Fringe Box



Schwesterlich News: We’re a Bit Behind the UK But There’s a Spring in Our Step

Published on: 9 May, 2021
Updated on: 10 May, 2021

The latest in our 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. See previous letter’s here.


May 2021

Dear Barbara,

“O, to be in England, now that April’s there”. Well, it’s a bit late for that, but May will do us nicely, especially with all those charming Surrey pubs opening up and ours over here remaining very much closed.

As you in Guildford have been taking those tentative steps towards freedom, we have been marking time and even, in some places, retreating into more lockdown.

Are we downhearted? I think it would be generally agreed to say, yes, we are a bit. We shouldn’t be, of course, when one sees on the telly those appalling scenes in India.

There is also much to be positive about, spring has sprung, and the fresh green shoots are brightening up that very dark Black Forest and, most important of all, that disastrously slow vaccine rollout has finally picked up momentum.

Spring in the Black Forest Image Wikimedia

Now, 27% of Germans have had one dose and 8% have had two. Some days ago, more than a million jabs a day were achieved.

I can report, too, that we have been almost done, Ernst twice and me once. It was quite a palaver getting it, meaning a round trip of 160 km to a vaccination centre in the middle of the Black Forest to the town of Rottweil (yes, you guessed correctly, where those dangerous dogs come from).

Ernst had tried for jabs, unsuccessfully, nearer home, but in Freiburg and all other neighbouring “Impfzentren” their jab cupboards were bare. So up into the hills we went. Fortunately, there was no snow, but lovely spring sunshine, and with a picnic on board we had a really fab jab jaunt.

Entirely through random computer distribution, Ernst (German) was given BioNTech, and I (English) was fittingly given Astra, such a clever computer.

The only problem was, this 160km round trip had to be repeated twice more, due to our different vaccine types. Although now GPs’ surgeries had finally begun vaccinating patients, ours refused and told us to return to Rottweil where our second dose had already been secured.

Rottweil – the unlikely looking source of Rottweilers Image: Wikipedia

With any luck, by June 4 when we return for my second dose, the cafés will be open and it won’t be a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down but perhaps a slab of that famous “Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte”.

The other day, I was at my thyroid specialist for my yearly check-up. It is nothing serious and very commonplace, almost two a penny. A lack of iodised sea air is the cause.

Perhaps when you are next here, Barbara, check out that goitered lady gargoyle on the “Haus zum Walfisch” (Erasmus of Rotterdam’s one-time lodging), for she bears witness to centuries of this miserable Black Forest condition. Thanks to thyroxin, though, luckily, I don’t have a neck like hers.

The goitered lady gargoyle.  Photo Barbara Ford

Face to face (well, masked, of course) with my consultant I thought I’d quiz this very approachable medical chap and ask what he thought about the general situation. We discovered we had both been given the Astra, and he was really irritated such a wonderful vaccine had been so maligned.

He felt truly fortunate, too, that he had been able to work throughout the pandemic, and I do feel perhaps docs and dentists and even orthopaedic surgeons, with hip ops etc, have been able to carry on practising, perhaps more successfully here than in the UK.

One thing he was longing for was a get-together with friends and having a meal once again in a restaurant. Hear, hear to all of that.

Translation of lead article: By 8.10am all vaccination slots on Freiburg’s AstraZeneca promotion day were taken.
2,500 – 3,000 candidates for 1,400 doses of A-Z vaccine: the Central Vaccination centre’s promotion day on Sunday was fully booked up by 8.10am. There was criticism of the organization on site.
Intro: When the vaccination centre closed on Saturday at 10 p.m. the first people for Sunday were already there. Half a dozen had secured a place right at the entrance, while 30 spent the night at the vaccination station in tents, cars or campers, so as to make sure of their jabs, staff explained. In order to get its stock of Astrazeneca, whose image had suffered after the occurrence of sinus vein thrombosis in some vaccinated persons, to people, the vaccination centre set up the promotion day when people wanting to be vaccinated could come without an appointment. Click on image to link

The Badische Zeitung (our local newspaper) reported only the other day of 15 local “gastronomen” (restaurateurs, translated) who had made a two-minute video called “The Scream” in which they screamed at the public: “Have you forgotten us?”, venting their frustration at a lack of discussion about when they might open again.

Similarly, the frustration felt by the acting profession was voiced in a Youtube video called “Alles dicht machen” (Shut everything down). 50 German actors from TV and theatre caused a “shit storm” (yes, they use that English term here) as the German press “politely” referred to it, with their satiric video.

Many people felt it was tasteless (more than 84,000 have died here) and had gone too far in their severe criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis. As you said in your last letter, Barbara, it is exceedingly difficult for governments to strike the right balance.

I do feel, though, that the UK’s road map, however frustratingly slow it might seem to some of you over there, at least it is going in a forward direction, whereas over here, the signposts we have had have been very confusing. Depending on which state you live in, they even pointed in different directions.

The situation became so dire just before Easter, with the third wave in full swing (more than 20,000 cases a day) and intensive care becoming critical, that Merkel’s patience snapped.

Within two weeks, a new emergency law had been ratified in which the corona rules would be applied and adhered to nationwide in future. This put an end to all the wrangling with the 16 state presidents.

Last year, it had all been about the “R” number, but now the “incidence rate” is key. For the past weeks, the ruling was that in an area with an incidence rate of more than 165/100k pupils had to go back to home-schooling immediately.

Incidence rates of more than 100/100k lasting for three consecutive days [it is currently about 15/100k in Guildford borough] meant the respective towns and boroughs had to enforce stricter measures and even bring in a nightly curfew.

Freiburg hovered on the brink last week with two consecutive days at 100, but on the third day miraculously registered only 90, so everyone heaved a sigh of relief and life went on as before. Thankfully, this week the infection numbers have been gradually decreasing, so by the time you read this all of the above might be old hat.

Indeed, with warmer weather on the way (at the moment it is jolly cold, and April was the coldest for 40 years) it will mean people mixing and living more outside and with more people vaccinated things can only get better, can’t they, Barbara, please, say yes.

The German Election System Image:

I can’t sign off without mentioning the forthcoming general elections in Germany on September 26. We have already had the Baden Württemberg state elections here in March for the Stuttgart Parliament, in which the Greens did even better than in 2016 (32% up 2.3%), and the ruling coalition parties in Berlin, CDU and SPD, took a real drubbing returning a miserable 24% and 11% respectively.

Example of German ballot paper “Sie Haben 2 Stimmen” (You have two votes) Image Wikipedia

The Greens, led by the avuncular 72-year-old Mr Kretschmann, have decided to continue their coalition government with the CDU in Stuttgart, and even greener policies, no doubt, will follow. For example, I’ve learned today that no newbuilds will be allowed without solar panels, and there are to be more wind farms on the green, green hills of Baden-Württemberg.

Politics have certainly livened up recently with the bouncy (yes, that trampolinist) Annalena Baerbock as the Greens’ chancellor candidate. She is young, appealing, and very articulate, there has been a huge surge in Green membership and she is certainly riding very high in the polls. But there’s that famous adage “a week in politics” and there are four months to go, so watch this space.

Thank you so much, Barbara, for your last letter, it was so full of optimism and really bucked me up. I do take my hat off to you with all your energy and volunteering spirit, and all the cheering-up you have done on the telephone, and you and Tony helping out at the food banks.

One has the impression of a very wealthy community in and around Guildford, so quite an eye-opener to learn there has been so much take-up during these difficult times.

Here they have a charitable organisation called “Die Tafel”, but which runs on shop lines in connection with supermarkets similarly donating their surplus supplies. I believe, as with Guildford food banks, it has been a lifeline to many during the pandemic.

Our Anglo-German Club “tea time in the tent” which has over the years supported the Guildford stand at the Freiburg’s sister market has always donated all the proceeds to the Tafel, and this year it will be doing this again, so you are even part of the food-bank scene over here.

The fun Zoom quiz that the Twinning Association so kindly organised really cheered us up no end in those dismal days of February when that light at the end of the Covid tunnel seemed so very far off.

Your “light” is now burning bright in the UK, ours over here has a bit of a “Wackelkontakt” (loose contact), but let’s hope the increased vaccine surge will power it up and ours will be burning as brightly as yours very soon, too.

Might we even dare to hope of all meeting up either here in Freiburg or in Guildford in the not-too-distant future, masked or unmasked? We shall just have to wait and see.

Please blow a kiss to dear Guildford on my behalf from a born and bred Surrey girl, and with good wishes to you all and love to you both, dear Barbara.


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