Fringe Box



Schwesterlich News: Happy Covid Christmas!

Published on: 4 Dec, 2020
Updated on: 2 Feb, 2021

In November we published the first of what we hope will be a regular exchange of news to and from our twin town of Freiburg in south-west Germany.

They are open letters between Penny Leube, co-chair of Freiburg’s Anglo-German Club, and Barbara Ford chair of the Guildford Twinning Association. Here is Barbara’s first reply.


December 2020

Liebe Penny,

Freiburg’s location

Herzliche Grüsse to you and Freiburg from your twin town, a somewhat drizzly and cold Guildford this weekend. Lovely to read your Freiburg news last month. Now it’s my turn.

I’m writing amid the euphoria of leaving our second national lockdown. Like many Guildfordians, I went into the High Street to a shop yesterday; so exciting.

Everyone I saw was being very careful, hands, face, space as the pandemic slogan goes, but you could tell even, through their masks, they were relishing their liberation too.

A heady feeling, following the wonderful news that the first vaccine has been approved.

Boris Johnson – with signs of combing!

Then the Prime Minister’s televised news conference was probably the most cheerful ever. I think he’d even combed his hair.

But hasn’t this been a terrible period for all of us across the world, with frightening numbers of deaths and acute infections, still rising globally? The picture across the UK has been dreadful and is still painful.

Nationally, the infection rate is reducing, but only slowly, and the impact on people’s livelihoods and the economy has been devastating. What a choice, lives or livelihoods; impossible to achieve a balance that pleases everyone.

Tabloid Covid headlines

As you’ll know from reading any UK news outlet, it’s pretty depressing that any announcement or arrangement made by the authorities, national or local, is greeted by a chorus of objections.

Slightly less depressing to note the objections are different: some say the restrictions are too strict, some say they are not strict enough. Some claim even asking people to wear a mask to protect others from a deadly virus is an unacceptable breach of civil liberties, presumably a “thin-end-of-the wedge” fear.

Even the vaccine approval: while some of us (including me) are thrilled it has come through so quickly, there are commentators complaining the research and testing was too quick, and therefore corners must have been cut. No-one can get it right, but everyone’s an expert.

It’s comforting to talk to relatives and friends abroad, such as your dear self, and to read the foreign press, finding similar attitudes in so many other countries (at least, those with a free press): another global effect of coronavirus.

Anti-lockdown protest London. Image BBC

There is over here, a constant dreary dragging undercurrent which taints every day and every activity. Perhaps that’s less so in Germany with its more effective response to coronavirus. We’ve all got coronafatigue (to create a German-style portmanteau word), it’s been going on so long.

Some more cheerful reflections: many of us have got to know our neighbours so much better during this crisis, with local WhatsApp groups springing up (there’s one in my road), offering mutual comfort and support.

So many people are giving practical support at a local level. For example, I signed up at the beginning of the pandemic as an “NHS responder volunteer”. Almost every day, I am asked to phone someone in isolation, just for a chat. That’s been very rewarding, all the people I call being grateful for the contact.

Most of them just want the normal sort of conversation, “Isn’t it awful?”, “How long are we going to be stuck like this?”, “Did you watch Strictly last night?”, “What’s the weather like where you are?”. I’m really enjoying chatting to so many different people all over the country. They tend to be older and have really interesting stories to tell.

There’s been a lot of care for others, lots of donations to local charities, especially to food banks. Donors also include the local branches of online retailers, who have after all been probably the only retailers to thrive this year.

To see the big national supermarkets repaying the special tax relief, received in March to help keep retailers in business, has been so encouraging.

Shall we Zoom?

The IT industry has done well too, with great benefit to us as consumers, though not as a nation (not much tax paid over here). We in the UK at least have all become proficient users of Zoom (it’s a new verb: “Shall we Zoom tonight?”) for work and play. This past year I’ve “been” to virtual drinks with people far more often than I’d ever do it IRL (in real life, see how I’ve learnt the lingo).

Another activity which has apparently been very successful during the pandemic is the financial scam. The fraudsters have really stepped up their action. For example, I receive at least one scam call a day, often more, on landline and mobile phone.

Lots of people are already so anxious they fall victim. Sometimes it’s a human caller, sometimes an automated one, but they’re all after my money in one way or another; click on this dodgy link here, switch some money from your bank account there. Unsubscribe from Amazon Prime is a popular one.

When I was young, dubious phone-callers wanted to know your bra size, now they only want to know your bank account details. Is that a sign of the times? Has society become too materialistic?

I said all that to one of my NHS responder people, and it made her laugh so much it brought on her cough and her asthma. I had to ring off and call back later to check she was okay. She said she was and that a good laugh was worth it.

Now we have to decide for ourselves whether to take advantage of the UK government’s five-day Christmas dispensation and risk spending that with our families, or to play it safe and stay locked up in our homes. I think I too might go for the good laugh option.

My very best wishes to everyone in Freiburg. I am determinedly looking forward to coming over in July with a group of Guildford Twinning Association members to help you all celebrate your 901st anniversary. The pandemic will be over and we’ll have a wonderful party.

But for now, dear Penny, fröhe Weihnachten, Merry Christmas and much love.

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