We hear from Rich O'Grady (MH 08-13) about his life in Berlin during the pandemic lockdown
|24 May 2020|
|Rich O’Grady (MH 08-13) shares his 'Lockdown Story' and photos |
On living in Berlin
I have lived in Berlin for the past three years. Berlin has been a strange mixture of opposites for me. It is at once cold-hearted and open-minded; individualistic and one of the world’s most embracing communities; a place to find yourself and a trap to get lost in. It is a city of uppers and downers to quote a bit of Hunter S - my lower sixth English lessons have come in handy. But I can safely say that the time spent here is an unfinished book I will return to many-a-time in the future.
When quarantine hit, you could already start to see the panic grip the rest of Europe, particularly in Spain and Italy. There was confidence in Germany, however: in the people, and in the system. There are, after all, 1900+ hospitals and a world-leading healthcare system. Sofar, Germany has been the poster boy for dealing with the crisis. Angela Merkel’s decisive and quick response was one of a scientist-queen: clearly laying out the facts and the foundation for her decision-making in crystal clear communication. She knew that too much control of individual’s freedoms would bring criticism from East Germans, and therefore gave responsibility to people without heavy policing. I can see why she has been Chancellor for the last 15 years.
I have learned a huge amount about German psychology over the past two months. The country responded well, knowing how to bend not break the rules. Groups still drank in Treptower Park, ate pizza on Admiralsbrucke, and went to Boxhagener Platz market on a Sunday. Even May 1st protests occurred with its fireworks, banners, and riot police - though with the majority of participants masked! Life has largely continued as normal in Berlin. But there was a natural distancing between everyone - almost Scandinavian, but with a suspecting cautiousness behind it. I have nothing to complain about.
On work and education
I run the German office of a coding bootcamp called Le Wagon that teaches people web development and data science in a 9-week intensive format. We have responded quickly and strongly, adapting to a new way of teaching and learning. We have had to adapt our management structure and reporting. We have put a much larger emphasis on written, online communication: the fewer Zoom meetings the better! We have used a variety of new tools, particularly Notion, to ensure that we have one source of truth on one easy-to-use platform. I am lucky that the company has always had a remote-first mindset.
From an education perspective, it has been intriguing to see how people have responded to a learning environment that is fully remote. Most people have actually thrived (much to the surprise of themselves); some people have spiralled out and convinced themselves that it is impossible. Either way, education needs to embrace remote (not “e-learning”) learning more. It is the future and gives greater accessibility (time, money), as well as a better business opportunity.
On how it has changed me
Personally, I have loved being in full control of my routine and not having a bloody commute! It has given me a deeper sense of control of my own life. In that sense, lockdown has been transformative for myself. The solitude and slow-down has been a forced time for self-reflection. We have been able to reassess how we live our lives and reformulate our routines. Life had supposedly been so complicated before: working hard, seeing friends, pursuing hobbies, creating ourselves, being in a relationship, travelling the world. But this period has made me realise how simple are needs are: a balcony with an inch of sun, a six-euro bottle of rosé from the supermarket and a decent book will do you for a whole Sunday.
I have become more curious and spontaneous how I spend my time. I have realised how much time I wasted before. Now, there is no FOMO (fear of missing out, to translate): no one is doing anything that is particularly interesting. I have found an abundance of time for things I previously neglected: writing, poetry, reading for pure pleasure, listening to albums all the way through. I have tried my hand at a few new things: cooking, baking, making cappuccinos. One day a cheeky little cafe awaits.
Above all, I have learned gratitude. I am grateful that I live in Germany. I am grateful that I have a job. I am grateful that I have family and friends in London that I love and miss. I am grateful for all those things that I took for granted before quarantine: air travel, healthcare, modern technology. And some more basic things I have become aware of: running water, international trade and supply chains, human goodness. Because let’s face it: it could be a hell of a lot worse.
1) Sunset overlooking the Fernsehturm from the bridge at Modersohnstrasse
2) Nice lunch on the balcony (i.e. South of France)
3) Best attempt thus far at latte art in a cappuccino
4) Home office setup (with antibacterial)
5) Spring still came, and it was still lovely