How I learned to stop worrying and love Berliner Schnauze
A visit to mask-free London shows why Brits could do with being a bit more Berlin.
Berlin-Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.
A recent holiday back home to the UK reminded me of all the things I’d left behind there, like friends, family and classic British biscuits.
But the trip couldn’t pass without corona rearing its ugly head one way or another. Keen readers will remember a previous column on the subject of the UK’s so-called "Freedom Day" back in July, which saw all legal coronavirus rules and regulations vanish overnight. That includes wearing masks - establishments can ask their clientele to wear one, but have no legal power to enforce their request.
From afar, the UK’s mask rules had always seemed a bit of a soft touch compared to Germany anyway - never have Brits been dictated to what kind of face covering they need to wear. When my parents came to a Berlin to visit me earlier this year, I had to give them a pre-departure briefing on what FFP2 masks were so they’d be prepared to venture aboard public transport.
Old habits die hard, and so do Delta variant germs, so I brought a box of FFP2 masks back to the UK with me and wore them as I would in Berlin - in shops, in crowds, on the train. On a journey into London though, it quickly became apparent I wasn’t in strong company. I was sharing a carriage with 5 others, none of whom were wearing masks - after all, they didn’t have to.
That didn't stop the train provider trying to convince them otherwise. "We ask our passengers to wear a mask out of respect for others," the tannoy politely repeated every 15 minutes. Every time, I subtly looked up and around the carriage to see if anyone would take heed of her message. No one did.
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In that moment, I longed to be back on the Berliner U-Bahn with the good old Berliner Schnauze for company. Here, someone would have had no qualms putting the shirkers in their place, and pointed out the existing Coronaordnung. I would have felt a lot more comfortable on my journey.
The wording of the London train's message reflects the truth about masks; they do more to protect other people from you than vice versa. Seeing everyone else in the carriage ignore the call to an unselfish act for the good of others seems a lot ruder to me than how German directness is often viewed by Brits.
In the UK, interfering with strangers' business is a social no-go, even during corona. But if so many are unwilling to act for the public good during a pandemic, the Schnauze is something Brits ought to learn from.