So, back in the olden days, i.e. March 2020, I wrote a blog post for Exberliner titled Intellectuals in the time of Corona.
And in said blog, I talked about the German indifference – they called it Besonnenheit – to corona, especially amongst the kind of Germans you would almost expect to know better and I made the following brilliantly witty and amazingly insightful comment:
„I can’t decide whether German intellectuals really do think that old people and cancer victims dying is literally nothing to worry about – barely even anything to THINK about – or if they are just pretending that to themselves because they have used up so much panic about eating the brown bits on toast and the deathly Zug that will literally kill you and everyone else you know. Maybe they have no energy left to care about Corona. „
I have probably told this story before, but when my first son was born, and we were living in a draughty women’s shelter in West Berlin, he got sick a lot. He had ear infections and coughs and weird eye infections and all sorts. I breastfed him for ten months by the way – and his little brother, who never got sick, was totally abgestillt after 27 days of life on this earth and really only ever got a pathetic dick dribble of thin, weak, anaemic Muttermilch anyway (it didn’t even look like milk, but that disgusting water you get on the top of yoghurts) but there, it probably means nothing so don’t tell anyone from the La Lache League I said any of this or they’ll take a breastfeeding fatwa out on me. So I spoke German back in those days, right? I spoke a lot of German. To be quite honest, my life was a bit more German than it is now. And whenever my boy got ill – and he got ill a lot – older women would tell me, warn me, like wise witches/soothsayers that it was because of the Zug. Older women who lived in the women’s refuge with me, but also, quite often, random grannies I didn’t know on the street or U-Bahn.
Imagine the witch from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, coming up to you on the U-Bahn and murmuring knowingly: „Augenentzündung?“
Yes, you reply. You look at your sick, pale, weakly little kid and you know he’s not going to die but you still feel quite wretched with worry about his fucked-up eyes. The doctor gave me a special cream but it’s hard to get it in the right spot, you say softly. It’s hard to be a mother and suddenly carry the whole responsibility for another tiny little human.
Now the witch from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves announces loudly to the entire U-Bahn: „It’s because of the Zuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuug…… the Zuuuuuuuuug…..the Zuuuuuug gets into his eyes!“
Back then, I knew that Zug meant train but I didn’t know that it could also mean a train or a draught or a flow of air. And I didn’t realize that Germans think that cold, fresh air causes literally all illnesses ever, and also weird shoulder pain in the morning. When the soothsayers spoke to me, I thought the word Zug was spelt „Sook“ and I thought it was some kind of weird chemical leftover from the GDR times, kind of like asbestos ONLY WORSE that was blowing across Berlin making our kids ill. I was a bit surprised, actually, that the government didn’t do more about it. I remember one time a granny at the women’s refuge said to me: „Your baby gets sick so often because of the Sook. This is such an old house, there’s Sook everywhere.“ But how does it get in? I asked her. Through the walls, she said wisely. Through the walls. And one time at the Unterhaltsvorschusskasse the lady doing my application told me to put a hat back on the baby because of the Sook. Is there Sook here, too? In this building? It’s in all buildings, she said. All old buildings. EVEN AT THE JUGENDAMT??? I cried, horrified.
I was so disappointed the day I found out Sook was spelt Zug, and then I looked it up in the dictionary and realized they were talking about the draught. I don’t know if disappointed is the right word. What’s the word for disappointment mingled with relief? Erleichterungsenttäuschung?
Here’s the thing though: GERMAN PARANOID FANTASIES ABOUT THE ZUG ARE LITERALLY GOING TO KILL US ALL. Like, it’s bad enough in normal times, having to sit in these enclosed spaces full of stinky people and no fresh air because of all these urban myths/superstitions/Verschwörungstheorien about the draught. Which we all know are all made up, by the way. We know this is true because the Queen of England is 70,000 years old, fit as a fiddle, and every single one of her perfect palaces is, and I mean this in the most republican-way possible, draughty as fuck. But we just go along with it because we respect German culture – maybe respect is the wrong word – we tolerate German culture and we think German grannies being happy is more important than us enjoying a bit of fresh air. But now the Fensteröffnenspanik is actually gonna kill us all and there’s literally nothing we can do about it!
I tell you what though: the BVG could do something. I actually think the BVG should just make it a law (is law too strong a word? a BVG-rule?) that at least one window has to be kept open in each U-Bahn carriage. Yeah, even in the winter. Put a fucking jacket on, for God’s sakes. Let’s try and survive corona, why don’t we? Just for fun!