Money makes the world go round – A Berlin Coronavirus Diary

Both the United States and Germany have been busy, passing aid packages to help support people and businesses during COVID–19 pandemic. I won't get into the nitty gritty details of everything in there, since I'll likely miss key things, but there's lots of news reports about it out there. There are a couple of financial support measures in this legislation that I have been following:

US Economic Impact Payments

These are the much-anticipated "checks" (hopefully electronic bank transfers for as many people as possible). Apparently Americans abroad, as long as we meet the income criteria, will also be eligible to get these $1200 payments. Democrats Abroad has posted an update on the website, and also linked to a FAQ (it's a Google Doc). Lucky for us, the IRS has also posted some useful information, like that they're going to create a web portal where people can provide their direct deposit information, to avoid the aforementioned paper checks. 

Berlin & Germany's Emergency Aid

Germany's also moved surprisingly quickly to get help out there to people who need it. For those who are employed, Kurzarbeit (often translated as short-time work, which I think is silly) is a program to replace lost wages for people who are furloughed. In my lay understanding, if your hours are reduced or cut completely, the government will pay up to 60% of those lost wages. Companies have to apply for it, it's not something individual workers apply for. The idea is that companies shouldn't let people go, but reduce their hours or keep them officially employed so that when the economy recovers, they can get back to work quickly.

For freelancers, another part of the emergency aid package applies. It's a combination of Berlin state and German federal funds. There are big loans and support available for larger companies, but also for individual self-employed people and small or micro business. For freelancers, you can get 5000 Euros as a grant from Berlin funds, and up to 9000 Euros from German federal aid (but that can only be spent on certain types of expenses). They've even put a page up in English called "Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Information and support for the Berlin economy." It looks pretty complicated, but the actual application process was managed by the government investment bank IBB.

They started taking applications online on Friday March 27, 2020 at 1pm, and as you can imagine, the site was overrun! There was this virtual line system they set up, so each person who tried to reach the site got a number, and then had to wait until it was their turn. You could ask the site to email you when it was your turn, but if you missed your window (which I heard some people did), you'd have to go back to the beginning. The application itself seemed to be fairly straight forward. Lots of boxes to check that you're telling the truth, but basically you just need your German tax ID number, your name, address, be based in Berlin, and an ID.

People complained on Twitter and elsewhere about having to wait in this online queue, but in the end it seems to have worked fairly well. I've heard from friends and seen reports of the money arriving at the beginning of this week, so just days after people submitted their applications. Bravo, Berlin!


Is everyone baking except me? – A Berlin Coronavirus Diary

I wasn't planning on going to the grocery store today, but I passed a fairly empty Lidl on my walk (should we call them constitutionals to sound fancier?) so I popped in. Under normal circumstances, I go to the grocery store every couple of days and buy a few things. I like grocery stores, even after several years in Germany, I get a kick out of browsing the selection – less than most US supermarkets, but much cheaper – and trying out the pre- and semi-prepared foods. These days, I'm trying to go less frequently and spend less time there, which means that I am keeping a list and don't linger as much.

Inspired by some other people's activity on Instagram and elsewhere, I wanted to buy some fresh yeast to try baking bread. I've never baked bread (excluding things like banana bread or corn bread which work differently) before, and why not try something new? Unfortunately...

(Photo of a refrigerated shelf, above the sign for "fresh baking yeast" for 9 cents, the shelf is empty. Below the price tag, there's a handmade sign that says in German "Yeast -> max 3 portions")

The things Google seems to know about me

A few months ago, I went to Munich for the annual general meeting of Democrats Abroad Germany. I got to visit my friends Ryder and Andrew, see some of the other activists and volunteers from all over Germany, and of course, try out a few new restaurants.

Saturday evening, since I didn't sign up for official dinner and speaker part of the meeting, I was on my own for food. Ryder and Andrew were having dinner with friends, so I thought I'd try to meet up with them. I put in the location of the restaurant to see how hard it would be to get there

What Google Maps showed me

Mental Health – A Berlin Coronavirus Diary

During the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, we're mostly focused on physical health: whether we or our loved ones will catch it, have severe symptoms, need medical care. It seems like half the people with Medium accounts are armchair epidemiologists, and we're all reading and sharing articles holding forth about exponential growth (yes it's real) and prognosticating about the impact of COVID–19.

Still, I have noticed a lot of friends and folks checking in with each other, and being cognizant that social distancing (or shelter-in-place or self-isolation) is tough, even for people who characterize themselves as introverts. There have been lots of jokes about practicing for quarantine their whole lives... maybe you can teach the rest of us! In any case, I really appreciate that my loved ones, friends, and family are treating our collective mental health as an important barometer in what is, for most people, an unprecedented time of stress and chaos.

Snapshots of how Berlin is handling COVID19 – A Berlin Coronavirus Diary

What a time to resolve to blog again! At least I haven't started a podcast while social distancing, though depending on how long this goes on for, I'll be sorely tempted. Since circumstances are changing so much from day to day, I'd like to document for myself (and for whoever happens to read this) what it's been like for me in Berlin the last few weeks. This post is mostly grocery stores, restaurants, and bars. I have a lot of photos of drug stores, so that will be a post all on its own. It feels like we're in an unending news cycle and all the days are blurring into each other, so I'll try to note the dates on the photos below and as much context as I can.

Facebook's privacy settings are so broken, I can't post photos anymore

I've found a few reports of this around the Internet of similar issues, but no resolution so far. I know it's not really that en vogue to complain about problems on Facebook that aren't broad, democracy-damaging issues. Still, I do use it to keep in loose touch with a lot friends and acquaintances, so I'd like to be able to post photos in albums! I basically haven't been able to this from my phone since May 2019. I tend to post travel photos in albums (that's my inner need for organization) so I know that the last time it worked for me was May 16, 2019 (if we're not Facebook friends, the link to that specific post obviously won't work).

Renewing my U.S. passport in Berlin in 10 days

I've had my passport since November 2010, when I had to do a rush-renewal in Philadelphia ahead of an unforeseen trip. It's technically good until late 2020, so I planned on renewing my passport after electing a new president (fingers crossed). 

I had forgotten that many countries won't let you enter if your passport isn't valid for at least 6 more months. I'm also up to extend my residence permit later this year. My roommate David warned me that the Ausländerbehörde may want my passport to be valid for longer when issuing a new permit. How much time left they want you to have isn't clear, but all these factors combined made me decide to go ahead and get the new passport.

I thought it might be useful for other people if I write down my experience renewing my passport, since this seems to be a pretty common topic in the Americans in Berlin Facebook group