Looking for the light in lockdown

Christmas festivities might be overshadowed by the hard lockdown - but there are signs of optimism. Green innovation, better cultural dialogue - and a vaccine.

Picture this but with no lockdown.
Picture this but with no lockdown.dpa

Berlin-It’s typically around this time in December, roughly a week before Christmas, when my inner Grinch starts to relax and the festive excitement starts mounting. For obvious reasons, that’s different this year. The warm, cosy feeling that emanates from the festive lights on Berlin balconies and the glowing Christmas tree and Hannukah menorah in front of the Brandenburg Gate is now overshadowed by the new “hard” lockdown which began on Wednesday.

For some, corona is bringing more than just a shift in mood this Christmas – some of you might have had to adapt your plans and prepare to celebrate Christmas differently to how you would normally. That’s why I wanted to speak to shopkeepers behind the international shops where Berliners with roots elsewhere can buy reminders of home – corona can take lots of things, but it won’t take our mince/pumpkin/insert other beloved foreign pie here. But as news of the impending lockdown broke, the tone of the piece saddened as these small business owners suddenly had to grapple with staying afloat beyond lockdown, at the time of year that’s normally their busiest. It’s the last thing you would wish on them after an already challenging year.

Yet despite the new lockdown and all its disappointments, some reminders are creeping through that there are things going on in the world besides corona – and that one day, we’ll get back to talking about those things instead. Brexit is back in the spotlight, with Angela Merkel drily expressing her surprise at British headlines blaming her for the ongoing negotiations’ apparently sluggish process – because she’s not actually involved in the process of hashing out a UK-EU trade deal (if there is one).

Brits legally can't celebrate Christmas without one of these on the table.
Brits legally can't celebrate Christmas without one of these on the table.Gerd Engelsmann

As a Brit, the whole thing is quite depressing, even though my Irish passport means I won’t transform back into a pumpkin (read non-EU citizen) at the stroke of midnight on 1st January 2021 – thanks for the dual citizenship, gran. This week I’ve been working on a story that highlights what a tragedy Brexit is for young people and the opportunities they will inevitably miss out on because of it. Watch this space. That’s why I was grateful for my colleague Andrew Bulkeley’s interview with the students behind Aid Pioneers, a charity shipping international aid from Berlin to those in need, for providing a valuable bit of perspective.

We’ve had a number of other stories with an uplifting side this week, underpinned by people getting creative to make the best of their situation during the pandemic. See our editor Maurice Frank’s feature on the green-fingered Berliners who’ve taken up growing weed as a corona hobby, and our colleague Tomasz Kurianowicz’s interview with the US-German couple taking the bold step of opening a new restaurant in the middle of the pandemic.

The pandemic clearly hasn’t stopped the hunger of Wahlberliner for innovation either – Travis Todd, founder of start-up hub Silicon Allee, discussed the future of business and tech, and the key word is: green. If Travis’ visions of funding boosts for climate-friendly tech and political leaps for Die Grüne at Germany’s next election in September hold true, that’s certainly something that makes me feel more hopeful for 2021.

This was going to be the hottest museum opening of the year, and they would have got away with it if it hadn't been for those meddling decolonisation activists.
This was going to be the hottest museum opening of the year, and they would have got away with it if it hadn't been for those meddling decolonisation activists.imago images

Rounding up this week at the Berliner Zeitung English Edition, some food for thought for the week ahead: the reconstruction of the Prussian-era Berlin Palace (pictured above) was controversial anyway because of the destruction of East Germany’s Palace of the Republic to make way for it. But the opening of the Humboldt Forum museum inside it this week has sparked more debate – because of the looted cultural heirlooms from Africa in its collection which came to Berlin under murky circumstances during Germany’s colonial era.

The question of restitutions is becoming increasingly pressing for major museums in Europe’s former colonial powers – and Carola Lentz, the new head of the Goethe Institute who has a background in research in West Africa, is all for the idea. The ideas she shared with our colleague Susanne Lenz about collaborating with international partners and dismantling colonial structures represent the kind of collaborative change-making and bridge-building the world will need lots of after corona.

With hopes that the first corona vaccines will be administered in Berlin within the next few weeks, it feels like the light at the end of the tunnel might be in sight. This ridiculous year will soon be in the past, and before we know it our memories from it will wind their way into our history books and museums – if we still have both of those in the future.

When we look back on this year, I think it will be interesting to see how much of our memories focus on the difficult times – or the creative, resilient ways people found to stay strong and support each other.

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Elizabeth Rushton is a trainee with Berliner Zeitung, currently based at the English Edition.