Pandemic Journal

Here I wrote about my personal experiences with the coronavirus pandemic. I thought it would be nice to have a document of how things at the start of the pandemic and how things changed. My situation has been pretty good all things considered. I was able to work. I wasn’t fired. I did get covid in the end, but only after being vaccincated. While many have gone through similar experiences, there’s been a lot of loneliness. By sharing this, I hoped readers feel less alone.

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Day 0

Until a few weeks ago, the corona virus outbreak was something far away in China. Then it came to Italy and then we realized any of us can get infected at any time. Ever since, you could talk with anyone from anywhere about this one topic. The only thing that I know coming close to that, are events like the Olympics, but even there there were people who didn’t care for it. Including myself.

This is day 0 of this journal. Starting at day 1, I’ll be working from home. And I don’t know until when.

Day 1

Daycare will be closing starting Tuesday, indefinitely. Although me and my spouse saw it coming—we think it’s about time!—we are a bit stunned about it too. How are we going to entertain our two children for days on end? On Monday daycare is still open (because the city is “gradually” closing schools and daycare centers). My spouse initial reaction to the shutdown was adamant: our son and daughter are going to daycare, so we can work from home without distraction for at least one more day. But there’s an indefinite number of weeks without daycare ahead of us and we don’t have to risk the kids catching the virus during their seven hours in daycare on Monday. So it was quickly decided: I’m keeping them at home on Monday.

Today was the first day working from home. The last day without children at home. This isn’t so bad! The vibe in video meetings is more one of excitement than of calamity.

Because I always cycle to work, I made a bike ride before going to my desk at home. I realized there was no real difference between that ride and the one to the office—I both do them for workout and fun. Still it felt much more relaxed, even if I rarely have meetings starting at 9:00 sharp. That said, I could take a scenic route without cars, so that definitely was different.

Later on in the day WFH felt strange. Although I’ve worked from home as a freelancer, I found it more difficult than I expected. All communication going through Zoom and Slack felt off—there were the same meetings as usual, but now being in the meetings felt less urgent or relevant. Maybe there’s something about being in a room that makes it feel important.

Day 2

A relative called. He is not-angry-but-worried because I made my parents reconsider going to a party at his home, with 40 people invited. They’d be looking forward to that, but my parents decided not to go and now he thinks I’m overly worried about the corona virus. I hope he’s right.

Day 3

It’s the third day of social distancing. I think I’m made for this stuff, I actually kinda like the idea of having everything you need at home. And that we get first signs of the environment thriving with reduced traffic and people outside (at least on the videos I saw on Twitter).

Day 4

I wrote my neighbours on Facebook.

Ich fand es sehr schön zu sehen, wie unsere Kinder alle in der Frühlingssonne draußen spielten. Aber die Bundeskanzlerin sagte das gleiche, was ich gedacht habe: dass es nichts bringt die Schule zu zu machen, wenn Kinder Corona einfach auf dem Spielplatz weiter verbreiten.

Die nächste Maßnahme ist jetzt also, dass die Spielplätze zu gehen. Ich hoffe, dass wir es zusammen hinkriegen, unsere Nachbarschaft komplett Corona-frei zu behalten!

I read somewhere that it’s best not to check the news more than 3 times a day, to reduce anxiety for yourself and others in your home. I should listen to that, because after a year of more or less ignoring Twitter, I’m a total Twitter addict again. And I can’t stop checking those infection rate graphs.

What’s normal or even mandatory one day, is verboten the next. First the office closed, then daycare. I don’t know what’s next and when, but I’d rather have a quick and clear total shelter in place policy than this only partly effective uncertain situation.

Day 5

Today my spouse said out of the blue that she wondered if there’d be more divorces now.

The weather is super nice—spring has come and it’s warm, trees are starting to bloom. When we go through parks, there are more people than on summer Sunday afternoon. I’ve seen pictures of people flocking together in city parks and particularly a lot of old people are doing walks in tight groups of three or four—I hope the moment they realize this was hubris will never come. I also noticed a new phenomenon. There’s this big field at the city border. Normally people walk around it, but today it was used as a park, but with pairs of people safely spaced tens of meters apart.

Field outside Berlin with people relaxing with distance between them
Physical distancing

I took the children past the field, to a place in the woods. On Monday, we only met a few other people there. This time we had to search for a hut building spot not too close to other people.

Day 6

We used to take our children with us, going grocery shopping. Although sometimes a bit stressful, it’s a good activity, as it involves going to the store (physical exercise), eating a bun from the bakery (makes them happy) and searching products (keeps them occupied). Obvs we no longer do that; they stay in the house while one of us goes to the store.

But yesterday they were yearning for a Chocobrötchen and I figured as long as they don’t go inside the bakery and don’t touch anything like the door or the benches outside, it should be fine. So we park the bikes in front of the shop. A man and his daughter on a tricycle walk past. My son has a nice Wooom kid’s bike. It’s a high quality product, but expensive. So just like I asked other parents before we bought it, the man asks me about how we like it. He comes much closer to me than 1,5 meters.

Then he tells me how it’s supposedly super light and—gasp—lifts the bike up with his unwashed hands. While I try to be overly polite, mumbling something about social distancing, he also grabs his daughter from the tricycle and—WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE—puts her on the saddle.

Luckily they only touched one handle bar grip and the saddle. Before cycling back home, I wrapped the empty bread bag over the potentially virus-infected grip. At home I thoroughly cleaned all our bikes’ grips and saddles.

Day 7

There’s a pandemic, but only old people die from the disease. To make it a bit more plausible, younger people also can get really ill, but that just rarely happens.

It sounds like a badly thought through dystopian story. A game-like setup, to divide the world’s population in two, based on visible properties. Already I see the common them versus us in various media. Old people complaining about young people partying and spreading the virus. Young people complaining about old people not taking it serious and meeting in groups, while they themselves are trying to make their 40 hour work week from home with their kids in the house. And finally children who, even if they understand the gravity of the situation, really aren’t scared, because it’s not them who’s going to get sick and die. Well except for the ones who’ve been locked inside; but you don’t get to see them anymore.

According to scientific models, it’s unlikely that this virus will be gone after a couple of weeks of self-imposed semi-quarantine. If things go according to the plans of most European countries, we close off old people from the rest of society, while younger people get infected at a rate slow enough for hospitals to take care of the illest ones. Something which can take years, until there’s a vaccine. They expect virus infections to go down in summer, but getting worse than now in fall again.

(sidenote: For better organized thoughts: Mass surveillance won’t stop corona. What can tech do though?. ) I’ve been eagerly accepting the restrictions from the German government, as I found them too late. But what if the restrictions become stricter and stricter? What if these restrictions are applied every other month? What if that’s the new normal? What if it becomes acceptable and even desirable by myself to enforce that, for instance through automated mass surveillance?

I’m more sympathetic to China and it’s ‘draconic’ measures than ever. Without their lockdown of Wuhan, experts say, the whole world would have been much worse off. They’re now sending aid to Italy and America, because they allegedly have the virus spread under control. And one of their crazy big corporations put 30 000 people to work to build up their own breathing mask production line. In one week time they developed a new type of machine and now they’re responsible for 25% of China’s breathing mask production already.

I got to go for a run now, because in one hour I have to watch the kids again and I need more exercise. Like never before I enjoy running. Every time I think of how it may be the last time that it’s still allowed.

Day 8

My new bicycle arrived. After almost 6 months of waiting, of course it was delivered to the shop now I really don’t want to take transit anymore. Being in transit felt very irresponsible and viscerally dangerous. Which surprised me as it’s irrational. Only few people were on the bus and the train and they all kept a distance. I think avoiding all people except those in my home for over a week is making me overly cautious.

To protect the drivers, the front doors busses remained closed. There was a piece of barricade tape to avoid passengers coming from the back getting to close to the front.

At the door of the bicycle shop a sign said only two customers at a time were allowed inside. It was not a small shop, so I felt it was okay when they gestured I could come in while to others were looking at products. The two shop assistants were totally ignoring the keep at least 1,5 m distance thing, so I guess they didn’t put up the sign.

Anyway, the bike is really nice. It was a proper highlight after so many days that were nearly the same, but also wildly different when it came to the news and the rules for being in this place. What made me about as happy was that I bought a pack of 8 toilet paper rolls. The last pack except for two tiny 2 packs. It’s scented and has ugly prints but after checking the shops so many times before I felt victorious.

Day 9

Where normally people sort of ignore me when passing me on the sidewalk, now most people make eye contact while making sure we keep a proper distance. We exchange awkward glances and perhaps nod—to avoid accidentally projecting droplets while speaking. But then I also met some older men who greet in an exaggerated manner as if they’re trying to show off how fearless they are.

In the supermarket, most people are okay keeping distance. But then there are people like this older lady who approached me at hugging distance and was like hey you must have good eyes (no, I’m wearing glasses ffs), what’s the expiration date of this? We can’t know, but I think the vast majority of the population is not infected. But those people who ignore all the recommendations? Seems like they’re more likely to be infected already.

I really need to learn to be quicker in saying that people should keep a distance.

Day 10

In the Long Earth fantasy/sci-fi books, a big, disruptive change happens to the world. It affects everyone and leaves the world rather empty of people. Today we have the first day of real lockdown; you now have to have an excuse to be outside and you can’t chat with other people anymore. So far, the change is barely noticeable outside, but knowing that it happened and why, makes it feel surreal. Like we’re in fiction, but it doesn’t have the fun bits.

For some people this may all be like having a forced vacation. But for us, combining work with taking care of children and the household, it’s just a big nuisance.

Apart from that being better than getting terminally ill, I really shouldn’t complain. Thanks to my freelancing days, I have a pretty good home office setup with a height-adjustable desk and a decent chair. I have a view on our backyard and the wonderful pink and white blossoming trees in the gardens behind ours. It’s now blocked by the giant display that my employer sent me per courier. We’re lucky to have a proper, decently sized study, so both my spouse and I have our own desks and enough space not to get in each other’s ways. Most people are worse off, here in Berlin and—my goodness— those people in refugee camps.

Day 11

No media outlet—or actually, no company of any type—ignores the pandemic. Every company’s newsletter mentions how they’re dealing with or at least mention it in a we-know-our-news-is-trivial-compared-to-the-real-news way.

As a result, no 5 minutes pass without me thinking about the virus. It’s stressing me out. This morning I was able to accept that this is the new normal. But then I read something about how the police in Belgium is totally unprepared to deal with contagious trouble makers and are scared to go on patrol. I don’t see why that would be different in most countries. According to the news I get, people world wide are meek and cooperative in the situation. That’s consistent with what I see here in Berlin. But I can’t help but expect some countries to fall apart, when police and eventually military people refuse to confront scared and angry crowds.

We haven’t reached the new normal yet and I expect it will takes us at least two years to get there.

Day 12

All my grandma’s activities and thus sport appointments are cancelled. Without people taking her out for a walk, she’d only stay at home all day playing the balloon shooting web game, says my mother. She and some of her siblings made a schedule to visit Oma every day. Now not all my aunts and uncles agreed on this being a good idea. Because Oma doesn’t just stay at home all day; she forgets about the pandemic and insists on getting her own groceries. And we can’t expect her to remember to wash her hands thoroughly afterward.

Oma is a fit 90 year old, but I expect her health to deteriorate quickly when she stops exercising. We can’t change how grandma forgets about the pandemic. Drastically reducing her quality of live at her age would be cruel, especially considering how likely it is she’ll get infected with her behavior anyway.

I’m more worried about my own mother’s health. She has a pre-existing condition making the virus more dangerous for her.

Day 13

I guess we’re used to being in isolation. My spouse and I have optimized our work/children schedule. I’m no longer feeling guilty about my reduced productivity all the time. Many evenings—those that I don’t bring the kids to bed—I work an hour or so, but then I get so tired too tired for anything that requires proper thinking.

Before the isolation, I worked a lot of my free time on the ForTomorrow website. That is almost grinding to a halt.

Day 14

I should really try to not read news even more than every other day. Every time I check my feeds, there’s something about how incompetently some countries’ governments are handling the pandemic. Or how we’re never going back to normal life—by the time there’s a vaccine, our emergency measures will have changed our economic systems, wats of working, etc. The charts with confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths are frightening. Even when one day the growth rate is declining, it can be back up the next.

Besides checking the news less often, there are some other things I learned that help me feel good:

  • Doing a proper workout in the morning
  • Putting my camera off during work presentations on Zoom and doing body weight exercises while listening
  • Because of the kids now being at home, I can’t work normal working hours. For the evenings I’ve now set fixed slots for work in my calendar. Outside those, I try not going to feel bad about not being more available.

Day 15

The supermarket where we do our groceries still doesn’t have toilet paper. Ever since the isolation started, seemingly random products are no longer available. Milk and yoghurt are back though. When I asked about ginger, they told me it’s gone and won’t come back for a while. Same for yeast. Glad I didn’t buy a bread baking machine. I guess a lot of people decided they’d bake their own bread. You have to be lucky to even get flour at all, whereas our bakery has never been out of products.

This evening some friends and I had a Zoom call to catch up. We hadn’t been together with the group for over one and a half year. We mainly talked about how living in isolation is going.

Day 16

The really scary thing we’re facing still is climate change. The things happening around this pandemic is just a taste of things to come. Diseases will spread in unprecedented ways—but probably worse—our societies will be tested under pressure of reduced food and water availability, mass migration and, in some areas, unbearable temperatures.

Considering how most of us are still doing pretty well, I wonder if the net effect of the pandemic could be a positive for humanity. Obviously not for the people suffering from the disease, or the people working hard in hospitals. But death rates actually went down significantly in areas in lockdown. We consume fewer resources and emit fewer greenhouse gasses and keeping that low is definitely something we should have started doing decades earlier. But also, we collectively experience that being economically productive all the time is not a necessity for a good life. We learn again how to value what’s really important. In my case: food, healthcare, family, friends and some time alone to think, learn and create. Not necessarily in that order.

Day 16

Today I got an urgent task at work. For the complexity and size of the task, I felt disproportionately stressed about it.

Until today, when I got to work, I liked it. I did have concentration problems because of the sudden change to the new setup and my mind being too much in the corona situation. But work was a bit of an escape from the here and now: I was able to do the things I normally do.

But the idea of people depending on my work today somehow was something I found hard to handle. Anyway, after some corrections I made in the evening, the task was finished in time and people were satisfied. That felt good.

Day 18

April 1st and I haven’t seen a single April fools joke online that wasn’t marked as such.

Day 19

This whole staying home all day is less fun than I thought it would be.

Good things:

  • We’re together with the family and most of the time that’s good. I really pity people who are all on their own at home. Especially extraverts. I can really understand if some can’t bear it and go outside and chat to a random person. I’ve been that random person a few times already.
  • The children are speaking more and more Dutch instead of German.
  • I’m becoming more creative in negotiating with the children.

Bad things:

  • I forget what day it is.
  • Not working out makes me feel on edge and somehow I can’t find the time to do workouts. In the morning it’s hard to get everyone out of their pajamas and at the breakfast table at a normal time. In the evenings we’re working longer.
  • Despite reduced news consumption, I can start to worry about all kinds of pandemic-related possibilities.
  • We’ve only passed half of the 5 weeks and it already feels like for ever.
  • I don’t see a strong effect in the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. If it continues like this, we’re much worse off than at the start of this near-lockdown. I don’t see why measures would be softened.
  • The children are also getting better at negotiating and are now revolting and ignoring all my requests.

Day 20

When we went into isolation, I was taking the virus very seriously. But now I start to forget why I was so scared of it. I think it’s just my brain being like ‘see nothing’s going on’. There are so many different views on how bad the virus is, even from experts. One virologist said that it’s only dangerous to fragile old people who are likely to do die soon from something else anyway. The statistics show that there’s still a non-zero chance of dying at pretty much all ages.

But then again, I’ve heard the first two stories about people I know who believe they’ve had COVID-19. They can’t know, because one is in The Netherlands and the other in New York. There’s not enough capacity to test all suspected cases in those places. The symptoms these people had weren’t spectacular and they weren’t even ill for very long.

Of course I’m still washing my hands a lot, keeping distance and being cautious around people outside. But I don’t sense the danger that I used to sense. It’s becoming an abstract idea. Perhaps that’s just a good, rational way of dealing with it. And I guess I’m very fortunate that for me COVID-19 is still so abstract.

Day 21

Empty supermarket shelves
Still no toilet paper in our supermarket.

Day 22

Are working hours real?

I’ve worked part time for a couple of years now: 28 hours a week. In most situations, I felt being more productive than that number because I was more relaxed and had more time to mentally process things. Although I’ve always made sure to put in at least my weekly hours, my employer never really cared about presence just for the sake of it. When not staffed on a project, we’re allowed to stay at home and work on whatever we like—or nothing at all. My coworkers and I show up when we need to and for most people (including myself) that’s more than the hours that we’re officially employed for. Much of that is for the love of what we do, or some personal mission that we have. But there’s some peer pressure too. I certainly often felt I should stay long after 18:00 even if I was done with what I wanted to accomplish that day.

But with no one around to see me being so motivated, time spent on work becomes irrelevant to others. It’s about (perceived) work results, meeting deadlines and availability for calls.

Of course there’s a correlation between time spent on a task and the quality of the result. But in my experience, from long before the isolation, a little bit of time spent over multiple days is more effective than that same amount on a single day. When it comes to creative tasks, that is. I think this has something to do with my brain continuing to process things while doing sports, household chores and perhaps sleeping.

Now that being at a location is no longer relevant for office workers, will companies rethink what it actually means to be employed?

Day 23—Day 23 - Every Zoom meeting

Waiting for the organizer to show up and not having a chat with the person next to you, silently looking at everybody’s faces in the grid view while they’re on mute instead.

While speaking: simulating making eye contact by trying to look at the camera instead of other people’s faces.

Wondering if people are looking at the presenter’s video or just doing other work.

That person with the mesmerizing video background.

—Does anyone have any questions? [super long pause] Okay I’ll continue.
—Sorry yes I have a question but I was on mute.

—Have a nice day!
—Yes you too!
[awkward pause while everybody’s scrambling for the buttons to hang up]
Call is over.

Day 25

My emotions are still going back and forth about this pandemic.

My chances of getting terminally ill with COVID-19 soon aren’t high. But it would be pretty disastrous if both my wife would catch it simultaneously—who’d be willing to care for our lovely but likely contagious kids?

Most people contracting the virus don’t even get sick. But I do have relatives who are at a higher risk level.

The measures seem to work; it looks like we’re flattening the curve in Germany. But we’re in a much worse state than on Day 1 with around 200 people dying now each day.

There’s this quote going around on Twitter: “You are not working from home. You’re at home, during a crisis, trying to work.” But I still don’t like myself for being less productive, especially with my amazing coworkers doing all kinds of quick COVID-19-response stuff.

Being a fan of stoicism, I know: when you can’t change a situation, it doesn’t make sense to worry about it. But I still worry daily about what the disease and what it does to society.

We should be careful and stay at least 1,5 m away from other people. But the weather was super nice and there just happened to be so many people who decided to use the same cycling paths that we took. And isn’t the chance that even among hundreds of them, the chance of someone being contagious is still small and the chance of this person infecting us outside minimal?

Wearing a face masks in public is not part of the German policy and described as unnecessary. But in Asia and the United States it’s considered helpful to reduce spread. I’ll just do what’s in between: I ordered some washable cotton masks (not to add to the scarcity that hospitals face) and they should still capture a large portion of particles.

I’m listening to this You Are Not So Smart episode. It describes several psychological phenomena and biases that make epidemics possible. And based on what I heard so far, my internal division is apparently not uncommon.

Day 26

It’s been four weeks of working from home now and it does start to feel normal now. We have new routines and my concentration during work is not as bad as in the beginning. I used some tricks for improving my concentration.

The most important thing is that I’ve stopped being sad and angry with myself for not being more productive. At times I didn’t like myself for not getting more done, despite my awesome home office. I now just admit that things are tough for me. Many people have it worse than me, but that doesn’t make my situation better than before and thinking about them only makes me feel sad. Because things are tough, I just can’t do as much as before. Like most people.

In the same vein, I shouldn’t feel bad for getting the same salary as when I was more productive. When I gave up my freelancing for permanent employment, I also gave up a lot of income for the security that comes with it. I didn’t factor in pandemics as a reason for needing income security, but that’s not the point.

There were some small tasks that I found hard to start well with—they seemed so insignificant compared to what’s going on in the world. Then I started with the big tasks, but didn’t have the concentration to get something going. And went back on the small tasks. That way I did get some busy work done. But to get to productive stuff, I had to resort to this mental trick where I defined the smallest possible step forward on the big task, timeslotted it and started straight away. With the promise of not being disappointed with myself taking longer. Bit by bit that got me further.

Corona news distracted me quite a bit. I already implemented a strict no news during work hours policy. Normally I never check the news during an office day, but at the start of this WFH episode, I felt a strong urge to see what was happening during the day. None of that anymore, but all newsletters I get via my work mail are about the pandemic. Then there are several work Slack channels in which the topic comes up frequently. When I use the internet to look up things, seemingly every website has something to say about it (yeah I know, this one too, sorry).

If you find the isolation situation stressful too, maybe you find this New York Times article In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You useful.

Day 27

A few days into my Easter break and I’m more relaxed now. Which is weird, because I thought the idea of living during a pandemic and the news around it were big stress factors. I guess it was combing work with looking after the kids that was the worst and that I was projecting some of that stress on pandemic info and then start worrying about that and then everything was awful. It’s easy to admit now I have information that wasn’t available a few days ago, but I do think I was overly worried about some situations, like:

  • Touching surfaces that other people have touched (I’m strictly not touching my face as soon as I leave the house and wash my hands thoroughly when I come back in).
  • Being near people outside (Droplets exhaled by runners and cyclists can reach as far as 4, respectively 8 meters behind them, but it’s the bigger droplets with loads of virus that are dangerous. And they don’t reach that far).
  • My own health (there are indications that the COVID-19 mortality rate is lower than the 2–3% that we heard earlier, the vast majority of deaths was at an age much higher than mine, 80% were obese).
  • My spouse and I getting ill at the same time and now knowing how to take care of the children (if one of us gets infected, it’s most likely via the other. Contagiousness is highest after the incubation period. Which, with two weeks is about as long as most people are ill—if they’re part of the unlucky ~15% who are symptomatic).

This is just my journal—I’m not going to include sources and you shouldn’t take medical advice from me etc.

Day 28

When the pandemic was coming to Germany, the world already started to feel weird. Things that seemed to be facts of life, like globalization, people going to work, capitalism, vacations turned out to be cancellable. With the root cause not being powerful lobbying or big demonstrations, but because somebody in a far away place I had never heard of before ate a bat (or a civit cat, as we used to believe). I often think of Venkatesh Rao’s Weirding Diary now.

It used to be like we play this game with clear rules. The rules could be changed, but there were rules for that too and those were strict. But now it’s like somebody threw some dice with completely unpredictable effects. Well, at least unpredictable to me, like:

  • We have literally thousands of tons of potatoes going to waste, because they’re the type that is used for fries. And fries are mainly sold in snack bars and restaurants and those are closed.
  • Toilet paper is still hard to find, but diapers are no problem.
  • The bakeries never closed here, but all ingredients for baking bread are constantly sold out.
  • In parts of the world, some people (those without kids, not employed with what is now called an ‘essential job’ but one that) get like a super long vacation, but they can’t go anywhere.
  • Others, like myself, find themselves in a situation with extremely little alone time.
  • In very other parts of the world (India, South Africa), people are forced to stay inside their tiny, hot homes that they share with too many people for that being realistic. For health reasons.

The D&D critical miss table me and my teenage friends made back in the day certainly was more credible.

Day 32

A couple of days ago I thought I was getting used to the isolation. The Easter break that followed was nice and pretty relaxed. But yesterday the worrying started again. There’s this government advice panel, from the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences. They published their recommendation on how to reopen Germany yesterday and it includes a lot of things except daycare. This old school manly committee was like, yeah schools can open, but toddlers stay home until after the summer vacation. Which at least shows they don’t know that daycare doesn’t have summer vacation, but a shorter break that doesn’t necessarily align with school vacation. That last bit is nitpicking, but I’m worried:

  • Our children need other children to play with. At least ours have each other, but what about those without siblings? You can’t just pause social development at the age when children develop the most.
  • How am I supposed to get to my productivity up again? The children and household need a non-negotiable amount of time.

Ugh. I have negative thoughts over and over again, where everything seems connected. There are about as many new daily COVID-19 as on Day 1. Deaths per day are still increasing. The hope was that after 5 weeks of distancing, we’d be better off, but the country really seems to be in a worse state. What started as a unique, long, but also somewhat comfy challenge, is now who-knows-how-long. And I’m complaining here, but I am privileged, being isolated, with my family, not risking my health and still getting a salary paid. I should be ashamed of myself. But that just makes me feel bad and distracts me from work and being nice to my family. We’re not getting this under control as a global, European or even national society. I was a big proponent of severe measures to stop the pandemic, but either it’s not been severe enough or too many people ignore it—where were all those people going in their cars on Friday night? If grownups are not sticking to the rules, it feels unfair that my children should. After all, their freedom has been restricted most (no social contact, no trips, not even coming along to do grocery shopping) while their health is the least at risk. Since I can’t work with the same passion I had before, should I just take a sabbatical till the end of summer? And what if things are just as they’re now in fall again? Can I even afford a sabbatical? Is my career over? Will the world ever return to normal? And do I want that?

Day 33

Today we did something illegal. We let our four-year-old play with one of the children in the neighborhood. For both it was the first time in nearly five weeks that they talked and played with a child their age. The plan was that we’d let them ride on their bikes through the neighborhood together, a proper 1,5 meters apart. But of course, play is play, so rocks and flowers had to be collected and thrown around. And they came up with all kinds of other things, but that 1,5 meters was quickly forgotten. It was quite wonderful. Since the neighbors are among the cleanest people I know and are otherwise excellent physical distancers, I believe this was barely irresponsible.

I’m trying to ignore the news until there’s certainty about what the next pandemic measures for Berlin will be. By just focusing on the glorious now—beautiful weather, happy children—things are pretty good.

Day 34—Sad

I’ve been tears-in-my-eyes sad all day. The federal government and the mayor of Berlin have decided: daycare stays closed for children of non-essential workers. Until August!

I’m rather desperate; I dread the idea of continuing this for three more months. Our children sleep later and later, a sign that they’re not challenged enough during the day. They need new impulses, things to learn, playmates. What happens to children age two and four when they can’t interact with their peers? How to give them the necessary support in their development? How am I going to keep them engaged and curious?

There are days it takes hours before they’ve had breakfast and put their clothes on. We get into this vicious circle, where they don’t want to get going, get bored, want to do even less, get stubborn and don’t want to leave the house. But when I can just get them to go into the backyard, they’re happier and play independently.

To make things worse, I really don’t know how I’m going to stay productive enough when working. Taking care of the kids just takes a big cut out of the week. As I mentioned, they sleep late and half of the evening it’s my turn to stay with them making sure they don’t jump around instead of trying to go to sleep. So just flexibly shifting working hours doesn’t suffice—we have other household stuff to take care of as well.

Day 35

There’s a law that supports employers for lost productivity of workers due to disasters, but it only pays for up to six weeks of that. Right now, it’s unclear how we can apply for that. But even with that, it feels unfair. Children have a legal right to daycare. It was taken away from them, while they’re the least at risk while it’s not even clear if they play a significant role in spreading the corona virus. As a parent, it’s also unfair. Where those without children basically get a lot of additional free time, the inverse true is for parents. If only I see one more article about taking on side projects, games to play, movies to watch, books to read …

But it’s time I stop complaining about fairness. My situation isn’t bad, I just spend a lot of time with the children and often that’s fun. We have a big enough house with a yard and make bicycle tours through the parks with beautiful spring blossoms. It’s time to just accept the situation and come up with a curriculum for the toddlers. Time to accept that the whole world is working hard on getting rid of the pandemic and its effects and that I’m part of that too. When it comes to fairness, there are a lot of people who get to complain before me.

It’s also time to protest against the daycare closing situation, because waiting till August is just too long. It’s more than a tenth of the age of my daughter. Where in other countries daycare stays open and other measures are made. With distancing, we’re protecting the weakest, oldest people in our society. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of of the weakest, youngest that have no say in this and aren’t even at risk.

Day 37

The law for financial support of employers of parents that I mentioned last time doesn’t apply to us. So it looks like the worst part of this crisis will last till August, when the children can go to daycare again.

If we don’t get covid of course. But provided measures like lockdowns are applied in a smart way, that risk is low. In the Netherlands (worse off than Berlin) statistics show that for people under 40, covid increases the chance of dying during a year with just 50%. It still sucks really bad if it makes you ill. But so does getting hit by a car and that doesn’t keep me from walking and cycling.

So my biggest problem is that we have two kids and two jobs and no daycare for three more months. The good thing is that I don’t feel so bad about not being productive anymore. I now see that the guilt I felt was caused by how I imagined society sees me: not as productive as my employment expects from me. But this society created this crisis situation; our legal right to daycare was revoked from one day to the other and I have a legal and moral obligation to care for our children. It also helps that my employer and coworkers have been very supportive.

For the children not having daycare still sucks. They miss their friends and interesting activities. They even miss doing groceries with me. The four-year-old already argued that if he’d put on a mask, he could come with. We’ve ordered some.

In Denmark, Sweden and Iceland daycare never closed, with no measurable effect on contagion. That’s the reason for the Netherlands to gradually open daycare and primary schools again. Since toddlers also barely have any risk getting covid, it’s extra unfair towards them. Well, at least they’re allowed to play with up to three children in the neighborhood again.

Day 39—Day 39 - Masks

More and more people wear masks outside. I hope this habit will stay: wear a washable mask to protect others from diseases that you potentially carry.

My first mask order arrived only last week. The first time I used one while grocery shopping, I had to get used to it. For some reason it felt like I couldn’t speak, so some interactions with other customers were a bit awkward. I have a washable mask and it’s easy to breath through it. The main reason I wear it is this:

Homemade Masks
Homemade Masks by XKCD

The second reason is that I want to show people that I think it’s normal to be careful with viruses.

Day 42

Our supermarket plays this short announcement where they thank their employees for keeping Germany’s food supply up and running. In the first week of the isolation, I found it surprisingly moving. I experienced the atmosphere in the empty supermarket as weird and somewhat tense. And then there was this friendly voice, this time not trying to get me to buy the promotions, but calling for what’s important: gratitude, empathy and unity.

But next time, I noticed they play the message several times per hour. I imagined working there, hearing it dozens of times a day. For weeks. I imagine it’s hard to take that seriously anymore if even I’m getting annoyed by it by now.

I experienced the first weeks of the isolation as a major emotional event. I mean I even started this journal to deal with it. I imagine for many others it’s been similar. It’s been more than six weeks now and the measures are considered successful enough to open up society again. I think we all feel fatigued by the situation and find it harder to take it seriously. Where in the first week the streets were eerily empty, they’re full of cars again. I see my neighbors inviting friends over and I’m not even mad about it anymore (okay I still think badly of them, but if they otherwise isolate properly there should barely be a risk). I just think we’re all hit badly by the crisis in some way (my neighbor lost his job) and we all assess risks differently. And since measures vary so wildly from country to country, I understand if people don’t follow them as strictly as before.

Day 45

Days and weeks have started to blur together. Memories of days, a week or several weeks ago all feel like ‘recently’. Some work tasks that I postponed for a bit suddenly were postponed for several weeks. Weirdly, they then still felt as urgent, whereas obviously they weren’t and nobody cared about them being completed or not.

That apparent uselessness of my work combined with the unpredictability of work assigned to me and nagging thoughts of the need to reassess what is Really Important™️ makes it hard to concentrate on work.

Day 51

In general my outlook on things is pretty dark. I keep on wondering:

  • How much longer will this isolation have to be?
  • Shouldn’t we get a real lockdown for a week or two and really get it over with?
  • When will we get daycare again?
  • I don’t feel like I’m performing like I should. If daycare is staying closed much longer, should I look for another job?
  • Isn’t this the worst time ever to change jobs, am I stuck in this endless repetitive, stressful weekly cycle?
  • My family and everyone I know is healthy, I get to spend a lot of time with the children, we have steady income and don’t lack anything but social interactions. Then why do I feel so stressed?
  • What will happen to civilization if we keep doing these ‘intelligent lockdowns’? Tight social bonds are tightened, but at the cost of weaker, haphazard interactions. Will this lead to unpredictable power shifts on regional and national levels?
  • Why do so few people seem to realize that a lot of what we’re doing against corona is what we should have started doing long ago against climate change?

Day 55

Obviously I miss:

  • Meeting people other than those in my street
  • Restaurants
  • The city center
  • Traveling
  • Fun
  • Free time

But that’s predictable. I finally realized I miss something else too: the feeling that I’ve had forever: that I’m constantly improving things for myself and the world.

Normally I’m pretty excited about my job. But now a lot of that happens against the background of getting the economy out of this standstill. It’s about regaining what was normal. Same goes for my own role in that: I’m struggling to deliver the bare minimum of what is required, rather than redefining and improving my position within the organisation.

Before the isolation, I used to spend about fourteen to eighteen hours per week on side projects: the website you’re looking at, Big Timer and the things I do for ForTomorrow. Then there were home improvement, gardening and trips with the children. Those activities all give me a feeling of progress. I’m not saying that it’s all useful, important stuff that gets me closer to enlightenment, but it felt positive, creative and I learned things from it.

Much of that is gone now. Life is about maintaining the status quo, making sure we sleep enough, get enough exercise, don’t get annoyed, keep the children happy and engaged.

This made me realize that until the isolation, my private and professional life had a big amount of excess capacity. Capacity I used to learn, improve and plan. Growth was the default.

I’m missing that now. But I realize too that growth can’t be the default forever and being able to enjoy the moment is more important for my wellbeing than being good at learning. And that I’ve been very lucky to have had that capacity required for growth to begin with.

Day 56

It took me more than two months, but I realised I don’t have to carry my wallet chained to my belt loops at all times anymore. I always have my wallet on me, so I don’t have to think of it when I leave the house. But pretty much the only place I now buy stuff are the supermarket and bakery where I can use Apple Pay.

Day 59

I’m feeling a bit more optimistic now! Good things:

  • At work, I’ve been pulled off a project that was depressing me more than I knew.
  • Going by the national recommendations, daycare should be open to our children some time in June. No word from the city or our daycare itself yet though.
  • My employer gave all parents 4 days of leave per child they have. I’m taking one additional day off each week; I now only have to work 20 hours. Now I finally don’t have that feeling of letting my coworkers down anymore.

Day 71

This pandemic has spared me so far and all I do is complain and worry about it. Weirdly, I’m not thinking much about the thousands and thousands suffering and dead. My worries are all about the systems of our global society and what may happen in the future. To me.

Now I may not have my priorities straight here, but let’s talk a bit about those worries. They don’t make sense—the world has always been a dangerous place. Going by the statistics, dying of covid is only a bit more likely than all of the other things I could die of at my age. Even if I were a pretty successful politician, there’d be little I could do about how global society works. And I’m not a politician at all, so that should not be something to worry about.

That’s the stoic way of looking at things. Can’t change it? Don’t worry about it. Can change it? Change it, don’t worry about it. I thought I internalised that. And I do know it, but it really doesn’t change how I feel. And stoicism is just one of the things I learned to control my emotions. There are breathing exercises, meditation, workouts, eating healthy and monitoring sleep, to name a few. And nothing seemed to have done much about my mood—until my circumstances improved.

That lack of control was yet another source of negative thoughts. Why, I asked myself, with all that knowledge, am I still so freaked out, while everything in my household is fine?! Is all that knowledge useless, once I’m not feeling happy? Then is the correlation between happiness and all the other things maybe reversed?

Paul Kaye as Matt's (Tom Basden) pyschiatrist in After Life
“Just don’t worry about it, mate.”

Just don’t worry about it—it’s a beautiful day and the children are happy and it doesn’t matter that the house is a mess, so enjoy the moment. It’s so much easier said than done. And I’m still hesitant to write about this, because I still actually think I’m a total wussy for not being able to handle myself better.

I mean, this is just a minor crisis compared to what famine and war could bring and—as frequently mentioned here—I’m aware of the vast majority of people being worse off than me. I guess despite knowing better, emotionally I thought dealing with crises would be about being brave, resourceful and heroic. Turns out it’s about dealing with yourself, stress and monotony. I gotta learn that stuff better, because I think it’s very likely that the pandemic is just a little taste of what’s to come with climate change in the next few decades.

Day 75

When we went home from the park, we encountered one of our four-year-old’s good friends from daycare. They hadn’t seen each other for over two months. On a few other occasions we met children from daycare, but then they were just shy about it and didn’t greet. But these two friends now finally meeting again—it was glorious! The fun they had, just seeing each other, joking around on the pavement. We had to go home for supper, but it took half an hour of just pure joy before they were ready to go. And only when I made a racing game out of that.

Day 79

All the weeks feel the same. Not necessarily in a bad way, but everything feels like last week. Everything before the isolation feels like a few weeks ago.

Day 86

What felt like impossible finally happened. Our two children were allowed to go to daycare again. They only get to go half of the days: this week three, next week two days. And only a few hours. But they loved it. And so did we parents.

Day 100

Yesterday I heard people talking about ‘during corona’ in the past tense. With our daycare opening at regular hours again, for me too it feels like the pandemic is over. Obviously that is not the case. But the infection growth rate is low here and people start to pretend that it’s over. I don’t know how to feel about it. I want to be happy and relieved. But I don’t think it’s really over. We still haven’t met with friends, don’t visit anything except a few parks, occasionally. My mind is still in ‘I have to stay home’ mode. I feel that if only we just stay in hour homes and keep our distance covid will go away and then we can go back to being safe outside. But that we’re not there yet.

Day 130—Day 130 - Vacation

Five weeks ago we had to decide: are we going on vacation? Well: we did it! It was just a short train trip to the Baltic Sea, where we stayed in a hotel for a week. After going nowhere for months, this was a very welcome change—I was finally able to really relax again and see things with a different perspective.

My daughter and son running towards the beach

As I learned from the book The Elephant In The Brain, often we think that we do things for reasons, but in reality, we make up those reasons after doing something. In other words: we justify our behavior by rationalizing it. I became very aware of this through this trip. Before we went I was on the fence about whether or not it was the right thing to do. Deep down I thought the wise thing would be to stay home and not risk spreading covid (rationalizing my behavior, staying at home, was the right thing to do). But now that we went there, I’m so happy that we did, to get out of that locked-in mindset I got at home. But again, that’s rationalizing my behavior. Similarly, the first time we were about to go to the hotel’s pool, I was worried—is this okay? Shouldn’t we avoid moisty places with other people? After going once, I felt fine; it wasn’t that crowded, it was an outdoor pool, etc.

Me and my daughter on the beach

I think this rationalization behavior is often forgotten in debates about pandemic fighting policies. Your opinions about things like lockdowns and where you should wear masks is much influenced by what you’ve been doing. As a result, I bet that WFH office workers are much more likely to support strict measures, whereas those with jobs marked as essential are more likely to see things a bit more relaxed.

Day 139—Day 139 - Meeting coworkers again

Two of my coworkers are leaving the company. They organized a small get together to say goodbye. This is against the so-called code of conduct put in place to reduce corona infections within the company. This was outside though, in the Mauerpark, with people keeping a distance.

It was a beautiful summer evening. My first social event since Day 1, when spring hadn’t even really started. Despite the dates and numbers on top of these journal entries, I hadn’t fully realized how much time had past.

It felt unreal, seeing the people who had been reduced to thumbnail-sized pictures, fuzzy Zoom feeds and Slack messages. Somehow it was like being online with them, but seeing them with high resolution, full 3D avatars. Speaking without lag and reverb. We drank the same drinks. We smelled the same things. Actually, it was very normal. And still I experienced it as strange. Someone joked, ‘How does this work again, socializing?’ Which described just how I felt, so I repeated that to someone else later on. Almost nothing out of the ordinary happened, but I felt a tension because of that. Because it was not ordinary for me yet. Neither was it for many of them.

People were really sweet respecting the varying degrees of distancing others preferred. No hugging for me: I’m still at elbow bumps.

Day 143

Ever since the start of the isolation, my mood has been down regularly. The vacation was a good break from that, but back at my desk at home I got that sense of emergency again. It’s not just the pandemic and the looming (sidenote: I understand those who are tired of the situation, but fuck those nazis demonstrating here in the city on the 3rd without wearing a mask. ) . I can’t see the pandemic separate from exploitive globalist capitalism. And the bigger problems that come with it. And if we can’t even get along to stop this virus, then how are we to fix climate change and inequality?

Anyway, that’s just my rationalization. In reality, those big problems are beyond my control and have been around from way before the pandemic. So I guess I just really miss being around people. That’s why I followed my friend’s advice and went to the office again!

That was somewhat of an event. It felt strange being back. My laptop wouldn’t connect to the wifi anymore, so asked some of my coworkers about that. Walking around with my laptop I stumbled over a trash can. The office has many anti-covid measures, restricting access for people, to avoid contact and thus virus spread. So I didn’t get to see a lot of people. At least I found a good lunch partner on my floor. It felt good to be back because of that.

Day 147

It’s hot in Berlin. I don’t know if that’s the reason, or my worrying about the future, but I haven’t had a good night of sleep in weeks.

Day 158—Day 158 - My plan for relaxing more, getting better sleep and being happy again

Last Sunday I had what you could call a mental breakdown. We had what should have been a relaxed weekend at home with the children. Still I felt everything was too much. Let’s skip the details, but let it suffice that I never have had that before and don’t want it to happen again, because it was bad. Also, I still haven’t slept well, so I feel exhausted.

I’m taking measures so this is not getting out of hand.

In general

  • Don’t read news, except on Sundays (I wanted to allow it during the whole weekend, but Saturday mornings are hectic, because of doing household stuff with the children)
  • Don’t go on Twitter for a month (I changed my password to a random string that I deleted afterward)
  • Don’t go on LinkedIn except for work-related things
  • Leave phone at the charger (I bought a watch specifically so I don’t have a reason to have it on me all the time. There are too many potentially fun distractions that often make me anxious or stressed)
  • Put side projects on hold for a month
  • Don’t do volunteering work in the evenings
  • Talk to other people (when face to face is not possible, call them. Messaging doesn’t count)

Every day

  • When I wake up early, I use the time to do something I enjoy, like gardening, reading or sports.
  • I do at least 30 minutes of exercise (the hard part is every day—the day after I did a super long bicycle tour I thought I could use some rest, but I suspect that made me grumpy)
  • I do 15 minutes of relaxation exercises or meditation (I will put this in my calendar, because I never feel like doing it, because it’s boring)
  • Besides lunch, I take at least 2 short breaks of work where I don’t sit at the computer
  • At 20:45, I reflect on the day (I have a template for this, which lets me list 5 things that I’m grateful for, things that went well that day and things I want to do better the next)
  • After 21:00 I don’t use the the computer for anything but journal writing or watching movies.
  • I go to bed at 21:45. After all, waking up early isn’t bad: it’s nice and cool in the mornings.

Day 174

My plan for relaxing more, getting better sleep and being happy again seems to be working. It’s not like I’m constantly full of joy and super relaxed now, but I feel like I’m getting a grip on my mood and sleep again. Some days, I’m better able to concentrate. My memory of anything that happened since March is still warped. Everyone I talk to seems to experience this though. My spouse also found it strange to realize that our children have only been going to daycare regularly for a month now. Coworkers can’t remember what projects they worked on since May.

The strange thing with sleep and my wellbeing is that I’m never sure if I sleep little because I’m worried or stressed, or the other way around. Or both.

I find it difficult to stick to all rules in my plan on all days. Especially after a day of work and bringing the children to bad (my spouse and I take turns doing the latter), I want to do something fun. A lot of what is fun for me involves my computer. And one of the rules is that I don’t use the computer after 21:00, except for journaling. Not doing side projects is both very relaxing and a bit frustrating, because I love doing them so much and new ideas keep on piling up in my mind.

I started to paint (badly) with watercolors again, which is fun too. I feel no pressure to be good at it because I have no illusion to ever apply that in a work context.

Not carrying my phone with me at all times I still find difficult, but I’ve basically locked myself out of distracting platforms, so that’s not really a problem.

Only reading news on Sundays is great. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Because of work, I ended up on a news site today. I accidentally read something about how the US is falling apart. I find it easier to distance myself from it now though and can was able to go back to my task at hand without feeling anxious.

I definitely don’t manage to meditate every day, but I’m doing relaxation exercises of some kind almost every day. One of those things is listening to music with my eyes closed and doing nothing else. That’s nice.

Doing exercise, relaxation and reflection every day is a bit much beside work an the household. But I do feel I really benefit from reflections. I’ve updated my journal app’s daily reflection template to get the most out of it and will try to really stick to doing daily reflections.

Time to go to bed now.

Day 200

DAY 200! When I talk to others, they all mention how they can’t believe that summer’s over already. It’s like as if everybody feels like only little time has past since the isolation started. But at the same time, everything pre-pandemic feels like much longer ago. Things that happened since March are on a non-linear timeline in my head. For instance, it doesn’t feel like too long ago that we went on vacation. But it started on Day 118. And the things I worked on immediately after that vacation… oof, I can’t say for sure. But I remember exactly what I worked on before it.

And now we’re at Day 200. When I started this journal, I really didn’t think I’d still be writing about the pandemic. Oh yes, now I remember: I really hoped that if we’d all just stay indoors for a couple of weeks, put on masks when going outside and washing hands properly, the virus would have been largely eradicated. It felt like an important thing to do really well, For The Good Of All Of Us. Well, at least some people tried.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m still careful AF, washing my hands, not touching my face and everything. But I now internalized that we do that to reduce the intensity and postponing the worst until there’s a vaccine. There’s no ‘fight’ that I can ‘join’ so we will ‘win’.

Day 206

Getting ready for the second wave. Case numbers are up again in Germany (where I live). Like with the first wave, The Netherlands (where I’m from) is ahead of the curve. Masks are still not mandatory there though.

It’s an odd feeling, being so disconnected from my own people. I understand on an abstract level why Germany is doing better. Germany has clear rules, defined on a local level. People obey rules because they’re not so individualistic as the Dutch. But almost every time I talk to otherwise mostly reasonable Dutch people, it feels unreal that they’re part of that culture.

Conversations go something along the lines of:

“Germany is doing pretty well in the pandemic, right?”
“Yeah, it’s amazing how different two neighbouring countries can be. It’s not like viruses respect country borders.”
“I don’t understand it either. But in Germany you even have to wear a mask in shops, no?”
“Yes, thank heavens.”
(Slightly annoyed) “You think that’s good, huh?” (Changes the topic)

Day 208

I’m sorta used to the corona crisis, so I guess we can no longer call it one (because crises are sudden events, turning points, and it has been almost a year since it started in China).

What I’m not used to is the uncertainty about what it does to society. Many lost their jobs and businesses. But people say the worst is yet to come. But when? How bad? For how long? Will we ever have music festivals again? Theater shows? Another thing that worries me is the effect on politics. I feel that a lot of public debate has become even more about short-term topics than before. Then there are the United States that are stuck in this narrative black hole of a nation going to shambles. I can’t tell anymore how much of it is true deterioration, things that always have been bad becoming more visible and the news itself being a self-fulfilling prophecy. In any case, with the UK out of the EU, the US government drunk on trumpism, Russia’s trolls feasting on that and China waging economic wars on all fronts, it’s difficult to imagine that innovation and civilizational progress are much of a priority to humanity in the next decade or two. And those two things are essential for my line of work to exist.

Day 234—Lockdown #2

Back in lockdown. It’s called a partial lockdown this time, as if last time literally everything was locked down. It seems sensible though. Bars, cinemas and clubs are closed, restaurants can only do delivery and take-away service. People are only allowed to meet with others in groups of max. ten, from max. two households at the same time. The best thing is that daycare and schools remain open. Which makes sense (finally) since there are still no know cases of virus transfer between young children or young children and adults.

I won’t go to the office anymore. At least not while I don’t feel depressed again. Compared to Day 1, things feel more predictable. This must be that new normal. Well, let’s see what happens after the elections that are about to start in the US. A world power on the brink of collapse isn’t exactly helping predictability.

Day 278

And now we’re in proper lockdown again. The soft lockdown didn’t lower the spread of the virus. It’s probably a big blow to retailers, but if it weren’t for reduced Christmas gift buying options, the effect is negligible on our family. Daycare hasn’t fully closed. In fact, it’s open for all children who need it. There was a lot of communication to parents to please leave your children at home. At the same time, the minister of family affairs explained that all parents who believe daycare is needed, can bring in their children. Unusual for German official policy to be so loose and a bit risky, because the soft lockdown didn’t have the desired results. But it’s a relief to us as parents.

Most children in our daycare center could stay at home, ours did go to daycare because we still have work to do. So really, not much has changed for us, as we weren’t going anywhere anyway.

Day 283—Day 283 - Visiting the Methuen Home/Schloß Schulzendorf

My Christmas holiday has started. I wanted to go somewhere, but with the pandemic worsening and thus me avoiding all people and travel, I thought I’d just do computer stuff and ride my bike every now and then.

A nice thing about Berlin is that there’s clear city border after which there are just forests and fields. Only interrupted by streets, the Autobahn and dozens, if not hundreds, little villages around it. One of my favourite pastimes is to explore that all by bike.

Parts of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit were shot in and around Berlin. Turns out that the Methuen Home, the orphanage, is actually Schloß Schulzendorf. And not too far away from my place.

The manor as shown in the Queen's Gambit, covered with snow
The Methuen Home: Beth’s orphanage in The Queen’s Gambit

Curious to see what it’s really like, I got on my bike and went there. Urbex time! The manor is in the middle of a tiny village in former East Germany. Bad cobble stone roads, many dilapidated buildings, most of which houses except some small auto repair shops. But then there’s this stately house just in the middle of it. Everything was run down, but the lawn was mown not long ago.

The manor on a sunny winter day
Schloss Schulzendorf is like the Methuen Home without makeup

The building being in a bad state I expected the grounds to be fenced off. But you can enter and leave it just like Beth did. Which was an odd sensation, because part of my memory of the fictitious show suddenly appeared real. The feeling was different from seeing a famous landmark for the first time after having it seen in movies, because the house is more like an actor in the sense that it wasn’t portraying itself.

On top of that, the real manor is slightly different from the one in the series. The buildings and the fence from where the boys wave at Beth don’t exist there. Also, in the series, the building was digitally enhanced. They added roof tiles where in reality only a small patch still has them. The tower that looks somewhat out of place, got the same fancy plaster that the rest of the building has.

Otherwise, it felt very familiar. Not just because I knew the shape of the environment, but also because it was like I had memories of the place (fond memories of course, because I made mine while enjoying great entertainment, not having the tough time that Beth had there). Until I looked through the window of the main entrance. There is no way that the Methuen’s Home’s long hallway and the large rooms adjacent to it would fit inside that building!

The hallway of Schloß Schulzendorf seen through the door window
What Beth would have seen if the orphanage’s interior wasn’t bigger than its exterior.

After the tower, I think the most interesting part of Schloß Schulzendorf is the glass roof extending from the main roof. I was very curious about the room under it, so I looked for open doors. Except for a few rooms not connected to the main building, everything was locked. One of the balcony doors at the back wasn’t fully shut, but there were no stairs going there. If only I could get up there … Then I noticed that the brickwork next to the balcony looked almost like it was designed for teenagers who want to sneak out of the house. So I climbed up to the balcony. I’m not a fearless teenager though. The balustrade is about 3 meters high and everything was moist and slippery, and I was all alone, so this was the scariest (and stupidest) thing I’ve done in a long time. Up on the balcony I discovered that the balcony was indeed slightly ajar!. But it was either locked or so stuck that I couldn’t open it without risking to break anything. At least I got another glance inside!

Back of Schloss Schulzendorf with balcony
I mean, that guarding to that door basically is a staircase.

Day 294

Christmas and New Year’s Eve in lockdown. It was allowed to meet a small number of people from one other household, but we didn’t want to take any risk. We stayed at home, celebrating with our family. I’m not a Christmas fan anyway and and not having the hassle of visiting relatives wasn’t so bad. We prepared nice, but not too laborious food. The children were very happy with their presents and played with them for days without wanting to go outside. So that was actually pretty good (except for that they had too much energy in the evenings, running, fighting, shouting around supper time).

After being at home for so long with just the four of us, I didn’t really see a reason to even celebrate New Year’s Eve. Why wouldn’t we just do what we did all other nights? If there were a way to have more fun on the 31st, why didn’t we do that every day of the Christmas break? I guess I was getting some lockdown blues symptoms again. Luckily my spouse convinced me to make the best of it. We indeed had a fun night with our little ones. For the first time we played tabletop games with the four of us. Mostly balance games, which was extra fun because our three year old was so excited she couldn’t help to jump up and down and shake the table!

Anyway. While many people are tweeting about how great it is that 2020 is over, I can’t pretend that a change of calendar makes a difference. Well at least this will be the year where lots of people get vaccinated and perhaps we can go back to feeling anxious about being within 1,5 m of a stranger.

Happy new year.

Day 317

Despite my employer being very flexible and forthcoming to parents, I experienced the first lockdown as rather stressful. It was unclear how long it was going to last. For a while it was unclear what the company policy was. But even when a clear policy was in place, I felt I wasn’t available enough to my coworkers and not to my family either. To compensate both, I gave myself less attention. Which would have been okay for a week or two, but it’s not sustainable for months—I had stopped doing things that truly relaxed me.

By the end of summer, work was relatively relaxed, daycare was open again and everything seemed perfect. But I just felt down, exhausted and desperate. I was disappointed in humanity and couldn’t see how we’re going to fix our problems. I realized I was slipping into (sidenote: I avoided this word before. I think it’s used carelessly, ignoring that it’s a clinical condition that needs treatment. I did several tests though, including one with a healthcare professional. I didn’t want to admit it as a real possibility. ) and couldn’t explain why. Why couldn’t I be happy when my situation was so much better than before? I still really don’t understand what happened and why it happened. But I had been on a downward spiral for months. It was more than a mood and it wasn’t going away by itself. So I took all the measures I could think of. Things got better again. In fact, things were going so well, that I didn’t even do the evaluation I planned: I was happy and excited to do new things instead of working on myself.

So last year I didn’t handle things too well: the combination of working, taking care of the children and doing other household stuff. Because we didn’t want to travel anyway, I saved up vacation days in case another strict lockdown was coming and we couldn’t bring the children to daycare. In summer, I was pretty sure we’d get a strict lockdown in the flu season, end of autumn.

I ended up with almost two weeks of carry-over vacation that will expire in March. A vacation in early spring would have been nice, but I’m about to join a project that I’m rather excited about. It’s not starting before mid February, but will likely run well past March. When I found out about this, I requested vacation as soon as possible. The day HR confirmed my vacation request, the city announced stricter lockdown measures. Daycare will close again for everyone but the children of those in critical professions. Starting tomorrow, when I’m off for two weeks.

It’s a lucky coincidence, but I feel like I’m finally getting on top of the situation.

Day 336

Ugh … after one week of work with the kids at home I’m wondering—how again did we do this for three months last year? My spouse and I split up the week into half day blocks of minding the children. Working part time and having the nanny over twice, there were only 2 days on which I had to combine work with looking after them. I didn’t feel particularly stressed, but there was a lot of work to do, with time pressure. I had several meetings with a child on my lap, because I had no control over when the meetings were scheduled and one of the children had a sudden need for extra attention.

Last year the children needed constant attention—no chance of getting any work done with them around. Then it was clear: there’s just no way I can squeeze in a proper work week into my time available. Now they’re older, we can let them play for a bit while working. But rarely did I get more than 15 minutes of uninterrupted work. I got mad at them at least once a day.

But it wasn’t all bad. Because of the proper layer of snow, they happily played outside. And getting up early, I managed to go cross-country skiing in the park 4 times this weeks so far! The covid cases are going down, so the city announced that restrictions will be loosened. Just like all the times before though, such initial announcements were too vague to know what they meant for the daycare of our children.

Day 351

I gotta say—I’m handling this lockdown better than the first one. Key differences:

  • We know a lot more about covid and I’m less scared of it than during last spring
  • From the second week of the lockdown I’ve been allowed to take ‘sick child care leave’ days
  • Work has been really engaging and interesting
  • I’m taking daily relaxation and workout seriously
  • I’ve pause all the ambitious parts of my side projects, only doing easy and fun things

I’m sleeping well. I’m happy doing the things I’m doing. When I work, I want to have more time doing that. And when I’m with the children, I love that and wish I can have more of that. Especially when the weather was like spring all of a sudden! Last year it was backwards: during work I felt like I had to mind the children and when I was with them, I wanted to get back to work.

This week some general discontent was coming up again. All things considered, it’s going well and I’m enjoying that, so I have to be careful not to get all negative again.

Day 372

It has been more than one year of pandemic in Germany now. A year of working from home, lockdowns, uncertainty and sadness. A couple of things I assumed when I started this journal a year ago:

  • We’ll get a lockdown like in Wuhan
  • It will be really tough for a couple of weeks or maybe months and then most countries in Europe will be more or less covid-free
  • It will be years before we get a vaccine, so we have to be vigilant and careful and rely on strict distancing
  • This journal will be nice to have as a document to look back at how things went and how we’ve adjusted our society for the better

If only we could look back at the pandemic as a thing of the past … But let’s be honest, if I my expectations hadn’t been so off, I wouldn’t feel so apathetic and sad about the topic.

Was I so wrong for expecting our governments to act strongly? For a while, Germany was proud about how it was handling the pandemic, doing much better than many others. But the constant urge of our politicians to bring things ‘back to normal’ all the time makes that one year later we have the worst of everything:

  • Thousands of deaths
  • Thousands of chronically ill
  • Unmeasurable mental/psychological suffering because of loneliness, uncertainty, burnout, job loss
  • Massive economic damage
  • Small businesses bankrupt
  • No real social life for kids, while grownups complain about the shit they do online
  • Grandparents who barely could play with their grandchildren for year
  • A disgruntled group of people who get increasingly vocal about how they refuse to believe there is an virus anymore because they want to hang out and party with others.
  • Wealth distribution worsened with stock owners hopefully deeply satisfied with their company’s lobbyists succeeding in keeping things like car dealerships open pretty much all the time

We’re still in a raging pandemic with a much more dangerous virus mutation than what it started with. We saw it coming like the original strain and did nothing to prevent it spreading outside the UK.

On the plus side:

  • There are several vaccines. Considering that much of Europe is still handling the pandemic better than others, I think it’s for the best that we have to wait a bit until we can actually order enough of it.
  • I haven’t had a bad cold or flu for over a year now!

Before I wrote I feel apathetic and sad. I try to ignore the news. Because every time I occupy myself with it, I get FUCKING MAD. Like right now. WHY couldn’t we stay inside for four fucking weeks and get it over with? WHHHY do we have these conservatives who want things back to fucking ‘normal’? We can’t go back to 2019. And 2019 wasn’t even that good a year anyway. ‘Normal’ doesn’t exist anymore. We need to move things forward and make this world better than it was.

Most people agree that working from home at least part of the time is better than being in office all the time. I think we can all agree that not getting sick because of being close to people spreading their flu and diarrhea germs around is also pretty nice. If we want to avoid the worst climate disasters, we have to keep those planes grounded, stop commuting by car and stop producing so much crap.

But politics in this part of Europe is dealing with the pandemic like any issue. Trying to find consensus between a tiny group of virus deniers, industry lobbyists and people who just don’t want to die from covid is not the way to go. We need a long-term plan based on vision. Support for people getting hit hardest by the restrictions. Shop owners, freelancers, parents, children, educators and students. No stupid bail outs of industry titans. (There is nothing inherently bad about some corporations going bankrupt—some other corporation will buy them, if they’re still relevant enough.)

70% of the German population is totally fine with strict measures. The others are just not being empathetic or not bright enough to consider the consequences of letting the virus spiral further out of control. Their arguments are invalid. They’ve been heard and listened to. And because of that, one year later, the situation is actually a LOT WORSE.

Day 373—Vaccinations

My parents and grandmother got vaccinated: a big relieve.

Last summer, I wouldn’t have thought that there would be vaccinations this soon. Even optimistic news articles mentioned that trials just take time, that vaccines are rarely developed in less than three years, that even running decent trials would take a year and that maybe we wouldn’t even ever develop a corona virus vaccine. So I expected the invention of a working vaccine like a single big celebratory moment. I experienced it in a rather anticlimactic way. There wasn’t a single ‘we have a vaccine’ moment. It was a trickle of news reports describing the progress at several pharmaceutical companies, step by step. When the first vaccines were available, the production rate was low. Then there was the whole bureaucratic setup where countries had to get their logistics in place. The Netherlands (where most of my family lives) was one of the last countries in the world to start vaccinated. Germany (where I live) was only a week or so earlier. Officials in The Netherlands (correctly, IMO) pointed out that it’s not so much about who starts first, but about what system works fastest. But all of Europe is vaccinating slowly (and the Netherlands was among slowest). We’re still only at ~20%. Most European countries wanted to negotiate good bargain for vaccines. The UK, where vaccination is at 50% now was willing to pay a lot more. And with a lot more I mean less than €30 per capita.

With the oldest of the population being prioritized, my grandmother’s turn was quite soon. But my parents had to wait till May. Until it turned out that the media reporting about the AstraZeneca vaccine made a lot of people lose trust in it. So many that the vaccination centers didn’t know what to do with the vaccine anymore. They made voluntary waiting lists and so my parents got their vaccine through one of those.

Day 377

Today my spouse and I went somewhere. For the first time since July 2020 I left the Berlin/Brandenburg area. It was only a one hour express train ride—we went to a place just outside Leipzig (ForTomorrow was having trees planted there and we documented how that was going). For days before and after it, I was prettttty excited and a little afraid. A bit like when I was little and it was very special when my parents took me to a place I’d never been to before.

I consider that a regression, because as a grown-up I used to travel to all kind of places near and far. Curious to see something new, not bothering about the traveling part. Emotionally though, it doesn’t feel good to leave the city. It’s strange though. I wouldn’t (and didn’t) have an issue with taking a regional train to go on a hike. But the thought of being on a train with other people for more than half an hour, going through train stations and being in another city feels irresponsible. Even if pandemic-wise, it really doesn’t matter whether I’m on the streets of Berlin or Leipzig. Neither does the type of train matter.

Anyway. It turned out to feel good to be in a different place. The weather was beautiful, we were outside a lot and the people we met were super nice. And distanced.

Day 385

It’s not even been a month since daycare opened up a bit. Now it’s been announced that from Thursday on it will be closed except for the children of a parent with a system-essential job. That means back to crisis mode. Last time I took a week off to recover from that. I don’t feel ready for this one yet.

Just to be clear: the problem isn’t having children at home—although it can be challenging, I love spending so much time with them. The problem isn’t that I love my job so much that I only want to work—although I really don’t like the big difference between working my normal 70% and 50% (a full working day of not being available for appointments). The two big problems are:

  1. The children get bored after weeks at home. Which they don’t admit but it shows in how lethargic they become, cry more and don’t even want do tiny chores like putting away their dirty dishes. Visiting interesting places defeats the purpose of a lockdown—at daycare at least the number of interactions is very limited.
  2. Working is harder when there’s the children are at home, even if my spouse is watching them. I can ignore some shouts and cries, but having that day in, day out is tough. I don’t like locking my door, but if I don’t they’ll walk in. And if I do, there’s a high chance one of them starts banging it until I open up.
  3. My time off is limited to the evenings where I don’t bring the children to bed. That means I don’t get to work out much, to the detriment of my mood. (Although I could try doing workouts in the morning again. Earlier that didn’t work, as I would wake up the children and then they’d wake up my spouse. Everyone grumpy because papa was so loud.)

During the first lockdown we didn’t let the children play with others at all (even the playgrounds were closed, remember). That was a sad time. In the second one we figured it was okay to let them play outside with a small number of their best friends and neighbors. As there were no known cases of where the corona virus spread between toddlers, I believe that was totally fine. But now I’m not so sure. There are cases where the B.1.1.7 variant of the virus (which is deadlier and more contagious) infected whole households, with little children bringing in the virus.

After my first panic last year, when there were still so many unknowns, I learned to accept that my spouse or I would catch the virus. After all, often only one partner gets sick, without infecting others. It felt like a big gift that little children were only extremely rarely affected and didn’t contribute to spreading the virus. But now it’s like we’re dealing with a whole other pandemic. With B.1.1.7, it’s not unlikely that two parents get severely ill at the same time, while their children too are having bad symptoms. I haven’t heard of what parents are supposed to do in such a scenario where everybody should quarantine, but no one can take care of the children and household.

I hope that when I read this back in a few years time, I’m wondering why I was so stressed while the vaccines were already being distributed. It’s only a matter of months before it’s my turn, right? Well, it would just be extra sad to catch it now and then die or be impaired for the rest of my life. And the numbers only look scarier than an year ago. And of course, working without daycare is mad stressful. Can’t be flexible making appointments. No breaks between work and household. If you know how to be patient with a 3-year-old after rushing through a full work day in half the time, let me know.

Day 403—Why am I not depressed?

Somehow this lockdown isn’t so hard on me as previous ones. Just like when I wasn’t feeling so good last summer, I can’t really pinpoint what makes the difference.

A few things are different though. First of all, I’m losing track of what this lockdown is. I think Germany has been in an official lockdown since November. And that it’s only the second lockdown. Initially under the pretext of bringing down cases so we could celebrate Christmas with bigger groups. And then it got extended again and again. But somehow there was public debate about whether or not there should be an Easter lockdown. As if we aren’t in one already.

The messed up thing though, is that in some respects, there’s never been a lockdown at all. Legally it’s been allowed to work in offices all along. On the other hand, daycare has been closed for the third time now. It’s not really closed though. It’s only open to children who have at least one parent with employed as one of professions deemed ‘system-relevant’ in the 31 page PDF issued by the city. And then there are several other exceptions. Allegedly I could get a haircut again and I think last time was end of summer.

I’m also losing track of time more than before. The first few weeks of the first lockdown were an eternity. Now the weeks are flashing by.

It really helps that I have really low expectations of what I can get done at work. Paradoxically, this helps me focus as I don’t get frustrated and distracted anymore by the things I’d want to do but can’t. I also have low expectations of what I can do at home. Every common household chore I finish is a win, whereas last year I thought I could do some home improvement things while taking care of the children. Last year I could get pretty frustrated when by 10:00 the children would still be in their pyjamas and refused to eat breakfast. Now I know that they then will likely get hungry enough to come to the kitchen. And that when I go outside, they want to come along and all of a sudden can quickly change their clothes.

My mindset also improved in another way. I do my best to focus on activities. When I work, I make sure I don’t get disturbed. I’ve been teaching the children to knock on my office door before entering (it works half of the time, but more importantly, they seem to just leave the door closed more often). When I’m with the children, I enjoy that. Instead of trying to solve work problems in my head or, god forbid, trying to do work from my phone. My mindset improved t in another way too. I do my best to focus on activities. When I work, I make sure I don’t get disturbed. I’ve been teaching the children to knock on my office door before entering (it works half of the time, but more importantly, they seem to just leave the door closed more often). When I’m with the children, I enjoy that. Instead of trying to solve work problems in my head or, god forbid, trying to do work from my phone.

It gets better! Last year I had to do an effort to accept that I had to work less and spend so much time with these children who wouldn’t want to listen to all my ambitious parenting ideas. This time, I’m trying to optimize some things for just this situation. I ordered juggling balls, because having a non-computery, non-thinking learning activity would be a great distraction (too bad that due to pandemic reasons they haven’t been delivered yet). I got myself a longboard so I have something to do other than looking at my phone while with the children outside, already a while ago. But now they claim it every time I get it out of the shed. So I also ordered skateboards for them. I’m looking forward to riding with the three of us!

But yes, the situation still sucks. I want my children to enjoy their regular routines and learn more. I want the people with covid to get better. I want to meet people without feeling irresponsible. But those are things I can’t change. But I can and somehow do now accept the situation and make the best of it.

Day 414—Wholesome lockdown activities

Despite my being positive in the previous entry, I started to feel frustrated and sad again. Often I use this journal to write down what frustrates me, which helps getting it out of my system. But the last couple of days I got upset about even small things, so I want to focus on some positive things.

First of all, I started to learn to juggle. It is as hard as I imagined. Every day I practice a couple of minutes and every day I get a little bit better at it. It’s great, because a) it requires my full concentration and keeps my mind off other things and b) getting better at something I thought I would never be able to learn makes me happy. It makes me feel less stuck.

The second positive thing is that I’m using one of the skateboards I got for the children to learn tricks. Before you think I’m a mean dad stealing toys: I got two more boards so the kids don’t have to use my longboard when I get it out—I bought them for me, so we have enough for the three of us. Also, with tricks, I mean one trick that I can’t do at all yet. Again a physical activity requiring concentration and something I never thought I would learn.

I now wonder what else I’ve convinced myself I’m bad at but could actually learn. I mean seriously, skateboarding!! Until a few years ago I would never have thought I could ever learn that. Ever since I was little I never thought I could learn that. And getting closer to age 40 I somehow started to believe it’s hard to learn new things altogether. That it’s not worth the effort and more better to improve the skills I have. My five year old is learning faster, but that doesn’t matter to what I can learn. What matters is what I want to be able to do and I’m starting to feel it’s a lot more than I ever thought.

Day 426

Daycare in our area is open to all children again, starting Monday. Perhaps this journal starts to look like, but it’s very important to our family. Obviously for the children. This week the oldest was allowed in for three days and it instantly reduced the bickering with his sister when he was at home. In the afternoons he was excited to do things, in the evenings he was tired of the long day of seeing other people and learning things. The youngest, too, was happy to have some time alone with us (she mentioned something about her brother stinking when I asked her about how she experienced it).

But daycare is also important to my spouse and me. Every week we’ve been planning hourly schedules to make sure one could attend the most important meetings, while the other would make sure the children get the attention they need. To be fair, them being 3 and 5 years old, a lot of the time they play independently, go outside and meet with the children in the neighborhood—a big difference with last year’s lockdowns. But we can’t rely on it. Usually they come to us three or five times per hour with some request. Telling us they want to go to the toilet. That they want to eat, drink, get a band aid, found a fat worm, learned a trick on the skateboard. So while we get some alone time while they play, we can’t use it to do deep work or schedule meetings. Even writing an email is frustrating when you get interrupted three times doing it and then forget to include something important.

The other reason why I mention that daycare is opening again is that this time I consider it possible that it was the last time it we had to do without for this long. The daycare staff is getting vaccinated soon. With the rest of the population also getting vaccinated (I heard about some of my coworkers getting lucky with getting their shots through the backup waiting lists), it’s possible we’ve had the last big wave of covid cases. I’m not saying this was the last lockdown for sure, but I’m carefully optimistic about it.

I’m even getting slightly melancholic about the idea that maybe this was the last real lockdown. The lockdowns have been stressful, but especially the last couple of weeks, I’ve enjoyed the upside too. I spent a lot of time with the children and that has improved my relationship with them. I’ve gotten a little better at understanding their temper tantrums. We’ve had fun together. I think they like me more than before. And I can almost do an ollie on a skateboard.

Was this personal growth? Have I learned to accept the situation, make the best of it and enjoyed life? Have I stopped resisting the fact that I couldn’t do hobby projects, courses and that most of my long-term thinking was on hold? Or am I just relieved because we get daycare again?

Sometimes it feels like we’re in the end phase of the pandemic, but although things here in Germany are slowly starting to look good, cases world-wide are growing increasingly fast. Humanity may have invented covid vaccines, but we haven’t found a way yet to lift the patents and make sure they’re affordable for all people.

Maybe that’s my most important learning so far—something that I knew already as a scientifically demonstrated mechanism, but always found hard to experience—often I don’t know why I feel the way I do. And just like all people, my brain makes up a story to explain the emotions. If I’d be sad right now, I could attribute that to the sorry state of the world: subsidized vaccine development is now exploited for money by big pharma, while thousands are dying in India alone. But I’m not sad, so I found other reasons for why I feel like I do. Maybe I just feel fine because yesterday we had a holiday and that relaxed me.

Anyway—I’m looking forward to next week and having one additional full, uninterrupted day of work and even getting some free time again next week.

Day 432

For a while, covid vaccination was throttled by the amount of vaccine. Now there’s still a shortage of the mRNA vaccines that are more expensive. The approval of the vaccine developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca was detracted for a while, because of some deadly thrombosis cases. Now it’s approved again, but not recommend for people under 60. It got a lot of media attention, so people are afraid of it. But going by the numbers, the AZ vaccine really isn’t bad. The risk to get covid in Germany right now is much, much higher than getting blood cloths in your brain from taking AstraZeneca vaccine. Even better, now it’s understood why the thrombosis can occur, doctors can treat it before it’s deadly. As far as I know nobody has died in Germany after the treatment of these cases has changed.

Still, doctors typically aren’t eager to administer it to people under 60. It’s difficult to find practices that are vaccinating people below 60. Those that I found either say they don’t want to be contacted because they’re overwhelmed by requests. Or they don’t respond to the requests I make to be put on their standby lists. In other contexts I would be extremely annoyed by this unorganized inefficient mess, but I don’t really mind, because as far as I can tell, doctors are vaccinating at top speed and no vaccine goes to waste. A little effort from citizens trying to get ahead of others isn’t a great loss in relation to what’s at stake.

Still weird though. It took quite some effort to find reliable information on whether or not it’s a good idea to get AstraZeneca. Turns out it’s not risky, but that it’s efficacy is nearly as good as the mRNA vaccines. But then still, you’re supposed to wait 3 months for the booster shot after which you only have the highest protection and wouldn’t it be better to wait a few months and then get the even higher protection from a better vaccine (and not risk the mild side effects—about half the people I know report being sick for 1-4 days after getting the AZ shot). It’s also difficult to find out if Germany allows those primed with AZ to get an mRNA booster shot (I think so because the Standing Committee on Vaccination at the Robert Koch Institute does recommend it). And if one is then better protected or worse than with a homologous vaccination (probably better, but no big studies have been conducted on this so far).

Day 433—End phase?

One thing I didn’t expect to hear at our company’s all-hands: company doctors can soon order and administer covid vaccine. We have a company doctor. Soon we may get a shot in the office. I couldn’t believe it. By the end of July I may be fully vaccinated!

The chat was full of comments about getting al together, summer parties and things like that. To be honest, I’m a bit afraid that I don’t know how to do that anymore. I feel scared about big groups of people now. Now I don’t think I will be happy staying at home forever—I think this journal shows well that it’s quite the opposite. But then why do I feel like I’d prefer that? And why am I not excited about the thought of being able to travel safely again? The world suddenly feels so big and daunting again. My home is so nicely predictable. The week days aren’t much different from the weekends. Days and weeks fly past and then months and now we’re already almost six months into 2021 and it feels very recent when did that half-ass New Year’s Eve celebration. Yeah actually that doesn’t sound great either.

There’s this article You Can Be a Different Person After the Pandemic and that notion keeps popping up in my mind. Maybe I should use the occasion and define for myself what kinds of events with other people I like and what kinds I don’t. So far I’ve been a ‘yes of course I like parties’ kind of person. Sometimes I met ‘no I don’t like parties’ people. But maybe I only like very specific kinds of parties?

Day 455—Vacation

Last week: vacation. Quite similar to last year’s, we went to a beach town on an island in the Baltic Sea, in the north of Germany. A train ride away from Berlin.

The sun sets behind a hotel in the resort architecture style that's traditional in Binz.

What was very different from last year was that I was relaxed from the first day and managed to stay that way. During last year’s trip, built up tension came out with me worrying and being generally agitated. Nothing like that this time around. The context was different too. This time, the trains were almost empty. On the island only one case was reported in the week before we arrived. And there were very few tourists; we arrived on the second day that tourism from outside the state was even allowed. All visitors had to show negative test results. And it wasn’t my first trip during the pandemic anymore.

All and all, it was almost like a pre-pandemic vacation, except that people were wearing masks in the hallways of the hotel. Since the start of the pandemic I often feel anxious (or actually, annoyed and appalled) by groups of people not keeping a distance. Now there were much fewer people than normal and I didn’t observe any reckless behavior, but I felt pretty okay with those who were there. Just give me that vaccine and I think I’m ready for the reopening of society.

Day 471—Vaccination

Saturday my spouse and I got our covid vaccination, shot one of two. I thought I would experience vaccination day as a big celebration. Although it felt like an important day, I felt mostly stressed. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was being in an office again after so long (we got our shots through the company doctor). Or the idea that it could have been a big party, but we’re still distancing, so everybody had a 15-minute appointment and there was no celebrating involved. Or it was that nobody else seemed to be really happy either. Or that the shot is only protecting us in a while and that only two weeks after the second shot we’re properly protected. That’s the thing—this pandemic is far from over. And even when I’m fully vaxxed, most people aren’t. Even here in Germany we’re still far away from herd immunity.

I do know I’m very lucky of course. Even got the best type of vaccine available, with highest protection and mild side effects. Perhaps I feel more excited after my second shot. Or better, we should celebrate a little!

Anyway, those mild side effects aren’t exactly a mood booster. I’ve been feeling very tired since Sunday morning. Random muscles ache occasionally. Every now and then I feel a bit feverish. Quickly agitated. Can’t think well or recall things quickly. I watched Das Boot. I empathized with the sinking submarine, pointless, squeaking and rumbling under pressure. I imagine this is what feeling very old feels like.

Day 503

We had a team event. It was weird. Or actually, I was weird. It was my first social event with more than a few people since forever. And I was just overwhelmed with everything. We were about 20 people on a boat on Spree river. The first 45 minutes or so I spent sitting in a corner enjoying the view. Fully aware of being a total weirdo, but also really enjoying the view.

Quiet view of the sun setting on Berlin seen from a boat on the Spree

Day 525—Fully vaxed

It’s been two weeks since I got my second dose, so now I’m officially fully vaccinated! No air horns and fireworks, but I do feel slightly more at ease. Like, I’ve ended this level without dying. Not without facing the end boss though: I was down again with side effects for almost a full work week.

I met with friends today, IRL. Outside, but that was mainly because the weather was nice and we were a big group. Two of them got married in July. I didn’t go to the wedding because of me being too anxious about the pandemic. The wedding taking place in the Netherlands, where the there’s much more virus despite a much smaller population didn’t help. This outside gathering was really fun though! No masks necessary, enough space for the small crowd not to be overwhelming.

So: yay! This pandemic is far from over. And I still have a 1 in 20 chance of getting ill after contracting the virus. But it’s unlikely that the virus will get me really bad.

Day 531

Yesterday, we had a semi-outdoor summer party with the office. The mood was definitely different than on pre-pandemic parties. Less festive, more personal, more honest perhaps too. For many it was the first time seeing coworkers in months (and even the first time ever for new joiners). So there was this sense of having a really long shared experience. The evasive answers to questions like ‘how are you doing?’ People’s struggles with loneliness, boredom and stress.

Staying till 22:30 or so was definitely long enough for me, but I had a good time. And I’m looking forward to joining society again.

Day 599—Visiting the Netherlands

Summarizing Germany’s approach to covid with The Netherlands’s would be (sidenote: This is obviously a gross oversimplification, because on top of having all those rules, they’re defined on a local level, subject to constant change and rarely communicated or checked. But all in all even most Berliners follow obey rules and rather be safe than sorry. ) versus yolo let’s fill those ICs to the max.

Which is one of the reasons I hadn’t visited my home country in 2 years. But my grandmother was having a birthday party and the 2G rule was in place: everyone had to show proof of vaccination or show a negative test. So I went there with the children. Every time we go somewhere, I feel guilty about putting them at risk while being vaxed myself. But at least the oldest keeps his mask on.

The purpose of the trip was meeting family, so in the few days we were there, we didn’t really do much, but holy shit, nobody wears a mask at the supermarket’s. Zero people except me. What the actual fuck. I felt funny for wearing one. I know in The Netherlands masks haven’t been mandatory for a few months now, but seriously, with the numbers skyrocketing, why would you wait for the prime minister’s televised speech to do what the whole world knows is the safe thing?

Day 636

With me and my spouse being vaccinated and the infection rates going down in summer I thought perhaps it would be time to close this journal. But obviously, even if I’m personally not really at risk at the moment, this pandemic is far from over.

In fact, cases are soaring in Berlin. And as always, in the Netherlands, things are more than ten times worse. A few children in our daycare tested positively. Several close family members have been infected and got sick in the last few weeks. Some of them have already recovered, others are recovering. One family I know that didn’t want to get vaccinated also got infected. The whole family. As far as I can tell they aren’t the conspiracy theory type of antivaxxers. They were just being overly cautious. On social media there are these people laughing at antivaxxers getting covid, but I only find it sad.

So the pandemic is far from over, but like many, I’m getting tired of the measures, the distancing. I’m not against them—in fact as a benevolent dictator I would enforce a very strict lockdown for two weeks. No big gatherings. Shopping only with masks. But then at least we can meet socially without feeling weird about it.

Because that’s the thing. I want to meet people again, but every time I even approach someone to hang out I feel a bit guilty about that. Asking them to put their health and that of others at risk. At the same time we all really need more social contact and we can’t keep doing this forever. Because the corona virus is here to stay, that’s quite obvious now.

Day 671—Quarantine

Until this week, we have been lucky with our daycare. Apart from the occasional positive tests, I’m not aware of anyone from the staff or children getting seriously ill from covid. Most of the positive tests couldn’t be confirmed with the more accurate PCR tests. But with cases in Berlin at an all time high, it seems unavoidable that our daycare too will get affected. There was one confirmed case in our son’s group and antigen tests suggest that more children and staff have been infected. So now we have our first official quarantine at home.

It’s impossible to isolate a six-year old without making life a hell for us (many nights he won’t even sleep alone in his own bed).

Which, in my opinion, doesn’t make thist a proper quarantine. We don’t have symptoms, none of us has tested positivily and the official quarantine only applies to our son. So my spouse, daughter and I are free to do go about our normal routines, visit people etc. But of course, with the son and thus us being potentially infected, that would be careless. So our daughter is also staying at home, we’re ordering in food, don’t have play dates, cancelled all in-person meetins and are in WFH mode again.

It’s been three days with the children at home. So far it has been okay. I’m still on leave from my paid job, so we don’t have the pressure of having to combine two work weeks with full-time child care. It’s been almost two years since the first lockdown and that difference in age is huge. The children are now four and six years old. This morning, after playing board games together (with rules that they actually obey), I just suggested we do some things on our own to relax a bit and then do another game together. Which seems go about fine, because I managed to write this journal entry without interruptions.

Day 689

Our oldest got his second jab today. If we’re lucky it’s just in time for him not to join the huge surge of cases we’re seeing. It’s nothing like we’ve seen before. Our youngest is under six, so she can’t get vaccinated yet. I’m not too worried about her though, it looks like young lungs deal with covid really well.

A few times a week our daycare warns about possibly positive cases among the children, but usually they turn out to be false positives that can’t be confirmed by PCR tests.

Day 690—Aaand we're back in quarantine

PCR test of one of the children in our oldests’ daycare group was positive. Keeping our youngest at home too, just in case. It’s a bit annoying though, because both my spouse and I are a bit under the weather ourselves.

Day 691

Spent most of the day in bed with a cold. Head feels pretty clear though. I feel bad, but I’m not suffering. Spouse isn’t doing much better. Luckily the children are playing together a lot and let us rest.

Day 692—Do we just have a common cold?

Our children have been coughing for over a week and have been tested negatively for covid five or six times since that started. Nothing out of the ordinary We haven’t really been exposed to other people other than during grocery shopping and a bus ride to the vaccination station. All with FFP2 mask, obviously. My spouse’s official test station test was negative.

Day 693—Ugh

Feeling pretty bad today. I mean for a day on which I feel a lot better than the day before.

Day 694—Positive?

The children’s coughs are almost gone. Our youngest was supposed to get her first swimming lesson. But because I wasn’t exactly feeling great, we’re quarantining a little longer, just in case. I suspect I have covid, but first I was to sick to get a PCR test. And later the test I did at home was negative. If it’s a cold, it’s a really weird one. Usually with a cold, I get better in a rather linear way. But although today I feel physically much better, my head is foggy, whereas yesterday it was the other way around. On Thursday I was doing some web development work, which I really enjoyed. Today I really don’t feel like it. Placing the groceries order was a big task.

The kids seem to be alright. Except the youngest was a bit disappointed about the swimming lesson.

Day 705—Cured

The official test earlier this week was negative too. Most of the symptoms are gone, but some days I cough a bit or suddenly have running nose. I still feel exhausted much of the time. Cycling even at a slow pace gets me at the limit of my breathing capacity. It’s slowly getting better though. It’s going to be a few weeks before I will even start working out at this pace though.

The time we were in quarantine with the children wasn’t the nightmare I expected it to be. They too needed rest. And they played independently/with each other a lot. We ordered in groceries and ate pretty good microwave meals. The bake-off rolls were a decent replacement for fresh bread. It would have been nice if we’d all had tested positively, so we’d know we really don’t have to worry about getting a covid infection soon again.

Day 707—Looking back

When I started this journal, it was still very unclear what it would mean to get covid. If only I had known I’d get infected this late, after getting vaccinated, I would have worried much less. Oh, all the things I was afraid of back then … I considered societal collapse after reading that police refused to work at some stage. I was even afraid that time [a man touched one of our kids’ bike]{(% post_url journal/2020-03-19%}).

On the other hand, my initial fear that the virus would be a big thing wasn’t misplaced at all. I imagined there’d be more people dead, but I also imagined things to be over quicker. I’d like to think that the WFH thing was foreseable, but to be honest, I didn’t really think much about these things. And I really don’t have clear expectations about the coming years.

Day 708—Silly predictions

Okay, just because it may be fun to look back at this in 2025, here’s what I believe will happen:

  1. Because Omicron has been somewhat less deadly and much more contagious, a most people will have contracted the virus within the coming weeks.
  2. Those who survive will be—like me—less afraid of dying from it and are really fed up with everything covid-related. They want to feel healthy and are no longer afraid of breathing in other people’s germs. This will lead to an accellerated loosening of restrictions, making the the virus spread even quicker.
  3. The summer on the northern hemisphere will be one cultural outdoor events. But rather than a roaring 20s kind of thing, people want smaller, more intimate settings because who knows how to socialize anymore.
  4. Some countries will normalize voluntary mask wearing in public spaces.
  5. Office work will remain a combination of WFH and on-site meetings. Some conservative organisations (those who still haven’t managed to digitalize their processes) will require staff to come in again. This will create an obvious divide between boring, old companies and modern, progressive companies. Because with trusting people to be productive at home comes a lot of company culture that will attract the type of inherently motivated people, whereas the other type of company will attract authoritative leaders who don’t trust their people.
  6. Similarly, there will be a lot of small things in which people will behave differently, like shaking hands. Ultimately these are connected to values like tradition and care for others. These behaviors will divide people into two factions that have already been politicized. This will get worse for a while, but then better again, because the careful people will become less scared and the traditionalists will experience more and more covid cases up close.
  7. Each fall there will be new variants. Most will be less deadly, but there will be some panic about a potentionally more deadly variant.

Day 709—The end

I will now close this journal. I’m optimistic about my recovery. It seems like a good time to end this story. Also because I’m done with this topic—I want to spend more time on things that make me happy rather than scared.

A lot of people read this journal. Several of you contacted me about it. I appreciate that! I really enjoyed the various ways the pandemic made me meet people online. So if you want to talk about any of this, just let me know.

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