How I Experienced Coronavirus in Munich
Foreign Correspondent in Germany, Rupali Naik, explains how the coronavirus outbreak has affected her year abroad and how she is dealing with the disruption.
Coronavirus arrived in Bavaria on 28 January. I remember waking up on that grey morning and emailing my tutors, wondering if classes were cancelled. I was duly reassured that they wouldn’t be, and I had nothing to worry about. But I was still mindful not to touch the surfaces on my commute to university. I also wanted to prepare myself in case of emergency, so I went to the apokethe (pharmacy) for a mask. Yet, they had all been sold out and the pharmacist assured me that the masks were only really for people who had the virus so they wouldn’t spread it. But by the end of January, my anxiety over the virus had eased. Even when I was flying back from England to Munich on 9 March – a period when cases had just escalated from fifty cases to one-hundred-and-fifty in three days – my flight was easy. Travel was easy. I was somewhat worried, but it was fine.
Three friends – one Norwegian, a Canadian and a Brit like myself – and I planned to a three-night stay in Berlin to see a gig. The bassist had worked with my Norwegian friend years before, so we were able to get free tickets. It was an amazing trip. We all meshed well together I had taught them a Spanish card game called Cambio. We played the card game every day. And we drank every night. The gig was on the second-to-last night; it was surreal and very wholesome. Julia, the lovely Canadian, Sofie, the fiery Norwegian, and Laura, my fellow Brit, and I decided to split up. We all planned to meet at a museum after midday.
Sofie was the last to meet us in the café. When she came in, we saw something was wrong. She told us that she had to go back to Norway because of coronavirus. During the trip, we had spoken about how ‘blown-up’ the virus has become in the media, so we were all quite surprised, and somewhat sceptical, to hear this. After discussing it, we were beginning to understand and grapple with the severity of what was happening in the world. I think we had all been trying to keep away from the news. I had thought about it though, a lot and I was happy to isolate in Munich. Sofie planned to get a 4am train back to Munich and to fly that same day, this being the Friday 13 March. The next day Julia and I got our 1pm eight-hour coach back to Munich without Sofie. By the time we would get back to Munich, she would be already in Norway.
The following Saturday I ran some errands, but the virus was pressing on my mind. I stocked up in the morning, met with my Irish friends for lunch – they were sadly going back to Ireland on the Monday – then in the evening I met a few of my friends in a bar by university. I spent the entire night talking to my other English friend, Jenny, about coronavirus. I really needed to talk to someone else in the same boat as me at that point. The University hadn’t given a clear-cut answer to their study abroad students, or at least to us in Munich. They said they would ‘support’ us if we chose to come home. I expect this lack of a clear-cut recommendation was due to the delayed response from our Prime Minister and the fact that Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich was shut for their three-month break Jenny and I agreed to keep each other in the loop on information and to come to a decision, latest, by the end of the week.
I really needed to talk to someone else in the same boat as me at that point. The University hadn’t given a clear-cut answer to their study abroad students, or at least to us in Munich.
On Sunday 15, I spent the day in my room. I was staying away from my phone to think about all the possibilities of what to do about coronavirus. I thought that if I stayed, I would be considered and cared for, and I could also take care of them. I spent the day running around in my head wondering what to do, thinking of all the possibilities. I hadn’t spoken to my family yet because I had just been in Berlin and I was trying to take a moment to myself, but I knew we would call the next day anyway.
In the evening, I went to Julia’s along with some friends for dinner. It doubled up as a farewell and get-together for my birthday. As soon as I entered though, I was bombarded with questions about coronavirus. George, another English native, kept telling me to leave Germany. But I really wasn’t in the mood to talk about this that evening. Yet it kept coming up, and of course rightfully so, but it was overwhelming me. I had so many reasons to stay and go and I had no authority telling what the best option was. Like clockwork, my friend Will messaged me. There was a German public announcement that stated new provisions and rules, such as shops being open longer for the elderly to buy supplies.
The next day I scrapped my actual birthday plans. Instead, I told my remaining abroad friends to come over and bring food and alcohol so that we could stay connected to our emails and the internet. I wanted to come to a decision that day. I called my family, and they each gave me their opinions. They all supported me staying in Munich. I called my brother whom I could tell all my pros and cons of both staying and going. That day Portsmouth, my hometown, had its first case of coronavirus. I knew the government and Boris Johnson had not been dealing with it as proactively as other countries so by coming home I was putting myself in a worse position. Again, nothing was definite or certain. My year abroad is still not cancelled, even as I write this.
My brother told me about what is going on in England. Johnson should have been more active and more serious a lot sooner. My mum works in a call centre, and she was still having to work at that point. There were rumours of working at home but nothing was implemented. So, after calling my brother, I decided to come home. I wanted to be able to help my mum with living arrangements and to carry groceries and supplies. If I can’t go back at all this year, my housemates said they could post my things. But I intend to go back, with or without a study abroad year (of course, this depends on how serious coronavirus is too). The flight was booked for 18 March. After buying the flight, I proceeded to enjoy my birthday and feel a bit freer for coming to a conclusion.
I’ve been home for over a week now. It’s been beautifully sunny, which was unfortunate as people did continue to spend time in groups on the beach… I had also left Germany at a convenient time as there was a nationwide lockdown implemented at midnight on 21 March. A great amount of my journey in the past month has been met with a lot of close calls. I feel immensely lucky for the fact that there is still a chance my second term could continue, as I know for many this is not the case anymore. And even if it was cancelled, I still feel incredibly lucky for the fact that this hasn’t (yet) impacted my final year of university – a different picture for many of my graduating friends.
I feel immensely lucky for the fact that there is still a chance my second term could continue, as I know for many this is not the case anymore. And even if it was cancelled, I still feel incredibly lucky for the fact that this hasn’t (yet) impacted my final year of university…
When I was recently on the phone to my aaji (nan), she had told me that she has never seen anything like coronavirus in her lifetime. Her saying this coincided with me thinking that it is an unprecedented level of disruption to the lives of so many across the globe. It feels like all stretches of life will, and have already been, affected by this pandemic. I wonder how it will be written in different history books. I wonder what future generations will ask, or how they will be affected. I wonder if we will come out the other side more aligned or divided.
Overall, however, I am lucky to be fit, able and healthy. I think it’s an important time to reach out to those you don’t often talk to, be that old friends or neighbours. It’s critical we look out for each other. And although I am uncomfortable with being back in England, I have enjoyed speaking to strangers when I have been out journey to get things. Coronavirus has striped us of the typical day-to-day events of our life. Now, care, consideration and good health seems to be tantamount rather than money or material endeavours. We now have to be more reflective and communal. And I hope, in this way, we can learn from this situation and remember how we fought through this pandemic. Thank you for reading, stay safe and wash your hands.