photos: Roger Sabaté.
Like countless others in early March, I certainly didn’t expect the extent of the impending pandemic. Fearing it would interfere with my long-awaited vacation, I actually stayed in denial of it for as long as I could. But the ominous news screens incessantly broadcasting Corona updates which had followed me across San Francisco ultimately proved fateful as I ended up booking an emergency flight back to Berlin.
Coming back in times of a worldwide pandemic made me consider Berlin home more than ever before. Having been here for over four years now, I’d already mused on the reechoing metaphor of Berlin as a lover and even written on staying committed to the city over time. As I was coming back, I’d ask myself whether experiencing Berlin in this bizarre Corona edition will affect my love for it. Certainly, I’d never seen the city like that: with deserted streets, sealed off clubs, and a ban on gatherings.
In romantic terms, the time has come to take some time off and maybe reevaluate the relationship. Trying to maintain self-isolation made living in Berlin feel comparable to living in a small town. I should know, I’d been in one until I was 20. Only back then, the loneliness resulting from the general lack of things to do and people to see could be easily defeated with the overpowering promise of eventually breaking out and going somewhere and actually taking part in that grand mysterious concept of life as advertised by various books and movies.
But now there’s nowhere to break out to, only a bunch of memories to get nostalgic about. And yet I’m glad to be in Berlin. Which leads me to the question: can you bond with the city in times of self-isolation? Certainly, it’s not about the usual sparks of urban magic, with spontaneous get-togethers and extended club sessions. Just last week, face masks graduated from fetish wear to a mandatory health precaution. It’s not easy to love Berlin suddenly stripped of the features that attracted us in the first place.
Still, I’d say bonding with the city right now is possible. And maybe even recommended, since moving out will not exactly be an option for a while. Some locals make staying in touch with the city’s spirit seem almost easy with regular live streams and actions connecting the community. Those are great, but not being able to muster up this kind of enthusiasm can’t be looked down upon. There’s no denying the grave consequences this crisis has on many. It’s impossible to send out a donation when you’ve no savings and just lost your job.
For me, quarantine bonding with Berlin is sometimes just about remembering the good times and sabotaging nostalgia with memories too positive to brood over. Just looking out of the window, I see a brick wall my friend once climbed over coming back from KitKat in the early morning to wake me up knocking on my window with a wooden stick he found on the way.
And as I’m going out for walks around my quite boring neighborhood which I’d usually only hurry through on my way to Kotti, I somehow feel that being here at such an unprecedented time binds me even more to the city. Is it a coping strategy or an enduring sentiment? Is such an approach actually spreading toxic positivity in search of the elusive silver lining? I feel like many questions arising while navigating the pandemic can only be answered in hindsight. I don’t know. But I’ll probably be in Berlin to find out.