sex with people I actually like!”
It’s the first time I’ve seen her since the half-hearted German lockdown ended. We’re sitting by the Paul-Linke-Ufer and not sharing two separate bottles of cider. I keep thinking I see Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten walk past, so I smile. But it’s just a vaguely sexy, fairly sad German guy walking with a bike. I have to admit, it’s great to be out. I always thought I was a hermit, but after six weeks stuck inside, I actually truly enjoy going out again.
It’s a great feeling.
The constant, slight boredom – a constant, slight panic I wasn’t having fun and would rather be at home on Facebook – has disappeared. I now know I do want to go out sometimes.
“He really is old,” she says. “He’s an old man. He smells old. He feels old. He feels wrinkly. His waist seems like it has arthritis.”
“I was surprised by how old he was,” I say, diplomatically.
“You know how you notice how old he is?” She says. “He still says polizeiliche Anmeldung. Have you ever noticed that? Old people are always saying polizeiliche Anmeldung?”
“What?” I say.
“You never noticed? Old people think it’s called polizeiliche Anmeldung. I guess in the olden days – like in the sixties and stuff – you had to go and anmelden at the police station? You never noticed?”
I stare at Zandra, horrified. I had, in fact, not noticed that. I had very much not noticed that. And I’ll tell you something else I hadn’t noticed. I had not noticed that young people don’t call it a polizeliche Anmeldung anymore.
And I will tell you another thing I hadn’t noticed: that I am an old person now, my skin wrinkled, my vagina crumpled and crinkly like the pages of an old, dusty bible. My body is so old and ancient that when Germany’s top euthanasia-ist talks about letting old fogies die of Corona to reduce overpopulation, it is, basically, me she is talking about. I am old now and death is, quite literally, just around the corner.
I have been anmelding in Germany for 20 years. When I arrived, I was petrified of the idea. I thought it was, basically, Stasi as fuck. The police had a big database with the name and address of everyone in the fucking country? What? I channelled Kafka, registered myself and felt scared and petrified and horrified the whole time I was doing it.
I’ve got used to it now, though. This is what 20 years in Germany has done to me. I now often forget that you don’t need to register with the authorities in Britain. To be honest, a part of me, a tiny part of me, still thinks it’s weird and oppressive. Why are we slagging China or North Korea off? But 95 percent of me thinks it’s pretty practical and useful. During that awful year after the Brexit referendum, when Polish teenagers were being asked to submit 20 years of electricity bills with their names on them or leave the country immediately, it seemed to me that the only possible solution would be to implement some kind of Anmeldung system. If you are going to be Stasi as fuck, at least do it right.
But what about all the White Germans who think the Corona App is creepy? Or an Impfpflicht somehow a terrible human rights abuse? Or those weirdos who think it’s child abuse to put picture of your kid blowing out their birthday cake candles on Instagram? I don’t get it. If I was 100 percent on board with Anmeldung – with being literally legally required to tell the fucking government where I lived – I wouldn’t care about my privacy in any other way. But I guess, despite 20 years here, I’ll never really be German.