An Oberservation

Seven Days in April

Anna Weidenholzer

In April, I would have been heading off again for a week in Berlin, where I had already spent time at the Akademie der Künste in December and January, having received a fellowship. Would have – because 2020 became the year of the subjunctive.

The coronavirus crisis affected me for the first time at the end of January, when I was sitting on the train in Berlin and found out that my planned stay in Hong Kong had been cancelled. Coronavirus seemed very far away back then. A month and a half later, I found myself in a Europe that had closed its borders again.

The following notes are spaces of possibility and islands of experience. They alternate between the locations and are about what might have been happening in Berlin as I was going through lockdown in Vienna.

04 April 2020, 16:27: On the ICE train, from Vienna to Berlin Untere Weißgerberstraße, Vienna

The train slowly passes six men who are working on an adjacent line in orange safety vests. One is holding a white spitz on a lead. The dog is looking around as if it has no idea how it got there.

During this time, I often follow a route that takes me past a globe sitting in the window of a second-hand shop. It is smaller than a head; I could easily hold the world in my hands, were it not for the glass between us, separating us.

05 April 2020, 14:22: Skalitzer Straße, Berlin Marxergasse, Vienna

A panda on a packet of toilet paper, a brown bear on the milk – the customer in front of me does her shopping based on animals. She presses a note into the cashier’s hand and complements her ring: red like a ladybird, a sign of good luck.

A customer screams at the cashier, who is sitting behind a plexiglass screen. A man holds two masks out to her with a pair of tongs. From tomorrow, we have to cover our mouths and noses when shopping.

06 April 2020, 19:21: Kohlfurter Straße, Berlin Stubenbrücke, Vienna

The sky is bright this evening.

I look at Stadtpark and the InterContinental Hotel; it feels like I am in Warsaw and Paris at the same time. The windows of the hotel are lit up to form the shape of a heart. Somebody must have gone from room to room, floor by floor, to turn the heart on. I don’t want to think about a remote control that could do such a thing. It must have been a person.

07 April 2020, 10:30: Spreeweg, Berlin Hetzgasse, Vienna

A child is parked in front of Bellevue Castle. He wears a sceptical expression as he sits in his pushchair; his parents laugh as they take photographs.

Donald Trump doesn’t want to wear a mask: “I just don’t want to be doing [that]

– somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk, I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know, I somehow don’t see it for myself.”

08 April 2020, 21:03: Tiergarten, Berlin Grailichgasse, Vienna

In Tiergarten Park, a man lays red carnations at the Karl Liebknecht memorial. Two crows fly after a cyclist. She is feeding the birds from her basket.

Behind the train station, a female duck assesses the entrance to a building. Ducks have never made it this far before. Three hundred kilometres further down the Danube, Viktor Orbán has shut down parliament. The Austrian Chancellor says he has no time to address the matter.

09 April 2020, 12:40: M10, Berlin Hetzgasse, Vienna

A remarkable array of businesses: A nursing agency, next to this an undertaker, next to this a balloon shop.

The news is on the radio; Saudi Arabia announces a ceasefire in Yemen. For the first time ever, I understand a word in Arabic: Corona.

10 April 2020, 13:09: On the ICE train between Berlin and Vienna Löwengasse, Vienna

In Linz, an old man stands on the platform. He is wearing a hat bearing the words Ohhhh Nooo.

The dressmaker next to the supermarket has switched to making masks. Bananas and skulls are selling best, she says.

*1984 in Linz, lives in Vienna

Anna Weidenholzer is a writer. She studied comparative literature at the University of Vienna and the University of Wrocław, Poland. In 2010, her volume of stories Der Platz des Hundes was published. Anna Weidenholzer has won many awards, including the Alfred Gesswein Prize 2009 and the Outstanding Artist Award 2017 of the Austrian Republic. She has also been granted numerous stays abroad and scholarships. In 2013, her first novel Der Winter tut den Fischen gut was shortlisted for the Leipzig Book Fair Prize 2016 and her novel Weshalb die Herren Seesterne tragen was longlisted for the German Book Prize. Her third novel Finde einem Schwan ein Boot was published in autumn 2019.

Berlin Fellowship

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