May 23, 2022

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Berlin, poverty | I’m experiencing that people just disappear

More than half of Berliners live alone. They can now look forward to an extra shocking birthday. If it does not disappear after that – almost into the loose air.

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Old age and loneliness go hand in hand – and only half of the single people in the German capital have a dog to calm themselves. This Christmas is a holiday that many fear is not a special phenomenon in Berlin. But now it seems really shocking to a lot of people.

Pandemic restrictions mean all Christmas Eve charity dinner projects have long ago been canceled. On Tuesday, many probably breathed a sigh of relief, when it was announced from above that he would be allowed to gather ten vaccinated people around the dinner table. I think – and hope – there will be plenty of neighbors’ dinner this Christmas Eve. For other options do not exist.

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Railway Cathedral

Any – it is possible to join the raffle for the huge Christmas event that will take place at the main train station – Hauptbahnhof. In the hall itself, there is so much space – and so high under the ceiling – that a few thousand of the hungriest people could be let in to party for some ompapa carols and a quick meal. The initiators promise to convert the station into a cathedral as it is. I wonder.

Indeed, Olaf Schultz’s new government was waiting until Christmas Eve with the most violent action. But yesterday the Robert Koch Institute – the Germans’ response to the National Institute of Public Health – sounded a warning that things were getting completely out of control – and recommended immediate action be taken.

Those who disappear

Strict action will be taken – but not until December 28. This year’s New Year’s Eve will be marked by a ban on parties and fireworks. And now the politicians are knocking the chains. “There is no wave coming towards us – this is a whole wall,” said one of them. So this is the smell of closure and hard times.

At the same time as lockdown and isolation took place, last year’s most pressing problem has fully resurfaced.

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Over the past two years, I – and many with me – have experienced people just disappearing.

There may be a rumor that someone saw an ambulance in front of the property. Or even a story about neighbors getting too involved in seeking medical care for patients. But – after that – calling the hospital to ask how he is, it is absolutely impossible for anyone other than the spouse or close relatives. In many cases, these do not exist – and then in fact no one has legal access to the information – unless the patient himself has previously ensured that outsiders are provided with a legally valid power of attorney.

Hospitals are not even able to confirm or deny the entry of the person in question at all.

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neighbor

Many of us tried to keep an eye on her on the 4th floor which started to lose both memory and hygiene. When the ambulance rushed away, because a neighbor found her with a broken femur—yes, that was the last thing we saw of the eighty-year-old. I personally have known her for at least 20 years, and some other neighbors are in their forties, a lovable and helpful being, taking care of himself and never giving his surroundings any reason to speak behind his back.

Over the years, I used to drag her cat’s litter down the tray – because she herself spent at least an hour on the flight. As a rule, I spotted her halfway through—and would scream and yell about crazy women who could not only ring the doorbell—but even start carrying heavy bags. She loved it – and giggled.

One day the ambulance picked her up.

the secret

Since it was almost impossible to get any information from the hospital, we had nothing to do but wait for the authorities. That is – when a lonely person dies, after two or three months, the bailiff seems to clean his belongings. It can tell us when the death occurred. We just had to assume our neighbors got the same cheap funeral as many others. First, the corpse is sent across the border to the Czech Republic, where the corpses of poor people from Germany are cremated at very profitable prices. The urn is then taken back to Berlin, where it is placed among all the other unnamed graves without stones or banners.

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In the neighborhood we have our own “priest” for such occasions, and I have no idea how many cheap funerals I’ve had over the years. Music from the cassette player brought carefully selected lyrics from the hobby priest, before the entourage of neighbors and acquaintances followed the jar to the unknown part of the cemetery. But even such a celebration does not become possible with the icy secrecy of today’s bureaucracy.

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“thank you too”

She too, who was standing at the crossroads and waiting for me, was gone. She was in her mid-seventies, petite in stature and had a knitting dog in XXS. “Good morning,” she wrote on Twitter. “And really good morning to you,” I replied. “Good day. And a good weekend when we get this far.” “Thank you too.”

When we completed our little party, she smiled happily, took the pet under her arm and laid a path for the elderly home. Sometimes I arrived an hour later than usual. She was there anyway. So I couldn’t help but suspect that she just stood there the whole time waiting – just to share these notes with me. There may have been many similar conversation partners in her life, but we may not have been many – and not much was said at all.

Another uniformed employee in the cafeteria heard that she had pneumonia. Perhaps he meant the crown.

Law enforcement

It didn’t go well with her either, as she was sitting at the table next to mine every morning. The adult woman never spoke well of anyone, but she had a pair of bright and lively eyes that followed with interest the many small scenes taking place in such a place. If the Norwegian ended up in an argument with the Turkish waitress, she laughed out loud – but without saying a word.

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One day she went too.

I was persuaded to walk across the block and knock on the door. Then the police were called and a nice officer broke all the rules, when she confided to me that the case had been investigated – and that the woman was in the hospital – where she was fine under the circumstances.

Two weeks later, the woman appeared angry at the café and reprimanded the hostess for having developed her law enforcement powers. What wouldn’t her neighbors believe, after the police were there several times and asked about her? After that, I stayed away for about a year.

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But she was sitting there again that day, smiling like the sun. Perhaps it was the sound of Christmas celebration – and loneliness – that made her forgive us. Nice, said the slightly sarcastic waitress: but if she disappeared again, there is no doubt that someone from here would go far to call – “just you know.”

Without a Christmas tree

The paper says Berlin has plenty of organizations with people who want to help shine a light on loneliness at Christmas. In total, there will be talk of 1,300 people – but this year they have been asked to stay home on the big night.

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I suspect it might be crowded here on a Friday night, because the top three had already called to ask if we had plans for the evening – another way to invite themselves. I heard the countess warn one of her elders that in this house we have neither ham nor Christmas tree. But it certainly wasn’t that dangerous. “My husband usually reads the Christmas Bible in Norwegian,” she continued. IT did not help.

Now I’m just waiting for “me” to sign up. It’s probably a bad cabin here, I’m afraid. And it’s probably going to be a good story for her – then.