25 March 2020.
Monday, 16 March – “The end of the world in brilliant sunshine”
It’s Monday morning. My alarm clock doesn’t ring for the first time in weeks. I can have a lie-in – after all, not a lot will happen today. The uni is closed, classroom teaching has been cancelled today. Unisport is also closed, which for me means specifically: no hip-hop class today. The Library is still open – but will there be any free seats there? Perhaps I should still have got up early to secure a good seat like I did at the learning stage? But perhaps the Library is also completely empty? After all, most of my friends have already escaped back home, and apart from one of them, my flatmates have long re-joined their families.
Why am I staying here? Well, what would I do at home in Germany? Would I really sit down to learn or would my motivation evaporate completely? Surely my grandparents would like to see me then! But is that really a good idea at this time?
I’ve had a slightly sore throat since Friday. Don’t panic, I think. A sore throat doesn’t mean that the virus has invaded me. (In passing, I put forward the proposition that the question “Is the German noun ‘virus’ masculine or neuter?” is dividing nations.) But I can’t rule it out. Better stay on the safe side. After all, the journey from St.Gallen to home takes eight to nine hours. Changing trains four times, five different trains, hundreds of people – reason enough to proceed straight into self-quarantine. So I’m staying in St.Gallen for the time being.
After I’ve rested long enough and had breakfast, I join some friends to get through the first “no-uni uni day” together. At the same time, this means that I should venture to get a first glimpse of an online lecture in Zoom. The program works better than I thought, and you can even ask questions during the lecture like in a “normal” classroom.
But if we were pleased about how the day went, this changes in one fell swoop when we watch the Federal Council’s press conference. The situation appears to have become more serious than previously expected. Soon after, we all leave the FH building together and go home – each of us alone. It feels as if this is the end of the world – albeit in brilliant sunshine.
Tuesday, 17 March – “Rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock”
The Library and TheCo are now also closed. But where do you learn if not there? Where do you now play the piano between individual learning units in order to relax, and where do you meet for a coffee in the breaks? Some days ago I still thought the virus relatively harmless and comparable to a flu. Now I’m one of those who say hello with foot taps and elbows. My friend Kaja and I have already worked out our own way of saying hello with our feet. I wonder what other alternatives there are for saying hello and goodbye. Perhaps with the Spock sign? (I’m thinking directly of the The Big Bang Theory and Sheldon’s game “Rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock”. Perhaps I’ll have a look at all the seasons of the series from the beginning again if it should really come to a lockdown.)
The mindset of my other friends who have remained in St.Gallen has also suddenly intensified. Tonight we actually wanted to have a games evening, but now nobody wants to come any more. Instead we’re talking about virtually meeting by Zoom, which my friend and neighbour Elisabeth and I successfully put to the test. Keeping your social distance is not easy at all when you are used to meeting regularly.
At the end of the day I determine that I should provide my future everyday life with a better structure as soon as possible in order to remain motivated and positive. Where there’s a will, there’s a way after all!
Wednesday, 18 March – “Lecture in tracksuit trousers”
I’m beginning to enjoy small things which I didn’t pay much attention to before. I start by doing some little jobs around my room which I’ve been putting off for months. The daily walk through the adjacent park is becoming a new highlight, particularly when I discover the aviary beside the Museum of History and Ethnology, where I give my undivided attention to the satyr tragopan (the most beautiful bird of its species) for a while. I convert the shared flat couch in the corridor into my new desk.
I remember that I wanted to get some books on business and tax law. Is it possible that the Script Commission is still open? A quick look at its homepage tells me that my memory was jogged two days late. But it appears that it’s now possible for all books to be ordered online and to be sent by post – “My salvation!”, I think, and buy a course book online for the first time in my life.
Today would have been the day on which my whole marketing communication course would have gone to Zurich to have a look at the production plant of FREITAG. Instead, I’m sitting on the sofa in my tracksuit trousers and eating chocolate while listening to the guest lecture through Zoom. I’m not the only one in comfortable gear, though – one of the questions our lecturer asks us in a brief survey at the start of the lesson is whether anyone is wearing a tracksuit or pyjamas. The result: 50% - a situation that he isn’t used to either: “I’ve never taught a class with students listening to me in a jogging outfit.”
While my class and I are getting a deeper insight into the world of FREITAG, my committee friends from the HSG student magazine prisma are video-chatting through Microsoft Teams. Physical meetings have been ruled out for the next few weeks and months for the time being. I wonder whether social life in the uni’s associations will carry on completely without them and try to imagine how the wine club clink glasses through Skype.
Thursday, 19 March – “A sporting day”
As I’m riding my bicycle to Wittenbach to see my friend Kaja, I can’t foresee what type of sports session will await me on the way back on my one-gear city bike, which feels as if it were about 50kg because it has a semi-flat tyre. But the bus isn’t an alternative for me. After all, we should avoid public transport as best we can. I regard the small biking tour as a sporting substitute for the jazz dance course which I would have attended today and pedal on with vim and vigour.
Kaja and I meet today in order to solve the IT exercise together. She herself only leaves the house to soak up a bit of sunshine and inhale some fresh oxygen, or to help me try and pump up my bike tyre with a hand pump – DIY for women! When I get home in the evening, completely exhausted and out of breath, I give myself a metaphorical pat on the back. Today has been a sporting day. Later I watch Tuesday’s law lecture and Wednesday’s exercise to go with it, which thanks to the new tool Zoom, which also makes recordings, I could watch until up to a month later – at my own pace and as many times as I want to. Slowly I’m beginning to see the opportunities created by this situation, no matter how bad it may be.
Friday, 20 March – “Queuing up like in the GDR”
I’ve participated in the uni’s mentoring programme since last semester. So far, I’ve always gone to Zurich to see my mentor at her place of work. Since this doesn’t appear to be a very good idea at present, our meeting takes place through Microsoft Teams today. She tells me that she had to queue up in a long queue with quite a few people today when she wanted to go to the supermarket. A mere 60 people were allowed to go into the supermarket at the same time. The long queue and wait in front of a shop reminds me of my mother’s GDR stories, only that she never mentioned a safety distance. She used to queue up in front of the butcher’s for hours on Thursdays without knowing what she would still be able to get in the end.
At the same time, I’m thinking of my ginger shortage. Normally I have a cup of ginger and lemon tea every morning. But in the last few days, there was no ginger left in the supermarket. I wonder whether many people may think that they could combat the coronavirus with ginger, and I jump for joy when by flatmate comes home with a large piece of fresh ginger.
I spend the evening with two friends in the candlelight WhatsApp call style. We have pasta and toast our friendship with a glass of red wine – each for themselves and yet together.
Saturday, 21 March – “5-string guitar piece”
I must say, I’m a bit surprised by the Federal Council. In view of the figures and many citizens’ behaviour, I firmly assumed that a curfew would be imposed as from today. Instead the Federal Council only announced in yesterday’s press conference that groupings of more than five people would have to expect a fine. However, the weather is no longer as great as in the last few days. It’s grey and there’s a slight drizzle – typically St.Gallen, I think, and venture outdoors to have a look at the people who’re hanging around. Now that the sun is no longer warming things up and the birds’ joyful twitter has ceased, I only encounter those few people who dare to leave their homes. Perhaps this bad weather is precisely what this critical situation now requires.
During my walk, I pass a children’s playground. It’s empty, grey and looks sad. Yesterday I could still see children in the park joyfully scampering around in the playground, laughing and using the swings with abandon. My mum tells me that the playgrounds in my home city in Germany have already been closed off. Why not in Switzerland? If the weather hadn’t been bad today, the playground would undoubtedly have been full of life…
At home, I reach for my guitar. I only notice that I’ve hardly ever played it, indeed not played it at all recently, when I see that one of the strings has snapped. In view of the situation I probably won’t be able to get a quick replacement in a music shop. Never mind, I say, and learn to play nice tunes on a guitar with only five strings, ending the day singing songs. I really should do this more often!
Sunday, 22 March – “A long to-do list”
The first week without going up to the uni, having spontaneous on-campus encounters with people and lectures in the Audimax, is coming to a close. Now my last remaining flatmate is leaving too and I’m alone in our shared flat. For fear of growing lonely in the coming days and weeks out of sheer laziness and monotonousness, I take a blank sheet of paper and a pen and start drawing up a list of things which I’d like to do at least one of every day. The list ranges from cooking to spring-cleaning and Netflix.
It’s Sunday evening and I set my alarm clock for Monday all the same. I won’t have any lectures tomorrow, but my to-do list is long and a certain degree of self-discipline is indicated at present anyway. Perhaps the world is not quite going under yet, and while it is able to relax a bit thanks to a lower volume of CO2 emissions, I’m trying to make the best of the situation – we’re all in the same boat.
Anna Kati Schreiter is studying economic sciences at the University of St.Gallen.