Monday 23 August 2021

"Freedom Day"


Election advertising at the Kleve Tiergarten, August 2021

We are a month and a bit after "Freedom Day" was declared by Boris Johnson, and the UK removed most (but not all) COVID-related restrictions, for most of which I have been on a much-needed holiday with my family in Kleve, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany (best known to most British people as "Cleves", home of Anne of Cleves), visiting relatives. 

The change that vaccination has wrought in our lives is clearest when I compare this visit to our visit at around the same time last year. Last year we hardly went anywhere for fear of catching COVID and giving it to elderly family relatives. In comparison, this year, with ourselves and everyone we associate with closely vaccinated, we have much more freedom to move about and much less concern over catching COVID. 

The controls that remain here in Germany do not cause too much difficulty, with the introduction last week of the "3G" check requirements (essentially checking whether you have been vaccinated, infected, or tested) resulting in no actual requests for proof of vaccination yet in any of the places I have been here in Kleve, despite the 3G proof requirement being prominently displayed - perhaps an example of the "mountains are high, and the emperor is far away" here in Kleve?

Kleve itself is a perfectly relaxed town, which at this stage in my life suits me down to the ground. The town and surrounding country has a very large Polish community, indeed in nearby Emmerich on the Rhein it seemed that the majority of the children at the playground were Polish-speakers. Quite why is not clear to me (our relatives here think perhaps many Poles live here where living costs are relatively low but work across the nearby border with the Netherlands)  but it does at least give us an additional common language beyond my GCSE German and the typically-excellent English of the locals.

Germany is in the throws of an election campaign and I wouldn't dare even guess what the result might be. Here in Kleve I have seen campaign advertising for every party from AFD to MLPD, though adverts featuring the SPD's Olaf Schultz and Bodo Wissen seem to predominate even if Kreis Kleve is currently represented in the Bundestag by the CDU's Stefan Rouenhoff. Having strong feelings about other people's elections always seemed a little odd to me, but were I a German voter probably my natural home would be with the FDP - however even I can tell that their campaign material at least locally is distinctly lack-lustre.

Soon we will return to the UK. Despite the bizarre warnings that some made back in July ("Covid unlocking is threat to world" ran one headline) COVID in the UK has not ballooned, nor has it disappeared either. It is my thorough intention to live as much as possible (without pointless grandstanding about e.g., masks - if someone requires them then I'll wear them) as though it did not exist. I am somewhat persuaded that, with the rapid spread of Delta variant, it may no longer be possible to fully eliminate COVID, in which case continuing vaccination to render it relatively non-deadly is the only way forward. Lockdowns should be avoided unless necessary to avoid health services being over-run, not repeatedly re-applied to try to reduce COVID to zero (so-called "zero COVID" strategy) when this may well be impossible.

At any rate this summer holiday - which looked very touch-and-go in early July when Germany was still essentially banning travel from the UK for all but German citizens and residents - has been a very welcome respite.