March 2019 saw me in my new home city in Central Germany and two years on I am living in a time of a pandemic.
I began writing these letters at the start of the pandemic in an attempt to understand Germany better and to get to grips with my relationship with the United Kingdom.
Letter from Germany 11 – April 5 2021
The UK variant of the Covid-19 virus first appeared in Kent, England in September 2020, it soon spread into London and then the rest of the UK almost unchecked by the Government. This variant is not only more contagious, is hitting younger people harder, it is also nastier and throughout continental Europe the fight is on to contain it (and in the USA). The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the UK variant represented a threat so severe that it was in fact a new pandemic.
Such is the worry that Merkel sat down (via video) with the State Premiers of Germany and after extremely difficult negotiations, it was announced that a five day hard lock down would commence over the Easter Holiday. This bought huge blowback – common themes were: All shops to close, but food stores could open on Saturday only when no doubt people would converge on mass to buy milk etc. Holidaying within Germany was discouraged, but people could fly to Mallorca. These contradictions (plus more) were too much and the next day after holding crisis talks with the Premiers the Easter plan was cancelled.
Merkel said that she was sorry and that she accepted the full responsibility, what it did was to further underline the tensions between the National and the powerful state governments of Germany. It hasn´t been easy holding a line when some states are not ready to reopen from lock down and others are wanting to, thus the agreement only created confusion and ridicule.
In my local area of Göttingen Landkreis (county) the rate per 100,000 people has been in the 30 to 40 regions, whilst the surrounding Das Eichsfeld was nearer 200 (now at 260). With the English variant infiltrating into Göttingen Landkreis it has jumped to over 78 in a few days probably skewed by Covid clusters although the rate is now stabilising.
Fight them on the Beaches
With the English variant being battled I was amazed to hear UK Prime Minister Johnson warn that a third European wave might ´wash up´ on UK shores (channelling Churchill?). You seldom hear in the UK news that it is the English variant which is threatening Europe and it seemed to me Johnson´s comment was one of transference giving the impression instead that it is Britain that is under threat from Europe. It is interesting that here in Germany the news and politicians downplay the origins of the variant other than the chancellor´s comment, there is little finger pointing.
The ins and outs of the AstraZeneca supply chain to Europe is yet to be fathomed but what is clear is that the company has not delivered the amounts that the European Union thought were coming. The question of equity of supply has been raised pointing out that whilst the EU exports to the UK no vaccines has flowed in the other direction. I do note the crowing and the sense of getting one over on the EU and particularly Germany in certain UK quarters, but this could end in being simply pyrrhic. The UK has consistently said that once they have vaccinated their own population then they will act communally.
There is some speculation in Germany as to why the number of cases of thrombosis in people given the AstraZeneca vaccine are similar despite the UK administering it in greater numbers.
The vaccine centres in Germany have been operating much below capacity because of a shortage of vaccine, but the UK is now also under pressure as supplies from India are delayed because that country says it needs it for their own people and pressure is mounting in the EU to ensure its own supply chain. The EU may follow the Indian example and have suggested as such and these actions may seriously delay second doses being delivered in the UK.
April is an important time in Germany because politicians etc., have long said that the vaccine programme will ramp up considerably during this month because of an improved supply chain. Greater availability of the vaccine and getting it to people successfully offers probably the last ´get out of jail card´ for the National Government and in particular the senior partner the CDU, to make good with the German people.
In Germany there is a general election later in the year and Angela Merkel will not be standing because she is retiring, and the effect of recent actions has seen support drop for her CDU party (& the CSU). The election result could mean a National government formed which may have the Green Party, who are doing well in national opinion polls as the leading partner in a coalition.
In the most recent regional State elections, the SPD did well in Rhineland-Palatinate (governed by a Green/SPD coalition) and in Baden-Württemberg the Greens won large support. The latter is interesting because it was once a safe CDU bastion but now is in a coalition with the Greens there. In Stuttgart, the home of Mercedes, Bosch and Porsche the Greens began their march forward (In 2011 the first Green Mayor won office) when they fought against a plan to modernise the Stuttgart Railway Station proposed in the mid-1990s, and despite general resistance the ruling CDU went forward with the plans. Reading through the reports of the time suggest that the public was angry at the arrogance of power displayed by the political establishment in the state and the Greens have not looked back in Baden-Württemberg.
My impression is that many who advocated Brexit did not really have their heart in the concept of a ´Global Britain´ and zealots maybe held more autarkic views than they wished to have expressed. When the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two was held in 2020 did the government think globally and wish to reflect the amazing partnership that had been forged between nations to beat the Nazis, Fascists, and the Japanese militarists? No, they clutched Union Jack flags and hung similar bunting. Just think what a statement it would have made regarding a ´Global Britain´ if outside Number Ten Downing Street they had included the flags of all nations which had contributed to win the war rather than the Union Jack alone.
Looking across Europe to my country of birth, the United Kingdom, it appears to me as if the Government is still campaigning for Brexit. Lord Frost, the unelected member of the British Cabinet recently made responsible for post Brexit affairs has been very vocal bemoaning the EU. I guess it reflects the drop in trade with the EU and other problems that are hitting UK businesses. There are also the political tensions that are very evident amongst the member nations of the UK and the UK seems to have forgotten that they co-wrote the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol which they now seem keen to claim is unfair.
A recent UK Government initiative was to order that the Union flag be flown across the country after the issue of patriotism and flag flying came to be a political hot potato. So why is England talking about flags right now? Is it again transference?
We have learnt from the past that when a government wraps itself in flags it does not bode well for the future, too often it is a signal flag of a move to a more restrictive society.
I do get the impression that the UK Government is thinking it can mend fences sometime in the future but for now its preoccupied campaigning for Brexit, selling the ´new´ Britain, locked in a form of political dogmatism and is looking after its own interests even if it means obfuscating the truth. Sadly, trust in the UK (maybe I should say rather with Johnson) is at a low, which may hamper future relations beyond the UK borders.
Pictures: (Main) a red flag over Gö – the flag of Hamburg flies in Gö – walk in test centre in Gö