• Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Heimweh and Hamsterkäufe: Stranded on Purpose

ByRosie Shackleton

Apr 15, 2020

Lockdown day (?) in Leipzig; a self-isolation shopping list: Things in jars (misc.), soup, yoghurt, cereal, veggies (whatever is left), some kind of non-dairy milk product…whisky? That’s expensive; I’m an Erasmus student soon to reach the end of my Erasmus grant. Goldbrand it is. It’s the same colour as whisky, is only three euros, but tastes like nail polish. Sad. There are too many people in the supermarket. The media hype transforms personal hygiene into personal paranoia as they stress that anyone can have *it*. I felt uncomfortable. I was standing too close to people. Or were they standing too close to me? A bar of Cadbury’s chocolate, that caught my eye on a bottom shelf, temporarily saved me from my unease. A home comfort away from home. Against all advice from my university, the British government and concerned friends, I have decided to ‘continue’ my year abroad in Germany.

The word for panic buying in German is Hamsterkäufe. Like hamsters stuffing their cheeks with food for later, we sequester away rolls of toilet paper and packets of pasta. In the Kaufland just off Eisenbahnstraβe in Leipzig, the Germans bulk-buy very specific things. Rosenkohle (sprouts) are completely gone and one specific freezer shelf which seemingly used to be full of some kind of frozen pizza, not sure what type, is bare. One thing the Germans will not Hamsterkäuf, however, is that sugar-filled, American white bread. A lot of that was left. Even in an impending global pandemic, bad bread is a big nein and the Germans will not buy it. I decided to follow trend and alternatively bought some gluten-free bread rolls I spotted, sitting lonely on a shelf. I have been in Germany approximately 7 months and accordingly my ‘panic buys’ were a jar of Sauerkraut and a jar of Rotkohl. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this amount of jar-housed cabbage, but it is now in my flat.

The next time I went to Kaufland they had restocked. After days-that-seemed-like-weeks full of stories showing what was lacking, it was a shock to see things on the shelves. I’m trying not to be over the top, but to be pelted with pictures (fruit, of course, was sold out) of empty shelves from every single media output you have access too, seeing fully stocked shelves was a surprise. This being said, I did not dare peek along the aisle dedicated to bog roll. That was probably another story.

At the end of March my university began drowning us with emails. Each morning the same copy and paste, generic, generalised information washed in with headings such as “Coronavirus (Covid-19): exams and assessments update” or “Coronavirus (Covid-19): update on remote/home working, research, teaching and assessment”. Flights were getting cancelled more frequently now. An Australian friend of mine was dealing with the prospect that he would be stuck in England for the foreseeable future. Another friend told me he thinks he has *it*. Course mates dotted around Germany began fleeing home. I was now one of a handful of Erasmus students who stayed. I have, essentially, stranded myself on German shores when I could have perhaps rushed home to Yorkshire.

From my impression of BBC News tweets, Britain is apparently, once again, embattled. This time against a virus. Despite being here in Germany, I nevertheless received the “Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” text from the government. Not sure how they got my number. Did it cost them money to text me in Germany? I wonder if I’m still protecting the NHS all the way from Leipzig? It is sadly amusing that I was told to protect the NHS via text from the tory government…Am I to feel unpatriotic by not fleeing home? Is that text a call to arms?, well-washed of course. I am also not ‘rallied’ by the Queen’s speech. What is she going to do? Germany has a much lower death count compared to its neighbours and I feel safer here. What does that say, to feel safer in a country that is not actually my own?

Everything is remote now; my university (an online degree course for £9,000, bargain!), my family, my friends here that technically only live 15 minutes away by foot, even the supermarket. On the next shopping list; eggs and some more veggies. Free-range eggs for non-free ranging humans. Vegetables better travelled than we who are going to eat them for tea. Irony seemingly reigns in these strange times. The routine is now the radical and I am trying to stay afloat, even when carrying out previously mundane tasks such as going to the supermarket. Being in lockdown in Germany is probably uncannily similar to being locked down in England and, despite it all, my decision to stay here, to strand myself on purpose, is one I won’t regret.

Image Credit: Josefine S via Flickr