We’re now a week into the lockdown and people are getting used to it. The rhythm of life has slowed down a bit, which is probably not such a bad thing. We don’t have to turf the kids out of bed at 6am to get ready for school and my 30 to 40-minute commute has disappeared. I am still doing a full day of work from home, but we’re all enjoying having more time and less stuff to worry about. We’re sleeping more, eating better (home-cooked food does that for you) and getting fitter thanks to thrice-weekly runs. Normally after a long day at the office, I’m too tired to go and run in the evening but after a day in home-office I’m eager to get out into the fresh air. I’ve also taken to going for walks during the day when I’m on the phone for longer calls. We’re probably still in the honeymoon period, but so far the lockdown has been fine – it only we didn’t have the virus to worry about.

Germany has always been keen to appear as green and ecologically aware. The state in which I live, Baden-Württemberg, has a green government and state president. We are always talking about saving the planet, recycling everything and keeping the air clean. We tend to gloss over the fact that Mercedes, Porsche and Bosch are all based here and defend our right to drive as fast as we can on the Autobahn in bloated SUVs generally carrying one person. There is a good German word for this. Scheinheilig (pronounced shine-high-lig) is a compound word consisting of 2 elements. “Schein” means appearance and “heilig” means holy. So, as you can probably guess, it means to have the appearance of holiness, without really being holy.

I have been thinking about the word a lot recently. With all the clean-air directives and rules about not driving on certain days when the fine particle count is too high, I had assumed that our air quality was very good. And it probably is cleaner that it has ever been in industrial times. But there is no denying that since road and air traffic has reduced to almost nothing and lots of factories have shut down, the air quality has been amazing. We have been lucky to have several days of sunshine and a brisk east wind but still I can not remember such clear skies. This is noticeable during the day, but at night is most obvious. The brightness of the moon and depth of the stars is something I’d expect to see in a desert, but not a Stuttgart suburb. So it turns out that in spite of our smugness around caring for the environment, we still had some way to go. Scheinheilig indeed.

The good weather and early nights seem to have had a positive effect on other people too. At first, when I was out walking after the lockdown came into force people would keep their distance (good) but also be reluctant to look up and acknowledge others. It was as if we were all a bit shy and embarrassed and didn’t want to get caught enjoying the moment. This is, I suppose, understandable. The sense of relief at not being one of the overworked medical staff having a miserable time at the moment carries an underlying sense of guilt. But I can’t change that, so I’ll enjoy the sunshine. After a few days people are still careful about keeping their distance, but if I say hello and smile I usually get a smile back. Now that there’s no sport on TV at the weekend, it feels as if more people are going out for walks, runs or cycle-rides than ever before.

Yesterday I went for run with Ariane, and it was glorious. We stuck to quiet country lanes and woodland paths, greeting a few walkers and mountain-bikers while taking care to give them as much space as possible. At one point I was concentrating too hard on giving an old couple room that I forgot to look where I was running and caught my foot on a root which sent me stumbling towards them with windmilling arms. I managed to recover my balance in time and swerved away just in time. In normal circumstances I would have expected at least some tutting and shaking of heads at my reckless behaviour on a public footpath – but whatever the old man said to me, he said it with a smile and a chuckle.

As we headed up a long hill back towards home, a (presumably) Muslim woman wearing a hijab passed us jogging and smiling, with her son in tow on a bicycle. I have certainly never seen that before in Schönaich. At the side of the path, the daffodils (called Osterglocken or Easter Bells in German) were blooming and looking yellower than ever. Ariane and I felt quite pleased with ourselves for keeping fit and it felt like we were flying along at a decent pace. Unfortunately the bubble burst when we were overtaken – by our neighbour, Nils. Normally this wouldn’t disturb me seeing as he is almost 20 years younger than me, but as he was pushing his son up the hill in a pushchair this did seem to be rubbing it in a bit. We kept a safe distance apart and as the path widened into a deserted road we could all run alongside each other. I decided that we couldn’t be overtaken by somebody with a pushchair and so upped the pace for the final climb and run back down our road. It was a small, petty victory but at least I managed to get home first. All this business of enjoying spring and being nice to each other is fine – but there are limits.

1 thought on “Scheinheilig

  1. Alan

    Totally agree with the new-found ‚friendliness‘ of people out walking / nordic-walking / jogging / running / biking / horse-riding, Matt. Back in the day of my manic marathon training, ‚nodding‘ to other runners (but definitely not joggers !) was the norm., and back in the UK with an „aaaahl reet, marra ?“ thrown in for good measure, but now, out on the MTB, I find I‘m out of breath and have a cricked neck from so many salutations !


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