15 March 2021 – Berlin, Germany

By Juliane Schumacher

For a week we had snow. The city became a different world. It was like being on vacation, like exploring another place. Except that in this case, we had not travelled there, this place has come to us.

When in mid-February, in the middle of the second lockdown, the weather forecast warned of a snowstorm to come, I did not take it seriously. Our old neighbour, meeting my children in the courtyard, told them that when he was their age, they had snow as high as he was and school was cancelled because it was not possible to get anywhere. But the last time there was been a lot of snow in Berlin was more than ten years ago.

When it started snowing lightly on Sunday, I searched for the old red toboggan my siblings and I used to ride when we were children. My younger child sitting on it, we marched to the nearest park, enjoying the fine snowflakes swirling around us. The next morning we ran to the windows to look what the night has brought us. And we were not dissapointed: There was snow. Not more than a metre, as there had been in the stories of our neighbour, but at least 20, 30 centimetres. Enough to go to the emergency care in school and kindergarten by toboggan. Enough to make the next days special to us.

The whole city looked different. Everything was exciting, much lighter than in the dark winter weeks before. In the afternoons I went with the kids to a park close to our home, where a small slope attracted all the children of the neighbourhood. They went down the hill on toboggans or plastic bags, their cheeks red from the cold, laughing and running, for hours. After the first days, the sun came out, the white snow sparkling in the light. I met the other parents, many of whom I had not talked to for months, being everyone confined to their homes due to the ongoing contact restrictions.

We started to bring hot apple juice and home-baked cakes. On the small water course in the middle of the park, frozen now, my daughter was able to try out the new ice skates she had got as a Christmas present but had not been able to use so far, with all sports facilities closed. At the week-end we drove to Potsdam and had a walk through the park of the castle. Here, further away from the city, the snow was still high and untouched. Snow on the branches of the pine trees, snow on head and arms of the statues guarding the palaces, on the golden roof of the Dragon house. It looked like a place from a fairy tale.

It got cold. Very cold. The night before Monday saw – 15°C even in the city centre. In the morning, very early, I drove to the Tempelhofer Feld, the former airport turned into a park, which is close to our home. The air was so cold it seemed opaque, almost white. I was almost alone. The paths and meadows had disappeared, the field completely covered in snow, the footprints of previous visitors now frozen. I started walking over the vast empty space. The only sound was the crunching of snow under my feet. A few birds in the rare, naked trees, despite the cold. The wind still brought the smell of freshly baking from the Bahlsen factory, behind the embankment of the trains to the south.

Still now, when I pass there by bike, I remember how it looked, completely covered by snow.

Now, four weeks later, the snow has long gone, everyone has returned home and the city to its ugly late winter face. I wonder why I still think so often of this one week. Maybe because, in a way, it was the replacement of the vacation we had to cancel due to the travel bans still in place, the break that I was longing for — a break from life in lockdown, a lockdown now going on for more than four months and, in total, for more than a year, a lockdown that has left nothing except work and home work, nothing to look forward to, with cafés, restaurants, bars, shops, sport and cultural facilities all closed, being just allowed to meet a single other person beyond the members of one’s own household. A lockdown that seems not to come to an end.  Last year, I made notes in my agenda on to do during lockdown and, as I read them now, I see I expected it to take several weeks, or, at maximum, three months. Now I am not even able anymore to imagine how this all will end, if there will ever be a normal life again, whatever that means.

Everything is going wrong. Chaos around the vaccinations and tests, with websites and hotlines breaking down, less serum and fewer tests than expected so that appointments have to be cancelled. Institutions that do not have any valid data on the state of the pandemic, due to changes in testing strategies and capacities every few weeks. Politicians stepping down because they have used mask deals to enrich themselves. People talking of a third wave and calling for even stricter rules, others marching for an end to the lockdown. And the rest, like me, with fog in their head, just hoping that all this will be over one day.

I feel I am in need of a future, a sign that there will be a life after lockdown, that we will overcome all this isolation, be able to go out again, to visit each other, celebrate. Will we still be able to enjoy being among many others? Or will the unease stay with us that now overcomes me every time I get close to more than a few people?

In spite of all the uncertainty, my cousin and I decide to have a birthday party in the summer. We make the reservation at a location outside the city, with a terrace and a playground for the children, we make invitations and send them out. Will it ever take place? Or become one more in the long list of suspended events? We will just know a few weeks before.