The coronavirus is the closest thing to a worldwide shared experience since World War II. Very few areas of the world aren’t being affected in some way by the virus and by COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes. The Rockford Register Star is reaching out to Rock River Valley natives throughout the world to discover how their lives have changed.
Ben Davis, a 1993 Jefferson High School graduate and former WTVO-17 videographer, now lives in Germany. He founded SEDA.digital GmbH & Co., a web development company, in Munich in January 2016. He provided his responses on April 10.
How did you end up there and in that profession? I was on vacation in Munich, Germany, in 2001, where I just randomly happened to meet my future wife at a dance club in the renowned abandoned warehouse district of Künstpark Ost. For 1 ½ years we had a long-distance relationship that eventually forced us to make a tough decision about our future. Since I was freelancing at the time, and more flexible because of that, I decided to give it a shot. To the dismay of my family and friends, I moved to Germany in 2002.
In 2003 I started my freelance career in web development, making small websites and online advertisements for local Munich agencies. As time went on, and my client base grew, in 2015, I decided to create a proper agency.
How long have you lived there? I have now been living in Munich for 17 years.
When did you first hear about the coronavirus? I first read about the coronavirus on cnn.com in January as China closed their borders.
When did it begin affecting your life? It didn‘t affect our lives until the school closings in the middle of March. Since my wife and I both work, having to figure out how to not only care for our small children during the day but also how to deal with home-schooling has made our current situation extremely stressful and overwhelming.
What is life like for you now? What are you restricted from doing? The present life situation is extremely busy. Not only do we have the fear of getting and spreading the virus, but the Bavarian school system is pouring lots of school work on top of families, making the lives of parents and children pretty miserable.
Every day teachers post new school projects and tasks to the online learning platform, without communicating to the other teachers about how much of a workload they are creating. The result is that the kids have much more work to do than they normally would, plus the parents are expected to organize and teach their children the material. So not only are we expected to work at home, but also school our children with no support from teachers or the schools. At this pace we will eventually have parents protesting in the streets.
Supermarkets and pharmacies are open, but that is about it. We are allowed to do outdoor exercise such as jogging, bike riding and going for walks. But we can‘t participate in team sports or even kick a soccer ball around. Gatherings of more than two people are forbidden, so no more hanging out with the neighbors.
In order to enforce these new rules, police are monitoring typical places of communal gathering, such as on the river bank here in the city or in parks and soccer fields.
We are still allowed to go to work if our workplace offers it. My wife works part time at an insurance company and still goes to work every day. I help the kids until my wife returns home before I ride my bike to the office. In the office, most people are working from home, so I‘m sure I am in no danger of getting it there.
How long is your government saying this is likely to last? We all know that the situation changes weekly so I am not convinced that we really know, but officially they are saying April 19.
What do you miss doing on a daily basis that you never thought you'd miss? I miss not having to think about becoming sick and the consequences of being sick on a daily basis.
Are there any positives? So far, I don‘t see any positives. There has been no free time to do anything new. We are still focused on trying to have a daily routine and keeping the kids motivated.
How do you think life might change when this is over? I don‘t think that anything will change in the long term. Maybe people will appreciate the freedom that they had before COVID-19 for a short period of time, but once life returns to normal for those that didn’t lose anyone, it will all be forgotten. Back to business as usual.
I do hope that it opens people‘s eyes to the fact that we are all connected. How governments treat people and the environment on the other side of the globe has a direct impact on the lives of people everywhere. Hopefully it gives people a better perspective and understanding of the impacts of climate change. This is just a small taste of what is to come.
Alex Gary is a freelance correspondent