As an American living in Germany during a Pandemic


Typically, I do a lot of research and often quote content from other sites, and provide links to additional information on specific topics. Not today! I'm going to just share my own observations from personal experience (which means this one has no pretty scenery photos/videos to help keep you engaged:)


I want to preface this post by saying this is intended to commend Germany, and is not a political statement of any kind, or intended to dis the U.S.!

We arrived in Germany mid-November 2019. We found and moved into our new residence on December 15, and barely unpacked in time to decorate for Christmas. We were still settling in and discovering the nuances of our new (and darling) community by the time holiday decorations were stored for another year. Finally, we were in a position to start planning all the incredible European destinations we could fit into 2020….and then the first news of a highly contagious virus hit.

On January 27, 2020 Germany’s first case of the Corona Virus presented itself near Munich. As we watched and learned about the huge numbers of cases (and deaths) in other European countries, Germany’s first two deaths from the virus occurred on March 9th. The number of cases in Germany was growing due to travelers from other countries, where non-German residents could travel into Germany by plane until March 17th.

On March 13th, Germany mandated school and kindergarten closures, postponed academic semesters and prohibited visits to nursing homes to protect the elderly. Two days later, borders to Austria, Denmark, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland were closed. By March 22nd, curfews were imposed in six German states while other states prohibited physical contact with more than one person from outside one's household.

We became accustomed to mask-wearing, social distancing, bars/restaurants and non-essential stores being closed. The huge number of cyclists everywhere was evidence of the only activity families could still do outdoors. Since all sports, movies, concerts were shut down, there was a major uptake in cycling (which is saying a lot for anywhere in Europe where cycling is already very popular!).

By April 15th, conditions in Germany had improved significantly, and we saw the first sign of restrictions being lifted. People were happy to see hair and nail salons, barber shops, gyms, and schools reopening, and to be able to shop! It was clear we weren’t out of the woods yet and still needed masks and social distancing, but no one objected since we were just happy to get back to some type of normalcy!

By the end of spring Germany’s success relative to COVID-19 was being praised worldwide! The world was using Germany as a role model for how to contain the virus, and for being one of very few countries that had not run out of ICU beds and ventilators!

Meanwhile, many of us watched as the virus made its way to the US, and little to nothing was being done at that time to keep the US from experiencing tragic consequences! Yes, living anywhere in Europe made us way more in touch with the catastrophic conditions that unfolded in Italy and Spain, but most news outlets in the US were also covering that. It seemed extremely lax for any country to not be preparing for the worst possible scenarios.


While I understand the major economic consequences from locking everything down, there appeared to be no serious thought given to the toll spring break would take on a pandemic in the states. I even understand that all the information coming in was still new and there weren’t yet enough cases in the U.S. to warrant the cancellation of Mardi Gras, but once the outcome of Mardi Gras was revealed, it should have raised some red flags regarding spring break, concerts, sporting events and any other venue where large numbers of people were gathering without social distancing. Consequently, the numbers of cases and deaths in America began to rise exponentially!


Trust me, Germany has also experienced severe economic consequences resulting from their lockdowns, but they rushed right into financial assistance to ease that burden for businesses, and individuals! Germany didn’t let politics curtail their ability to get help to their citizens!


At that time, the rest of the world was paying less attention to Germany’s success, and more attention to the impact the virus and lack of action was playing out in the U.S. My concerns for my family and friends was multi-faceted! While cruise ships full of passengers infected with the virus were stranded off many shores because no states were willing to let them offload all those sick passengers, one of my sisters (a cruise-fanatic!) was still scheduling more cruises for 2020. There was so much political divide that people were spending more time debating who is responsible for the lack of concern, lack of aid, lack of hygiene supplies, and getting hospitals/staff/first responders the wherewithal to handle what was about to be potentially devastating, than consideration for how to keep their own extended families safe.


The political divide also fostered differences of opinion on whether the virus was a hoax or should be taken seriously. What had been pronounced as a worldwide pandemic by this time, gave conspiracy theorists and their followers cause to question the legitimacy of COVID-19 in spite of the tragedies unfolding throughout the rest of the world; in countries that had a month or so head start on the US, that should have been a window of opportunity for the US to get out in front of it!


The racial divide that was going on in the U.S. at the same time was another element to cloud the COVID issue and cause even more divide. And because American politics are often driven by religious beliefs, the country’s divisions became political, racial, and religious. So, in the midst of a pandemic and unfathomable illness and loss of life, there was too much division to pull all resources to get everyone on the same page. This has been very difficult to watch from across the Atlantic, but I’d rather be watching it from here than from there!!


Everything we were taught “not to discuss at the dinner table or mixed gatherings” was being shared, disputed and argued on every social networking platform and in family discussions. 2020 was extremely costly. It not only cost lives, jobs, income, revenue, and life as we knew it, but was also at the expense of losing valuable relationships due to the disconnect with friends and even family members whose reminders of our differences were too loud or too frequent.


I am not saying Germany is without political differences, but they were able to put those differences aside to do what’s best for their country! Yes, there are also conspiracy theorists here and there are owners whose businesses might not survive the lockdowns. There are also people who don’t want to be forced to wear masks, who don’t trust the vaccines, and who resent the restrictions on movies, concerts, sporting events, gyms, etc. But that doesn’t keep them from abiding by the rules! There are even protesters, but typically they designate a day and place to make their voices heard, and then revert to following the rules. Why? Because that’s part of their culture; they are not going to protest in a way that destroys their own (or anyone else’s) community.


THE SECOND WAVE

Although masked and socially distanced, people in Germany were feeling pretty good about defeating the pandemic, and went back to shopping, traveling, and taking advantage of hair salons, gyms, movie theaters being open again. However, due to the time of year, and the unwillingness to throw out all caution, many still preferred outside dining and beer gardens verses indoor venues.


Restrictions were relaxed for most of the summer. So many people had been restricted for such a long time that most couldn’t wait to “get out”. As a result of summer vacations, and borders that were once again open, and probably also due to people letting their guard down (as we learned from spring breaks around the world, too much to drink alters our judgement!), that by August the number of infections in Germany returned to the levels back in April. It was apparent Germany was about to see a second wave of the pandemic.


What started as a short-term (one month) “partial lockdown” on November 1st has been extended several times; the rise in daily cases and deaths forced a full lockdown; with the exception of “essential stores”, everything is closed.


In spite of the various stages of lockdowns that started November 1st, Germany’s numbers soared in November and December, which is speculated to be a residual effect of the public not taking the pandemic seriously enough during summer vacations, and letting their guard down as it relates to large gatherings. Officials in Germany knew we would have to remain locked down through the holidays, which would be difficult for everyone (especially considering the enormous popularity of Christmas Markets here!). I would not have wanted to be one of the people making that decision on behalf of the entire country!!


On December 15th Germany went into a “harder” lockdown that reduced the number of people with whom you can gather from another household to ONE, which includes kids (previously excluded from the gathering number), and imposed stiff fines for those caught breaking the rules. Christmas Markets were cancelled, and holiday shopping was mostly via online purchases.


Like the rest of the world, people all over Germany are tired of being indoors. At least when the weather was nicer they could enjoy the outdoors, but the winter has been cold, wet and dreary. The streets are empty, and on days when it’s warm enough to walk outside, it’s sad to see how many businesses have closed their doors permanently. But it’s paying off; Germany’s COVID numbers have been declining every day for two weeks. Between that and their vaccination campaigns, I am feeling hopeful for Germany. While I’ve heard a few German’s suggest they don’t plan to be vaccinated, I believe MOST are eager for their own sake as well as for others.


Meanwhile, I am seeing beaches in the U.S. reopening, as well as bars, restaurants, gyms, hair/nail salons that never closed. Vaccines appear to be the only hope there, and that’s assuming they can achieve herd immunity, which won’t happen unless an overwhelming majority of people get the vaccine when offered. Time will tell.


Yes, I know some U.S. towns imposed restrictions, but the decision to do so was more of a state-by-state, county-by-county decision. One of my sisters lives in a rural area where nothing has EVER been closed, and masks aren’t even required by doctors who have received the vaccine themselves. That’s actually the problem as I see it. There’s no unified consensus…on any topic!

Germany not only closed their borders to keep infected people from entering, but so did all the other countries around us! So we aren’t just talking about the states in Germany being on the same page, but the rest of the EU too, as it relates to borders and travel restrictions.


This is probably a good place to interject another major problem the U.S. faces….the lack of trust in the media; those who provide the news, and their political agenda. Even when someone has the good sense to question something they have heard in the news, it’s often difficult to find a reliable source to check facts and that doesn’t put their own spin on the facts!


Again, this is not anything Germany has in common with the U.S., thankfully! This is the only place where I am going to quote another site, steal one of their graphics, and recommend you check out the importance (and level of trust) the Germans place in their news sources!


A majority of German adults (61%) consider the news media very important to society. Similarly, around two-thirds (64%) say they trust the news media. This includes one-in-five who trust the news media a lot.



Source: pewresearch.org


BETTER HERE THAN THERE (for now)


As the spouse of a retired service member, you can imagine that my patriotism runs deep. I have always been proud to be an American, but as I write this from my temporary home in Bavaria, it’s safe to say that my level of pride was greater prior to 2020! It’s very different watching your home from the outside than from the inside.


If you never have an occasion to leave the states for more than a couple weeks of vacation here and there, you never have the opportunity to compare the U.S. to other countries, or to hear what they think of the U.S. I’m not suggesting that Germany doesn’t have rival political parties, but they certainly don’t have the racial or religious divide that the U.S. does, and their political divide never sees the extremes we’ve seen recently in the U.S. I am so hopeful that all of that is turned around before we return to the states!


I know there was (and still is) a lot of controversy in Germany over Chancellor Angela Merkle welcoming of refugees in 2015, but I see that as disagreement with her policies – not resentment towards the refugees! Although perceptions could be far different in large metro areas, from my perspective everyone here has acclimated to day-to-day living together in harmony. I definitely don’t see any issues relating to racial or religious differences here.

" I also commend the heads of various states and the German citizens for putting any political differences aside to work together for the overall benefit of the country as it relates to COVID-19.

Since I am not a German citizen, I can’t begin to walk in the shoes of those who are, I can’t relate to their politics historically, and I am not singing the praises of any political party. I am merely stating that I personally have felt extremely confident in the scientific background of Angela Merkle, as well as what I believe to be her genuine desire to make the world a better and safer place for Germans in every capacity. I also commend the heads of various states and the German citizens for putting any political differences aside to work together for the overall benefit of the country as it relates to COVID-19.


We lived in Germany from 2008-2012 and have been back this time since November 2019. Never once have I felt unsafe here (Re: COVID or any other capacity). While we are all eager to get back to “normal” (whatever that is going to look like going forward), I believe the majority of people here (German citizens, Expats, and US military) would rather extend the already-long lockdown period to avoid ever having to experience yet another wave!


Some US Military families have been extremely disappointed that so far, their entire time here has been in lockdown with no opportunity at all to explore Europe, but most are in agreement that they have felt safer in Germany than they would have been in the U.S. Even after the U.S. gets a better handle on achieving herd immunity relative to the pandemic, they still have a long way to go to make everyone eager to return.


I guess the bottom line is that I think there’s a lot the U.S. should have learned, and could still learn, from Germany regarding containment of COVID, as well all the other areas where things are “broken”. The saying goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”……….but it’s broken! So, fix it!


To wear or not wear a mask, to get the vaccine or not, to believe the pandemic is real or a hoax, to socially distance yourself from everyone else or not (whether mandated by your community or not), to be respectful of those whose beliefs are different from our own, to treat EVERYONE like we want to be treated, to keep wrongs from the past from ever happening again….we all know whether we are part of the problem……….or part of the solution.


Since this is very different from anything I’ve ever posted before, I’m guessing I will actually get comments on this post, and I welcome them, as always!