Hamburg Day Off in the Time of Corona: Took the Ferry…

Well, before I took the ferry, I actually took the subway to get to the ferry. This is big. In fact, it’s enormous, or it certainly feels that way. I haven’t been on ANY kind of public transport since March. We were sent off to work from home, accompanied by regular reading of recommendations on the news of what not to do. Since I was lucky enough to be able to walk where I needed to in those months, for the first time ever in now over 11 years, I completely stayed away from what had been a constant companion in my Hamburg life, the local transportation network.

I’ve always been a walker and I’m incredibly fortunate in how Hamburg is built as a city in that respect. But this week the thought of getting on a train kept popping up, and finally I just knew I had to try it again. The main reasons are winning back my daily courage day by day and hopefully contributing to not being completely overwhelmed once it’s possible to travel safely again, whenever that may be. That said, it’s important to remember that in cases like these this is all a voluntary choice and you really have to listen to your feelings, sometimes even on the day, planning or no planning. Everyone is different. For some it’s no big deal. You just go. It’s not really so different from going grocery shopping, is it? Some didn’t get to choose. Still, for me, it’s definitely a leap.

Contrary to my expectations, my tension didn’t mount as I set off. In fact, the preliminary stage of deciding and waiting had been more intense, but once I was on my way, the process just got divided into tasks as I used to do during my travels. Walk down the street, put mask on before entering the train station. Notice with relief after careful scanning of the platform that everyone is standing at a distance and wearing masks with full nose and mouth coverage. Mentally pat myself for successful post-morning-rush timing. Get on the train. Reminders to keep the mask on during the whole ride are played on the loudspeaker at every stop. In German and English. Notice, incensed, the woman opposite reading a book with her mask pulled down from her nose. NO.

Get off at the Landungsbrücken station in the Port of Hamburg. Stare, because the station is cleaner than I’ve ever seen it. The usually present construction barriers are gone. Go down to the dock and board the local ferry, which basically also acts as a bus and is part of the city transport. Again gratefully notice that it’s not busy and people are following rules. Get a seat on a row on the outside deck and no one else sits there, hallelujah. Then see a group of six middle-aged men confidently making their way to the front of the deck, all of them laughing, clearly convinced of their coolness. The leader is wearing a leather jacket. They stop to take group selfies, which is when I see that leather jacket isn’t wearing a mask. Immediately a severe female voice demands he put one on, “…also for taking pictures”, or else he can disembark.

It’s wonderful to feel the wind from the Elbe river again and see the familiar landmarks along the way. My original tentative plan was to get out at Neumühlen/ Övelgönne and walk a while, but big rain clouds roll in and soon it starts to drizzle insistently. OK, that answers that question, though basically at that point it simply felt like a bit much to do. As we say in the family, not everything at once (не всё сразу in Russian). Somewhat reluctantly I change spaces to take shelter on the lower inside deck, where there’s still plenty of room. I just stay seated at the end stop. After a few minutes the ferry turns around and heads back to Landungsbrücken, so this is a great (and cheap!) alternative to booking an actual harbour boat trip with a company. It’s not raining anymore and the sun is shining again, so I gratefully go back up and once again get a good seat.

Even in these times, or precisely because, humans will still exhibit strange behavior. The maybe ten-year-old girl also sitting downstairs at first jumps up after the rain stopped, runs past me…and I notice she’s barefoot. She stays barefoot until we dock and, despite my optimistic hopes, disembarks still sockless and shoeless. I don’t see her anymore afterwards, because I concentrate on keeping my distance and making my way back to the subway.

That’s enough adventures for one day.

 

Hamburg in the Time of Corona: Diary Note #2

“Get out of your comfort zone! Do something this weekend that you’re too lazy to do or that you don’t trust yourself to do.” This was the energetic suggestion, in German, on the tear-off calendar a lovely friend gave me. The thing has 365 ideas for 2020. Since March, I’ve smiled at some of them, sighed wistfully at others and filed away a few in hopes of a future where it might be possible to do more again.

I’d say we’re very fortunate in Hamburg with the freedom we do have, knock on wood, and even if it isn’t always easy, especially mentally and emotionally, I’m prepared to wait things out and follow social distancing rules if they are prolonged. Like many, I hope we won’t have to wait too long, though at the same time it’s just not possible to predict. Still, it seems a small price to pay for not only reaching a point where no new corona infections are reported, but to be able to hug loved ones.

I don’t know if the comfort zone exists any more, these days at least. But doing things I haven’t trusted myself to do for a long time? Heck yeah, where do I start? Maybe I should get on the bus again? On the subway? Push it and pass two stops instead of one? Touch a door handle with my bare hands? Stop repeating to colleagues and friends that I’ve “just washed my hands” if I give them something?

To be honest, while I’ve stopped feeling scared and exposed when going grocery shopping, the process is still plenty outside of my comfort zone, enhanced by the mask element, though I occasionally forget and just wear it on autopilot. The thing is, what I don’t trust myself to do now are things I used to do before, they just have to wait due to external circumstances. At least I don’t go, “Wow, real people!” anymore when I go outside. Progress.

Weekday Morning: Stream of Consciousness

Love summer and that morning light, so much easier to get up than in winter. Every season has its place, but this is just so nice, even if it did rain the other day, but I don’t mind, as long as it’s not windy, because then I can’t walk peacefully under an umbrella, and I’ve always loved walking under an umbrella since I was a kid, but only when it’s not windy, because then you’re not walking, you’re fighting, and then the umbrella breaks, and you’re drenched, and you have to get a new one. How many umbrellas have I bought in the last 11 years of living in Hamburg?

And there’s always that person, maybe one in 5, who will ask you in puzzlement, “But why do you use umbrellas, don’t you have a raincoat?” No, I don’t, I have an outdoor coat, but I somehow don’t feel like getting a raincoat, because I consider the only proper raincoat I had was the one we got when I was 8 during the most colossal downpour I had ever seen in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and we got a set in different sizes for the whole family, they were bright yellow and had Mickey Mouse on the back, and I’ve never wanted to get a new one since, even after I outgrew my raincoat…

Where was I? Does it look like it’s going to rain? Go to balcony, open window, look out, sniff the air, that one always works, check the weather app, hmmm, I guess I’ll just pack the umbrella, maybe this time the one with the dots that change colour when it rains on them, so cool, I was so surprised when my best friend handed me that thing when we were out for my birthday, I know where we live and that it’s a rainy city, but why an umbrella…

Must not forget the cup of ginger tea, it used to burn when I’d drink it, but come corona and suddenly I’m downing that thing every morning like orange juice in the olden days and now it’s practically the same as drinking mint tea, wonder if it influences anything, but my friends have been talking about drinking it for years and I did feel weird the other day when I forgot, though it’s funny to remember how back in Russia I steadfastly refused tea the more it was commented on that I didn’t drink it (“WHAT? You don’t drink tea?”), and then I moved to my student dorm here and suddenly it was the key to socializing in the kitchen, get a cup, a teabag, turn on that kettle, start chatting, chat more as the tea steeps, who knew, and now I have several bright boxes lining my kitchen cupboard, though I didn’t get them for the packaging alone, hah, but what’s so bad about liking a pretty box…

OK, so how did I end up with two bags again, but I can’t walk to work in those heels, so I’ll pack them in the tote and walk in those sneakers, but honest, I just want to wear those heels, so I’ll change shoes in the office, and the tupperware with lunch still fits, though I’m glad I made enough for two days, so I won’t have to carry any food with me tomorrow, YES, done, and did I put my mask in my bag…

Actually two masks, because what if I use the first one and it gets all icky and you’re not supposed to wear it again anyway until after you wash it and it dried, but what if I need to go to a shop again, so ta-da, TWO, it’s funny how I was so annoyed when they were first introduced as obligatory in some places and I spent two hours making one, now I have 7 of them ready, and I do wonder if it will just be a thing, so added to the already extensive list of all the things I pack into my make-up bag which barely contains makeup (gum, hairbands, bigger hair band if it gets hot and I need to put my hair up, band-aids, lip balm, travel-sized hand sanitizer) is now this and people asking “So what kind of mask do you have?”

No, I DO need all three notebooks, it just feels strange to be without them, and I love my day planner even if the notes in it look somewhat different these days…

What did I want to do, why am I standing here with the dishtowel in my hand…

I’ll take the scarf with me, don’t want to touch the door handles even if I was “adventurous” yesterday and touched the one on the door preceding the elevator foyer, shiver me timbers, such excitement, and it was actually scary that time the water was turned off for an hour, and I got up automatically to go to the bathroom and then realized in horror I still couldn’t wash my hands, and my bottle of hand sanitizer was empty, of all the first world problems…

Where’s the dishtowel? I think I asked that question 20 minutes ago…

 

Hamburg in the Time of Corona: Diary Note #1

The ringing of my mobile phone woke me shortly after 7 AM. This was, on the one hand, fine, even timely, because the dream I was having was really weird. On the other hand, it was completely unexpected. A slightly unfocused glance at the screen confirmed it was my dentist’s office…and I just let it ring. Because I didn’t know why they would be calling at that hour.

A little while and one voice message machine later ( “We planned an hour for you, please call back, thank you,” said someone in a disgruntled voice who had clearly gotten up very early to be there on time), I called back and managed to backtrack and untangle the mystery. Sometime in April, when new coronavirus cases were still popping up in Hamburg like mushrooms and the social distancing was in full swing, the practice was abstaining from its usual opening hours, politely requesting patients to call if they needed to come in after all. I assumed, somewhat happily, I confess, that my upcoming 7 AM appointment was cancelled and went about my business. “But no, that notice was for other procedures,” I was told. We rescheduled and remained friends.

Yes, I know they work with masks and sanitize their hands anyway. But three weeks ago I still couldn’t imagine going there, unless I absolutely have to. I had been waiting whether Germany’s contact ban (in effect, the social distancing measures) would still be in place after June 5, the day the government planned to discuss yay or nay. They were prolonged until June 29. There is progress, however, for me. Today I was in that dentist’s chair like no time had passed at all. Had it? “Do you work in an office?” the assistant politely asked, nodding at my skirt.

Why yes, I do, yes. No longer from home for about a month now. Working in pajamas, like actually for my job, isn’t something I can do. It takes away the special quality of pajamas for me, the sundayness (just freestyling here) of spending time at home immersed in a creative project. At the same time, not to make this all about clothes, but there were items I hadn’t worn for a long time: skirts, dresses, heels. Putting them on again felt like recognizing someone after previously seeing her only from a distance (no puns intended).

The security guy I’d gotten used to in my local supermarket isn’t there anymore, disinfecting shopping cart handles and then wheeling the cart over to you. Now you take one yourself, disinfecting either with the travel-sized sanitizer you made a habit of carrying in your pocket or the napkins provided by the store. I still smile at staff underneath my mask if I catch someone’s eye and the last time I was finally able to shop without remembering why all these regulations are in place. Two door handles were touched with a bare hand, now that was a big one for me. Wash hands at home, unload groceries, wash hands again, disinfect the handles I touched, wipe down the kitchen table, and I don’t even go through the list in my head anymore.

The movements at work come naturally to me now. I’m finally able to let my mind wander a bit longer somewhere else before sitting down at my desk. Dump stuff, wash hands, clean desk, keep a distance, hope for the best, feel grateful for simple politeness and consideration when people ask if it’s OK to get on the elevator with you or step aside to let you pass in a narrower space.

It should be so simple, right? You get up, brush your teeth, get dressed, head out, walk a familiar route, greet familiar people. So why does it take so long to connect yourself mentally, emotionally to all this? Probably because it might take the same amount of time to readjust as the time spent working from home. Simple things have taken on a new kind of significance after not being able to do them for a while. They do say it’s the little things. Otherwise, I might have to pull a Kindergarten Cop on myself.  “Stop whining!” “There is no bathroom!”

 

 

 

Hamburg in the Time of Corona: Home Office

The first full day of doing the above is completed. A friend just texted me, asking how it was, and I honestly answered, it wasn’t strange for me to work, but it was strange to not be at work. I suppose mainly because the arrangement is due to a situation outside of our control and sensible decisions about staying inside truly do relate directly to being well. I’m certainly grateful for the option and it’s clear we just have to persevere for as long as necessary. For now. For a while. What’s the best phrase?

Keeping the hours was fine, I’ve been making lists and following them for years. Plus after more than a decade in Germany, sometimes you set yourself time frames and see if you can keep to them, just for kicks! Memories from studying for exams and writing term papers during my university years also come in handy. It turns out they are still very clear, though my levels of self-control and reflection were pretty different back then. I remember both my parents completing work from home, whether it was for an extra job in addition to the one they already had, because of staying home with my siblings and I while we were sick, or simply because it was too cold to go outside in winter. I’ve got something to fall back on, even if I never quite imagined doing it in such circumstances. After all, how can you? “OK, this might be useful for when a global pandemic puts the lid on daily life as we know it…”

Balancing discipline and concentration has proven to function and I don’t find myself distracted by the laundry drying to my left or all my favorite books being nearby. Communication, both professional and personal, has been going well, which helps.

That’s the other thing, the questions that pop up in your head. And we’re only on day one, folks! Am I becoming dependent on my phone? Should I really go out now, or not? When I sit down to write, will I be able to write about anything other than this? Do I feel like action or disaster for tonight’s movie choice? The Day After Tomorrow or Dante’s Peak? Does Dante’s Peak count as vintage? Don’t care either way, it’s so good. Will I look completely pasty when this is over? What will it feel like to come back to the real world?

This is the real world…