Postcard From Nordrhein-Westfalen

16 July 2020. Updated 21 July 2020.

By Derick Clapton

I live in a smallish town in West Germany and am a musician. Needless to say work has been pretty hard to come by but luckily I have been able to continue some of the teaching and we are back to some type of normalcy, face to face without a mask, after having utilised Skype in less than optimal circumstances. I have also benefited from a emergency state loan some of which may have to be paid back, any of the funds not paid back will be subjected to tax as income.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have a few English friends who are not as fortunate. One – an Echo winner of a few years ago – has seen his income dry up almost completely as he does not teach, lives in a different state where his loan is much less generous and has only a few recording opportunities. The rest were cancelled long ago. Another works for an orchestra which tours the world. At the moment they are trying to find ways of possibly giving concerts locally in the near future. Needless to say a full compliment on stage is impossible and the restrictions still being enforced mean the audience would be reduced to a figure of around 25%.

The Government’s decision in England to require mandatory face masks is what has prompted me to write.

Here in Nordrhein-Westfalen we have been required to wear face coverings for weeks. Thankfully the pubs have been open for nearly two months. We all sit together at tables without masks outside. All of my friends are very relaxed about any potential threat and indeed most of us laugh about the absurdity of the poor bar staff having to scuttle between tables wearing the ludicrous things. Luckily they can take the offending article off when behind the bar. When we go inside we must wear one (luckily I haven’t forgotten to arrive with mine yet given when nature calls one must wear one). We are not allowed to sit at the bar and large plastic screens separate the staff from the punters. This is rather distressing to most of us as this is our favourite bar fly position and used to prioritise us to be served first.

Going shopping however is still a trial. Entering you need to apply the dreaded mask and use a trolley at all times (I’m appreciative of the non-conformists who leave the trolley and wander about aimlessly touching the produce no doubt leaving the risk of dire infection to the next unsuspecting do-gooder who sanitised their hands at the entrance as an optional extra). At the checkout there is the ubiquitous shielding of the cashier. It’s amusing with my accent trying to converse through this barrier.

Many people here – mainly older people over 60 – choose to wear masks outside. It makes for a surreal landscape where one wonders if I am the risk or supposedly I am at risk. It seems normal now that people wear a mask around their neck ready for use, as if the chlorine gas is imminent (sorry – “don’t mention the war” – well how can I resist in such an absurd climate?)

In most settings however things have returned to normal when one is outside or with friends at a party or at an informal get-together at someone’s house. Entering inside a public space is, however, still a challenge with quotas and the dreaded face mask.

A foretaste of what England may have to face comes with school regulations. I have some friends who work in local schools and the regulations seem to have been written by the lunatics running the asylum. The children must wear masks when they enter the school ground. Please note – not before when they are embracing and laughing and no doubt transferring the plague between them. They then mute themselves with the mask that daddy or mummy sewed them – that probably has never been washed by the way. Given the immense risk they will all soon no doubt be needing the Krankenwagen – and they enter the school. Arrows show them in which direction they should go down the halls. They arrive in the classroom greeted by teachers in face shields (yes, like a welding mask) and optional face masks. They then sit and must social distance of course. The teacher is behind a plastic divider (I’m sure this helps for class discipline but then as the students slowly suffocate I’m sure this is mitigated). There are also ridiculous rules about going to the toilet. I imagine these children will have a magnificent outlook in years to come. Adults with face shields teaching pupils how to socialise with others i.e. – in a formal setting DON’T trust the teacher or your friends.

Christian Drosten, one of the most trusted virologists here who recently said in Der Spiegel that without scientists we could have had 100,000 more deaths (yes, sometimes a bedwetter but not to the standard of our beloved Professor Pantsdown I’m afraid), has now said he is sceptical that there will be another wave. I believe it will be a game of whackamole (to quote our great leader back in England) for some time to come given the virus didn’t have the opportunity to go through the community as it has done in England, Sweden and other countries where the virus is rapidly petering out. Lockdown here was thankfully mild. Having said that it was still an hysterical over-reaction and has instilled panic in many. We were always able to leave home and enjoy the fresh air. The the police and the Ordnungsamt officials never harassed us when we were in a park or driving to test our vision and squint at the sights.

My fear is that with the introduction of this mask mania (along with absurd house imprisonment, misinformation, undue world wide panic), many of us will constantly see other people as a potential threat and that this is a kind of fashion that will prevail. It is a sad day when we can’t trust our fellow citizens for simply being human beings. If there is a bad flu season in a few years will we all be mandated to wear masks again (when probably some will still be wearing the abominable things)? The logic given the low risk of serious illness let alone death would say yes. That is a dystopia I wish not to be a part of. For the moment I will enjoy my Pilsner in the pub with my friends without social distancing, without a mask and just perhaps a cheeky fag.

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