Fringe Box



Schwesterlich News: Tidings from Freiburg

Published on: 5 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 7 Nov, 2020

This is 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.


November 2020

Dear Barbara,

A warm-hearted hello to you and Guildford from this sunny corner of Germany and your partner city, Freiburg. Donning my sort of Alistair Cooke Freiburg hat, some thoughts from this part of the world. Are you sitting comfortably? I will begin.

What new territory this is for us all, negotiating our way through this dilemma of a pandemic. If only we could go back to how everything was before.

I was having my yearly eye-check up at our Freiburg eye specialist the other day, and sitting in his chair exactly a year on, but now with mask, I was reminded of how all had been right with the world back then.

Oh, to have a Tardis and to be able to travel back there, actually, even just retreating a few months to the summer wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. Freiburg had certainly got its life back then to a form of normality; the track and trace system was working well and infection numbers were low and under control.

Penny Leube (left) with her husband Ernst who co-chair Freiburg’s Anglo-German Club, with Barbara Ford chair of the Guildford Twinning Association

Even with the minor irritations of mask-wearing in public places, filling in contact details and waiting to be placed at a table you often didn’t want to sit at (probably reminiscent for some Germans of restrictive DDR traditions), all this was bearable for the majority of people here, accepting this as the new order of things and a price worth paying for the joy of meeting up with family and friends and sharing a meal together.

The cinemas had opened their doors in June and in September theatres and concerts followed suit, albeit with reduced audiences, and the reputable Albert concerts even introduced a system of curtailed programmes with two sittings.

The Freiburg stadium had opened its gates to its football-hungry supporters again, with fewer crowd numbers and a strict ban on shouting and fan song-singing.

Everybody could meet up with who they pleased and where and when they wanted, and even holidays were taken at home and abroad, my husband and I managing to squeeze in a much-overdue and longed-for return to the UK without burdensome quarantine.

Probably, looking back on it, we all went a bit mad and now, unfortunately, Europe-wide we are all in a similar boat and back to square one.

The track and trace system lauded as the answer to everything over here has been unable to cope with the exponential (yes, that word again) rise of new infections, even with the help of the Bundeswehr (German Army) manning the telephone lines.

Freiburg had no sooner been granted the accolade of “hot spot”, not of course, on account of its sunny climate, but the high-rising infection rates and all the restrictions that came with it, than 10 days later, Mrs Merkel put the whole country into lockdown.

Some commentators referred to it as “lockdown light” which sounds perhaps more appealing, like a healthy butter option.

Freiburg is in the valley, near the Black Forest Photo Wikipedia

Mrs Merkel is known for her cautious approach and had been very wary of lifting lockdown back in spring but it was quite a feat now to get the 16 independent state presidents to come to an agreement, especially the very left Bodo Ramelow from Thuringia and the right-wing Markus Söder from Bavaria, and sign up to a nationwide month lockdown.

Freiburg’s location

The promise of a ten billion Euro support package, perhaps sweetened the bitter pill, but not one of the state presidents would have been willing to bear the responsibility of causing unnecessary deaths when, as in the UK, the graphs were pointing towards a health system overload.

The German health system is robust, with its mixture of public and private insurance-based health care and well-funded at nearly 12% of GDP, but some doctors were warning that, even with enough ICU capacity, there was the serious 4,000-carer shortage that would be the problem.

Perhaps it is rather reassuring for us all to feel, whether one is living in Guildford or Freiburg, we are all together in this rather unsteady pandemic boat, paddling with all our might, and just hoping none of us is going to fall overboard any time soon.

Cathedral Square in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg Photo Wikipedia

I mentioned in the first paragraph the broad consensus over here that one gleans from chatting to people about the acceptance of the measures that have been taken, but it would be wrong not to mention the vociferous and at time large, angry demonstrations in Berlin, Stuttgart and last weekend in Karlsruhe.

A few weeks ago, Freiburg even had one, a rather damp squib of a demo (it was drizzling with rain) with about 350 people who had gathered on the Karlsplatz to welcome and cheer on a Doctor Bodo Schiffmann (an ENT specialist with a reputable practice in Sinsheim, near Heidelberg), who spearheads a movement “Resistance 2020” also known as “querdenker” (lateral thinkers, often in contrast to main stream opinions).

The group is anti-lockdown and mask-wearing and pours scorn on the medical science behind, as they see it, the draconian measures and the perfidious claims of Angela Merkel. They even make the comparison with what is happening politically and Hitler’s grab for power in 1933.

It was rather an ironic coincidence that on that very same morning as this demo was banging on about their loss of freedom, on the other side of town on the Place of the Old Synagogue a dignified memorial service was honouring the 359 Jewish Freiburg citizens who had been deported to Gurs (a concentration camp in southwestern France) 80 years before on that very day.

During the ceremony, the chairperson of the Freiburg Jewish Community, Irina Katzer, read extracts from the harrowing accounts of a witness, Kurt Maier, 10 years old at the time, and now still alive in New York.

Bürgermeister Ulrich von Kirchbach Photo Wikipedia

The mayor, Ulrich von Kirchbach, who also spoke (unfortunately the Lord Mayor, Martin Horn, was in Covid isolation), reminded everyone how very important it was to mark such occasions, lest any of us should ever forget the horrors of what had happened in Freiburg, and to bear testament to it, especially now, in the face of rising antisemitism.

Reading the reports in our local newspaper the following day, symbolically positioned on the same page, one above the other, there was no need for an editorial, the pictures and the words spoke volumes.

Our freedoms, of course, are sacrosanct, but how can necessary restrictions on our freedoms in the face of a dangerous pandemic be in any measure equated to what happened to poor Kurt Maier and his family on that fateful day in 1940? Bodo Schiffmann and co, please, get a grip.

This year, so many events have been cancelled, Wimbledon, the Olympics and very disappointingly for Freiburg its 900-year celebration. Everyone hopes next year the 900+1 will go ahead and many Guildfordians will be able to come and celebrate with us all, with you Barbara leading the charge.

On this cheerful note I will close. An Irish friend recently exhorted me to “take care” for as they say in Ireland, “Good people are scarce”. Dear Barbara, may I exhort you to do the same and the good people of Guildford likewise.




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Responses to Schwesterlich News: Tidings from Freiburg

  1. Ian Nicholls Reply

    November 7, 2020 at 7:06 pm

    In an increasingly inward-looking world, this article is a timely reminder that we are in a global pandemic. We should be considering how all other countries are dealing with it, not just comparing ourselves to nations doing worse than us. A really interesting read more like this please Guildford Dragon.

    Editor’s response: We do hope to bring you more. Check back for Barbara Ford’s Sisterly News from Guildford in a few weeks.

  2. Paul Gillingham Reply

    November 15, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    A lovely article from Penny Leube.
    Danke schoen.

  3. Michael Gorman Reply

    November 15, 2020 at 7:36 pm

    When an illness is running rampant some curbs on liberty are justified. Historically they were for smallpox and cholera. But does Covid-19 justify the current curbs?

  4. Tessa Johnson Reply

    November 16, 2020 at 10:29 am

    I was very interested to read Penny Leube’s message. I have met her on several occasions. She has been to my home here in Guildford with the lovely view to the Chantries. Two years ago a small group visited Birtley House. I had the pleasure to be there. I send herzliche Gruesse to all in the Freiburg twinning association.

  5. Helen Poole Reply

    November 21, 2020 at 11:30 pm

    A lovely interesting account and sharing so many of our common experiences brings us so close to each other. And thinking about that, especially at this time, let’s all just hope and pray hard that, at last, our EU negotiations will have the best possible outcome for us all.

    There’s always always hope.

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