Germany is my home away from home, a land and people that I love and a nation I could easily adjust to living full-time in. But despite the remarkable public display of unity and competence in dealing with the pandemic, I found that Germany is also a divided nation.
Observations From An American In Germany During Coronavirus Lockdown
When I heard the news that German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked all 16 German state governors into agreeing to a uniform partial lockdown during the month of November, I was so impressed. Can you imagine, no matter who was in the White House, all 50 U.S. state governors voluntarily agreeing to do anything together?
As an outsider looking in, it seemed to me that Germany was properly treating the virus as a threat to national and economic security but more importantly, battling the pandemic was not a political football like in the United States.
To some extent, that is true. But I think what surprised me most during my recent trip to Germany was the very clear division of opinion that does exist that goes well beyond the far right rallies in Berlin and other former East Germany cities.
I went to my favorite restaurant in Mainz on the last night of service before the November lockdown. Two familiar faces greeted me: two waiters I have come to know over the years due to my frequent visits. They were surprised to see me (there are not many Americans these days in Germany) and I had separate conversations with each of them.
Both were adamant. But both had very different viewpoints on the pandemic. One was fully supportive of the government’s decision to shutdown, even as it impacted his own livelihood (apparently, his salary will be subsidized, but only at 70%). He insisted, “We must battle this virus. It is too dangerous to ignore.”
But his colleague had a totally different take on the situation. “This is ridiculous. This is about control, not safety.” He angrily noted that every time businesses re-open, cases spike, and that the “cat and mouse” approach will drag out this pandemic far longer than necessary.
I spoke to more people during my brief trip and found more divergent opinions. The default answer, for most, is to express support for how the government has handled the pandemic. But dig deeper and there is the same sort of disgust, impatience, and uncertainty that Americans are condemned for harboring.
Interestingly, very few people wore masks outdoors in Mainz, located in the state of Rheinland-Paltaine. Some did, many did not…I’d say compliance was far worse than in Los Angeles. I was also surprised to see grocery stores still offering self-serve salad bars and buffets.
But despite that, I felt very safe in Germany. Every time I dined out I filled out a contact tracing form. Inside grocery stores or on trains, everyone wore masks.
COVID-19 dominates headlines in Germany too, but Germany has created a system that protects the most economically and physically vulnerable, without offering an obscene level of welfare to those who do not need it. This is something both sides of the aisle could learn from in the USA. You don’t see homeless people in Germany to the level you do in the USA. Meanwhile, homeless communities in LA serve as super-spreaders for the virus. But that’s a broader and more complicated issue, I realize.
Germany is divided too. Yet I felt a sense of tranquility in Germany that I simply do not feel in the USA, where everything is so politicized in the worst way. I personally question whether lockdowns are the answer, but I respect that Germany, via its states, seems at least organized enough to offer rapid testing to those who want it and conduct contact tracing in order to contain any potential outbreaks.
I’m curious, especially to readers currently or recently in Germany, whether you share in my American-influenced observations on German handling of the coronavirus and the division that exists (or does not exist) within.