In Berlin, the sun suddenly shines till eight, and the trees are heavy with blossoms and translucent baby leaves. The teenagers with their bare midriffs and combat boots are struggling with social distancing. Seeing groups of them on park benches, I feel them mock my homemade mask as I drag my grocery-filled shopping trolley home to the kids.
For the first time since we’ve lived here we can sleep with the window open. The birds are noisier than usual, but the club and the theater, the pubs, and the sports bar are all closed. There’s no karaoke. A police van parks outside our building on weekends to monitor the park. They rope off the Photoautomat with caution tape, but someone tears it down (probably the teens).
The warm weather arrives just as schools close, and the neighbors still let their kids go down to the Hof—our building’s inner courtyard—to play on the swing set and run around. My kids look down from the balcony and ask if they can go too. I say no. “But why can the other kids?” they ask. I don’t have an answer. When we go down by ourselves the next morning, I bring disinfectant-soaked paper towels to clean the tricycles and scooters. I let them play with sticks. I can’t bring myself to disinfect the sticks.
Before all this, we would ride the train to my two-year-old’s daycare, and he would spin around the metal poles until he fell flat on the grimy floor. Now, he calls the ABCs “the handwashing song” and detests “Hannah Sanitizer.” When we pass people on the street, he shouts, “Hide! A person!” Almost every night, he asks if his babysitter is coming. “You can’t play with my toys,” he tells his brother. “You’ll get sick.” And when he’s mad he shouts, “You’re the coronavirus!” and slams the door.
One night my six-year-old dreams he has coronavirus and that we run away from him and hide, my husband in the refrigerator and I in the kitchen cupboard. “But it’s really funny,” he says, “because the refrigerator Dad just walks around the house. He has legs sticking out the bottom and this one big eye on the front that blinks. But, Mom, you don’t go anywhere because you’re screwed to the wall.”
My friend and I meet in the Hof for a glass of wine. We sit two meters away from each other, and the kids heckle us from the balcony. I can hear coughing from two of the apartments.
“I woke up in a panic last night because I was thinking, What if the entire financial system collapses?” I tell her. I wonder if we’re sitting too close. I wonder if we already infected each other weeks ago, at the start of this, when we were all sick. I sip my wine.
“Oh, it’ll be fine. The government would just make more money. They’d raise taxes so we’d pay twenty-five percent instead of nineteen percent or whatever.”
“Wow, you’re so German. I couldn’t fall back asleep because I was wondering where we could start farming our own food.”
She laughs. “You’re so American,” she says.
Published on April 23, 2020