Berlin is on the weirdest, rubbishest, stupidest shutdown imaginable – schools and kitas are closed, pubs, clubs, and also Media Markt. So what is everyone doing? I’ll tell you what everyone is doing. Everyone is hot-footing it to the nearest Spielplatz, letting their kids snot all over slides and swap snacks, and posting defiant selfies to Facebook.
It’s so weird for me, because I never knew what social creatures Germans are. Like, for instance: when I’d only been in Germany for a few months, I asked a nice, pretty, mousey-blonde girl I knew, let’s call her Jana, if she would like to come to my birthday – party is too strong a word – drinks – in two days time. Now you guys have to realise, that as an ageing granny, when I arrived in Germany, there was no internet at home and no Facebook in our phones – to be honest, I didn’t even have a mobile phone yet – and I was kind of sad and lonely and a bit bored, in a way I haven’t been since around 2007, a lot of the time. I didn’t have a television in my flat, a tiny, one-room place, with a toilet in the Treppenhaus outside, costing €120 a month, because there was no shower, we used to wash in the kitchen sink, and, to be completely honest, now, when I look back, I can’t exactly remember what I did do every day. I think I read a lot, and wrote in my diary. I remember I used to list people I met in my dairy and assess my chances of them becoming my friend.
“I am going to have drinks for my birthday on Thursday. Would you like to come? In Ankerklause?”
“Oh, no!” Jana said cheerfully. “I don’t think so. I’m going to inhale. I think I’m getting a cold.”
It was the first time I’d heard this word – inhalieren – to inhale. It’s what German people do, especially women, especially, but not only, white women, to stop them getting colds. The terrible thing is, after my one million zillion squillion gadzillion years in this country, I do have to admit it works. You put a load of really hot water – just boiled – in a bowl, you can put other stuff in there too, lemons and ginger and sage and stuff, put a towel over your head, get your head in the bowl and breathe in deeply. It literally stops you getting a cold, but is, obviously, a very bad excuse for not wanting to see someone on their birthday.
“Inhale?” I asked.
“Inhale steam!”, she said, and laughed. “But have a fun birthday, won’t you!”
I went home and wrote in my diary:
“Well, Jana is definitely not going to become my friend, as she obviously hates my fucking guts and couldn’t EVEN be bothered to make up a half-way decent excuse for a party.”
What’s my point? Twenty years in this country and I never noticed that Germans in general and German-Berliners in particular loved socialising more than health. That playdates were more important than life itself. That the playground was literally worth dying – and killing – for. UNTIL NOW. But fucking hell, they are addicted to socialising – and even more addicted to playdates at playgrounds. I literally had no idea.
So that sexy German doctor, Dr. Drosten, who Germans and German Berliners love so fucking much, is trying his hardest to ensure people don’t descend into panic. I personally think he has his priorities all wrong, and should actually, instead of doing his podcast, just repeat the words: “NO IT ISN’T A BAD FLU. YES YOU PROBABLY WON’T DIE BUT ER, IT’S GOING TO BE BAD ANYWAY, START TAKING IT SERIOUSLY YOU FUCKING IDIOTS.” Like 3000 times. Just cancel the podcast and do a guided meditation where he says this again and again and again and maybe at some point people will think Corona is real. But instead he tries to be all sachlich and reasonable and say things like: “Of course you can still go shopping! And meet up with friends outside! There’s no need to panic! Just use your common sense!”
To be quite honest, that’s not the message I think these party-mad, slightly fascist, desperate-for-the-weak-to-die chilled out Berliners, German and expat alike, really need to hear. But you know. What do I know? I’m not a very sexy, slightly boring virus doctor, what do I know. I do know, however, that whatever he says in his podcast is heard in the ears of Berliners as (and imagine this spoken in the voice of Candace from Club Penguin saying party in my igloo): “Corona, Schmorona! Only losers care! Bukkake party for exactly 48 people on the side of the Spree? I bring the Spätichampagne, you guys bring the Ketamine! YOLO!”
I know playgrounds are outside, and there is fresh air outside, and the virus doctors say fresh air is lovely and healthy and kills the virus. I also know that when the Berlin Health Senator revoked the German playground ban, she told people to stay 1.5 metres aways from each other. Here’s the thing though: Kids never stay 1.5 metres away from each other, ever, if you have the necessary parenting skills to keep kids 1.5 metres away from each other, you can fucking manage to keep them home from the playground. And secondly, if enough kids are crawling all over the playground equipment, snotting on the toys, and bringing their parents sandy ice-cream, BASICALLY KITAS. I’m not a virus doctor. But what is the fucking point of closing kitas and then organising playdates at the playground? What is the point of that exactly?
I’m just surprised by how sociable German-Berliners are suddenly being. I always thought expat Berliners were party animals, of course. But I never noticed white German Berliners, the Altberliner, being that sociable. To be honest, it seems to be like when it won’t potentially kill a granny or an asthmatic, German Berliners are NOT THAT SOCIABLE AT ALL. They do things like say no, I can’t come to your party, I have to inhale steam in my bathroom and also weird sociopathic stuff like INVITE AS MANY KIDS TO THE BIRTHDAY PARTY AS YEARS YOUR KID IS OLD, a concept so strange and fucked up that you have to explain it to a non-German 74 times, in 74 different ways, using diagrams and patience, before they finally, finally, kind of get it.
“So if they’re a year old, you don’t have a party?”
“You have a party with one guest.”
“A party with one guest?”
“That’s not a party though?”
“I know, Mum, I know.”
“What about all the other people who live in the house? Do they have to leave?”
“I think they’re allowed to stay.”
“But what if someone pops in for a cup of tea?”
“You have to send them away, sorry, we are having a party with one person right now.”
“Why – why – why – why – why – why – why would anybody do this?”
But suddenly, when it will potentially kill people, suddenly white German Berliners cannot verzichten auf playgrounds, playdates or impromptu gatherings by the Spree. It’s just amazing for me, after 20 years in this miserable, heartless, cold, cold city, to discover that the right to socialise is not just worth dying but also KILLING for. You’d think people who placed so much importance on social life would smile at strangers a bit more?
Some boroughs have banned playgrounds – Mitte and Spandau, for example. But the boroughs which haven’t still have playgrounds teeming with life. The playgrounds aren’t just as full as when it won’t kill people. THEY ARE FULLER. If it means people will die, suddenly middle-class Germans get mediterranean as fuck.
I have to say: I am surprised at the smug German Berliners, and also disgusted by the smug expats. “What are you worried about? You probably won’t die!” Probably not dying is people’s only aim in life – probably not dying but possibly killing others. I hope in years to come, when you look back at everything you did this weekend, you feel the joy and satisfaction you so obviously felt yesterday. I think it was ridiciculously reckless to interpret Drosten’s advice that you could still go outside and meet friends to mean that you must meet up with as many people as possible and have as much fun as if the virus didn’t exist. People in Berlin are partying and spielplatzing so much that it’s obvious they aren’t just not bothered about flattening the curve, but wanting to curve it up as much as fucking possible. And sure, the old and the weak will suffer the most. But we are all going to suffer. And a lot of people are going to die. So I dunno. Well done, everyone.