A general view shows the Berlin Cathedral, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Berlin, Germany, April 17, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Mang
Culture

How COVID changed the lives of Filipinos in Germany

From Berlin to Nuremberg, Pinoys based in Germany share their reflections of how the virus has affected their lives. By LOLA ABRERA
ANCX | Apr 23 2020

Whether it’s a new mother seeking life-at-home strategies with a little one to a photographer frustrated at the government back home, these interviews bring together the collective voices of Pinoys from various parts of Germany. As the Coronavirus has affected them all personally and professionally, they paint a stark contrast between the governments of the place of their birth and the one they have settled in have responded to the crisis.  

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While these respondents come from various fields and with their own constellation of experiences abroad, there are common threads to how they have observed the evolution of this pandemic. Here are their stories.

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The last pandemic that Europe went through was the Spanish Flu in 1918. Germany, in spite of its high rate of infections, is very relaxed, perhaps confident about having one of the world’s best health systems. A lot of citizens still think this pandemic has been blown out of proportion, and I think that’s due to the fact we’re not as socially intertwined as Filipinos. Most people here are private; I don’t see patient recounts of their symptoms and experiences nor do we know anyone in our circles who are personally dealing with it here. But Germany is no exception to the economic slowdown, the shortage of equipment, medical personnel and materials that most countries are experiencing. It is however somehow calming to see a lot of citizen action around the world—and here as well—participating in creating solutions for the crisis. Even local breweries are creating disinfectants and university students are busy coming up with new ventilator prototypes to address a possible shortage. I worry for my family back home, but what I do know is that we’re all in this together. We’re going to have to be proactive in creating solutions in order to move forward, wherever we are in the world.

Trinka Lat, production designer and filmmaker, Berlin

 

I feel Resentment for the situation we are in. I just hope that when the reckoning comes, entities (country/ies or world bodies) responsible for this mess we are all in be held accountable on the grounds that many lives have been and will be destroyed (number of deaths, healthcare professionals risking their lives, etc). At the moment, I’m just hoping to get through it day by day, and I am grateful that I am able to work from home until now.

If the healthcare system in the Philippines was as good as it in Germany, I would have preferred to battle the coronavirus out in Manila. I would prefer to be close to families and friends during this time. It is very difficult to compare considering that the Philippines is a developing country with widespread urban poverty, particularly in big cities. Tackling this pandemic will be much more difficult in the Philippines than in Germany, in my view. If I could turn back time, the Philippine government could have much earlier blocked incoming flights from China and perhaps that could at least mitigate the impact. I am under the impression that Germany could ride this crisis out much quicker owing to the fact that we have more resources. But I hope we do not strain our hospital capacity. I am worried about my family in the Philippines as I do not know whether the Philippine government will be able to reasonably contain coronavirus. I am worried that if a family member gets the virus, what kind of health provisions will he or she receive.

Joseph Neri, photographer, Nuremberg

 

I’m grateful that I am here in Germany now because we have a good health and social system here. Though my income will be less. I know that I can apply for help from government. I don’t need to worry that I can’t pay my bills and can’t buy food. If I get sick I don’t need to worry about going to the hospital because we have health insurance. But lot of our kababayans can't, and a lot of them buy their food day-by-day from what they earn on same day. If they can’t work, they can’t buy food. Where are they going to get money to buy food? If they get sick how are they going afford to be treated in hospital? So I understand the worries of a lot of Pinoys in Philippines, also. It’s a fight for survival.

As a separated mom, I can not work when my son Lukas is with me. I will earn less, which may not be enough for the monthly bills. But what's more important for me is to take care of my son. The sudden change of routine makes him sad and confused, and all I can do is explain to him little by little. Making sure as well that he feel loved and safe no matter what. Personally, this pandemic made me slow down, before everything was so hectic, work here, work there. Always thinking of ways how to earn extra money. Although the virus makes me paranoid sometimes, I feel more relax now. I have lot of time to bond with my kid without time pressure, without thinking we need to quickly get ready to go to work, or to catch an appointment.​

Christine Strache, caregiver, Berlin

Berlin's Alexanderplatz square is starting to show signs of life after COVID-19. REUTERS/Christian Mang

I heard about the coronavirus in January. I went to Dublin for a day and even then I was reluctant to go. It felt far away, and  I was quite worried because globally all flights are somehow connecting from all over. This was last week of January and I felt already that this could become an pandemic.

I have always observed the political situation in the Philippines and I am quite worried how they will tackle the virus. I am surprised how they are now handling the situation with less equipment.

 

Here in Germany, they have more and seem not to know what to do. They have the money to finance a lot, but their seemingly laidback behavior is scary. The social distancing took time for many here to understand. I am amazed how my family back home is very disciplined about the curfews and the lockdown. I am very clueless at the moment with where this will lead to, but I am very proud about the Bayanihan happening there now. I think our lives will never be the same and Germany will be kinder after this I guess. People are forced to stop and it seems that there had to be a pandemic first to get us all to the core values that we have all forgotten. Life indeed is shorter than we think. My family of four has been close before the virus and even then, we have to distance ourselves from my mom because she is at risk with her diabetes.

Ana Danga, kindergarten teacher, Hamburg

 

The news about COVID19 first popped up in January. We had a scheduled trip to Manila in February and we were hesitant to go through with it. My baby had an appointment with her pediatrician a week before the trip and I asked his opinion. He said it was nothing to worry about and that we should still fly back to Manila.

From late January to early March, before and right after returning from Manila, our pediatrician and our hausarzt (family doctor) were still very calm and relaxed about it. They were taking their cues from the WHO and didn’t say anything alarming during our visits. I can’t say they were slow to act on it because I guess nobody could have predicted the scale of the devastation worldwide. There was SARS and the Ebola virus but I think no one would think COVID-19 would be a bigger threat.

My friends and family back in Manila stay at home all day. They only go out to buy essentials. I feel lucky that I could go out for walks everyday in Berlin, it helps us when cabin fever hits. The streets here are filled with leisurely walkers and seasoned runners, while in my parent’s subdivision in Quezon City, they can’t even walk their dogs anymore. 

I worry about my parents everyday. I am here in Germany, and my brother is in Singapore with his family. My brother and I are fortunate to live in two countries that seem to have the situation under control, which is the complete opposite in the Philippines. My parents are two senior citizens with pre-existing conditions and they are on their own. There is no one in the house to do their groceries for them or to get their meds from the pharmacy. We are lucky that they live in a private subdivision where there are people willing to help if you check the messaging groups and social media pages, but I fear it's not enough if the lockdown will stretch to a few more months. 

I am a first-time mother to a six-month-old baby. It has been tough adjusting to this new life without my family with me.  My husband is now working from home and he gets to be with me and my daughter 24/7. The diaper table is a makeshift office space for him. 

Now, our days are filled with video conferences with friends and family. I feel more connected with people because I need to call and message them to know that they're okay. I will never take for granted the days you can physically spend time with someone. I look forward to giving long bear hugs to all my loved ones after COVID19 is past us. 

Jenny Peñas, photo editor at Freunde von Freunden, Berlin