Sloshed to Geschlossen
Madison Castle tenders a unique perspective on the fleeting nature of a year abroad experience, tainted by lockdown measures but blessed with discovery.
When I first moved to Germany in October to start my year studying abroad, everything felt surprisingly normal (if you ignore the fact that there is an ongoing pandemic and that my mask-clad face appears in every photo). The Germans have, as ever, managed a crisis better than the UK. For a brief time, I had the experience away from the UK that I had been craving and was, most importantly, meeting people whether it be in bars, cafes or events across the university town. However, now that has come to an end.
In light of the rising cases, Germany has declared a nationwide ‘light lockdown’, shutting restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment venues, but keeping workplaces and schools open. Private parties are also banned. Everything is closed, ‘geschlossen’ and my typical student experience has finished for the foreseeable future. Or has it? Is the student experience so intrinsically linked to going out, bars and clubbing that without them it will become impossible to meet people in lockdown? Having my university course completely online certainly does not help, but I am confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Having my university course completely online certainly does not help, but I am confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Or is that the light from my phone? WhatsApp and Facebook have been a lifeline when I have wanted human interaction, especially as I spent a week in isolation pre-lockdown. I am able to go out now after a negative test result, but it has made me appreciate the small things, as clichéd as that sounds. Takeaways are still allowed in Germany, so having a coffee with others outdoors has enabled me to appreciate my fairy-tale surroundings and the meaningful conversations, which could have been lost in the clattering and chatter of a cramped cafe.
I have been able to experience the beauty of the rolling German hills that could have been left undiscovered when faced with the alternative of pulsating lights, drunken mistakes and the dingy interiors of a club. I do miss the experience of clubbing and visiting cafés, but I have also learnt that there is so much more. Especially when I realise how much heavier my purse is. I have to admit that I am still learning how to socialise without the reliance on going out with “come to pres” or the comfortable “let’s get a coffee” or “want to get lunch after this seminar?”. All of which are phrases that no longer come into my everyday language, but I am learning alongside everyone else.
I do miss the experience of clubbing and visiting cafés, but I have also learnt that there is so much more.
For those that would argue that I was lucky that I had made these connections before lockdown and now it is impossible, I would say that posting on local Facebook groups opens opportunities to meet people. In my case, I posted on my university’s Tandem language exchange programme, which connected me to German students online who I have since met in person. If all else fails, then I know that my family and friends from home are only at the other end of the phone. I am currently coming to terms with the fact that I might not be able to go home for Christmas and that is painful.
However, as we realised in the summer lockdown, there are ways to virtually travel the distance. Knowing that others are in the exact same boat brings everything into perspective. I just hope that being trapped in Germany will drastically increase my German fluency. That is why I am here after all. Knowing that each day here could be my last before the UK Foreign Office orders us back, really works wonders on my motivation to practice German and experience the culture.
Knowing that others are in the same boat brings everything into perspective.
I maintain that even without going out we can still meet people and make it our own student experience. We only have to hold out for a little while longer, until we can experience it to its fullest.