14 June, Berlin, Germany

By Juliane Schumacher

Today, we spent the day at the lake, for the first time this year. It was a warm and humid day, the water still cold, the place not very crowded. There had been warnings of a thunderstorm in the afternoon, but it never arrived. We swam to the two small islands in the middle of the lake, where the kids could swing into the water from a rope somebody had knotted to the branch of an old tree. This day felt almost normal, like any other summer weekend day.

There have been many first times over the last weeks. Protests have spread over the killing of George Floyd, and for the first time in months the front story of my newspaper is not about the virus. For the first time since the lockdown I have been at the hairdresser’s. I have used public transport to go to work, feeling strange at first with the mask that is required now, with people trying to sit and stand as far away from each other as possible.

And for the first time I have been sitting in a café again, something I have missed much more than expected during lockdown. It was in Potsdam, a beautiful small city beside Berlin, famous for its castles, on the first day cafés were allowed to open. Shop and café owners had, cleaned everything, and put their tables outside, and were waiting anxiously for customers to come. But they did not. At mid-day, the city center still looked deserted, a lonely couple sitting drinking  among lines of empty chairs. Only the police was passing through the streets, checking if all the places met the requirements of social distancing.  Were people still reluctant to go out because they feared infection? Or do they have to get used to being among people again, to leave their house simply to have a coffee in the sun?

The divisions and tensions that have emerged over the last weeks are softening with the easing of lockdown measures, divisions that have split parent councils, working groups, families. Between those who fought for an even stricter lockdown and a continuation of measures until the virus might have (nearly) disappeared, and those who argued that the costs of the lockdown were too high to continue, who wanted the measures to be lifted as fast as possible. Between those who still stay at home as much as they can, and those who have returned, as far as possible, to their normal life. In our family Whatsapp group my sister had a heated discussion with my brother after she announed she would join a small demonstration in front of the city council, mothers with small children demanding the re-opening of  schools and childcare facilities with social distancing. My brother accused her of following conspiracy theories, of siding with the demonstrations against the lockdown that have emerged all over the country and that, according to media reports, are dominated by right-wing movements. They did not talk to each other for weeks.

Bars have reopened in Berlin, but it seems people do not feel like drinking and going out. The shops complain that people do not spend their money, afraid of losing their jobs, of what will happen over the next months. In the streets around my place, the first signs have appeared on windows: To rent. The cosmetician where I used to go from time to time told me she will close at the end of the month. My gymnastic teacher too wrote to me that she had to close her studio, she had not been eligable for the state‘s emergency funds. I am missing the classes I had attended for almost 15 years. The dance studio where my daughter is taking classes is also in danger, trying to survive with the help of a support campaign. I wonder what the city will look like in the next year. How many of the small shops, cafés, places into which people have put their efforts  and dreams, will still be there — places that, for me, were one of the reasons I loved to live in Berlin?

So I share the mood of the city. I had been looking forward to return to our routine. I am happy to see more people at work again, happy that our working group will finally be able to meet again in the garden. That my kids can go back to their sports classes, even if they just take place outside, in the park. Everything is taking place outside now. In the parks I see people doing yoga classes, practising Kung-fu, taking dancing lessons. If schools will reopen after the summer break in August as planned, my life will be almost back to normal. And still, it doesn’t feel like before. The past months have left me with a certain anxiety, a feeling of insecurity that I am not able to chase away.  Some evenings, I still check the numbers of infections, afraid they might rise again.

Today the borders have re-opened, at least between most of the European wtates. On the radio, the first travelers tell their stories, how it feels to be in the airport now, almost alone. But people will not travel: most Germans have announced they will spend their summer vacation in the country. The coasts will be crowded this year. I had been thinking about taking the kids to Italy, now that it is possible again, but when I check I realised that so far there are no trains. And there are still a lot of restrictions, if you come back through Austria, you are not allowed to make a stop. We will, it seems, spend this summer in my parents’ garden instead.