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Living Alone in Germany During This Pandemic Has Been Scary — and Yet Beautiful

At some point, I hope this will all be over. What I hope will remain is a worldwide sense of community and compassion.

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Walking into a local grocery store in my small town in central Germany was surreal. It was early March 2020, before nonessential business closures and social distancing measures took hold in the United States. Everyone in the store was wearing masks and gloves, there were plexiglass barriers protecting the cashier and cash was no longer being accepted. Signs lined the walls noting things like “if you touch it you must buy it” and “maintain at least two meters of distance between patrons.” It felt like living inside a post-apocalyptic movie, yet strangely comforting.

I relocated to Germany in 2019 for a job opportunity. I have always been fascinated by different cultures around the world, and that is why I have decided to live abroad for a large part of my life. Now, as an American living alone in Germany during the coronavirus pandemic, I am stuck between two worlds. At times I am not pleased with some of the perceptions about Americans I have heard, such as how we are often viewed as having one belief system politically. But I appreciate the culture that exists among us Americans, particularly among Black Americans.

As an American in Germany, I also keep up with U.S. news. So I’ve seen the stories about people swarming the beaches in Florida, toilet paper shortages and some large church services continuing even though large gatherings have been banned. But here, in my small town, these things are not happening. For instance, when I first learned of the panic-buying of things like toilet paper in the United States and around the world, I half expected the same thing to happen in my town. It never did. Beyond my town, the outbreak of this virus led to early travel bans and closed borders, but a full lockdown has not been ordered in most of Germany, as it has been in other European countries.

I think living abroad alone under any circumstances is scary and can be difficult. The outbreak of COVID-19 turned what would normally be a difficult and nerve-wracking situation into the scariest situation of my life. I do not speak much German and I fear what would happen if I got really sick, or worse. What hospital would I go to? What if this virus never gets under control, and I am never allowed to return home? What if I got laid off? And with no family anywhere nearby to lean on for help — and my inability to leave the country even if I wanted to — these are the questions that I have to contend with alone.

I continue to go on with life as much as possible, working from home under distancing guidelines, cautiously going to the grocery store and attempting to keep up with friends and family through online meetups. I have dealt with my fears by remaining in close contact with loved ones and even reconnecting with those that I haven’t spoken to in a while. I keep myself busy with work, hobbies and getting out in nature. Luckily, there is no shortage of that here.

My solitude also has revealed some things about myself. It turns out I am not the loner I thought I was. Instead, I feel extremely lonely and my loneliness is something akin to a physical injury — the only difference being the location of the pain. These feelings are only amplified by my inability to travel home. The defiant American in me wants to just jump on a plane (I won’t due to the news and restrictions), but I have somehow found comfort in the German system that has been developed to combat the spread of this virus. I have also had concerns about being shunned or treated differently as an American, as I have been in other countries, but have found the opposite to be true. The local Germans I have come in contact with have been kind and willing to help.

Here in Germany, the death rate from COVID-19 is lower than the rate in the United States. At present, the hospitals reportedly are not overwhelmed and forecasts predict that they won’t be in the future, and there are promising antibody tests on the horizon. The German government asked people to stay home, and people I know generally have. As protests against social distancing have happened in the United States, I’m not seeing any of that in my town. So, even with all of my fears and doubts, there is no place that I would feel safer at this time.

Tragic events such as this pandemic bring about awful circumstances, but they also reveal so much beauty and compassion. For example, I have had more than one person offer to drop a bottle of wine on my doorstep. Now, I also take comfort in the fact that even if I do get sick, there are so many people, from my coworkers to neighbors, who are ready and willing to help me in any way that they can.

I am also reminded that some things, like love, are truly universal. People across the world are facing these circumstances, some much worse than others. Yet I have seen many acts of kindness in my small town, from people sewing face masks to donate to hospitals, to my neighbor bringing me some flowers to plant in my backyard. And I’ve seen headlines like this from the United States, too.

At some point, I hope this pandemic will all be over. What I hope will remain is a worldwide sense of community and compassion.