Who are you? Age? Where do you live?
I’m Veronika Ainhoa “zhoak”, a 27-year-old freelance artist, born in Barakaldo and now living in Chemnitz, Germany. My artistic work is focused mostly in video production and photography. You can have a look at what I make at studios.zhoak.com
Which measures have taken the authorities there where you are living, when the crisis of Coronavirus Pandemic started? People respect them? How did it the containment happen? With whom was you? Where?
Well look, the state of alarm took me while I was in Mallorca. Miraculously my flight back to Germany was not cancelled. So, I have been able to live the situation in both countries and experience the big differences. I was in Mallorca because I had to go for a photoshooting job, and have some new glasses made. I was couchsurfing in the flat of Ali, a pakistani guy. He used to work in a restaurant, and from one day to another all restaurants closed. He got furloughed and some of his friends in the restaurant industry lost their jobs, so he also hosted one of those friends. Two days after,he hosted another german tourist that had been couchsurfing in Ali’s flat before I came, and that she was on the streets because all hotels suddenly closed. The return flights also were getting cancelled. In those moments, if there was any flight for go back Germany earlier than ours that was yet not cancelled, costed around 400 €. And with the fear, most of hosters in Couchsurfing were not willing to host anyone. Both of us were very lucky of having a couch-hoster that was so hospitable and didn’t leave us high and dry.
On one hand it was a bit complicated because it was a small one-room flat, and we had to manage like canned sardines in a sofa-bed. In the flat there was no internet. We were making up board games. One was sneezing every half hour, all being stuck, and for the other ones there was no other choice than laugh and make jokes about that we all get coronavirus. But the experience was in the end nice, because they were very good people that didn’t abandon us to our fate in street, and such crazy experience, with couchsurfing in apocalypse times on an island, does not happen every day. Here in Germany was much more relaxed than Spain, much less strict. I know many basques think that germans are strict, square, super punctual, and a series of cliches that I don’t know well from where they come from, because in my 5 years living in Germany I have seen that it’s rather the opposite, the basques are stricter than the germans.
While in Spain everything was getting closed and setting the state of alarm, my acquaintances from Berlin were telling me that in Berlin the people were still going to party like nothing happened. In Germany the measures have been much less prohibitive, and at the same time they were taken more gradually. Here in Chemnitz has been normal to see people in the streets walking in families, in the parks, giving a round in motorcycle, etc. The streets kept being full. A huge difference with Spain.
In Mallorca there were police everywhere. I went out of house door 2 meters and there was police asking me for what I go out and what I’m going to do. I remember sometimes I was going out to buy food to supermarket and there was some people shouting from the balconies ¨¡¡quédate en casa!!¨ (stay home!!). Sometimes I felt like a criminal, like a rapist that goes out of his cell while his jail mates boo him. I was saving the purchase tickets because of fear of being fined. And the streets empty, dead. The apocalypse.
Here in Chemnitz nothing similar with that. I didn’t even realize more police than usual. I personally didn’t see yet anybody who gets asked or controlled for what he goes out, or what he makes, and my partner neither. My friends told me that sometimes to some people that was in groups making picnic in the park, without holding back and taking the situation like a joke, those yes that were told off and asked for break up the group. But if you don’t go so shamelessly against the rules, it’s rare that you get controlled. I felt ultra happy of being able to go back Germany and go out of the spanish hell. Yes they cancelled events, closed restaurants, schools and so, but nothing so exaggerated like what in Spain happened, that even the optical store that was making my glasses before the state of alarm closed. I am still without my glasses, that I have 6 dioptres and I don’t see shit, because they even closed the workshop. They can’t either finish them nor send. Neither the old glasses. I remember that me and another guy that remained without being able to pick our glasses, complained in the Facebook page of the optical store, that they can’t even finish our glasses and send them or that we can pick them somehow, and we had a rain of comments of angry people that were calling us selfish and with lack of humanity.
Here in Chemnitz, for example my partner, who works as employee, at the company they didn’t stop anything. They have kept going to work in all the time. In spite of the fact that they produce machines, like for example machines for car factories… not essential things. Generally what I have seen is that the most of the companies of no essential things have kept working (of course I’m not talking about restaurants and other stores that have not been allowed to open to the public). At the other hand, and this is curious, many health workers like dentists, psychologists, and organizations of free doctors for people without health insurance DID actually close. Or many offices for social help and social workers. In Germany there are private insurances, or “statutory” insurances from corporations. There is not a public health system like Spain’s one and there is many people without insurance (like for example unemployed, homemakers that are not married, and other kind of people without income or low income that can’t pay the insurance). In other words, the people that want to commit suicide because they got ruined due to coronavirus, or the people that gets ill and don’t have health insurance, or the ones that because getting without resources need social helps, those ones yes they have been let high and dry with closed doors. Very logical all.
On top of that, here in Germany, and unlike what it’s generally thought in the rest of Europe, it’s usual to work very oldschool-like: with paper and post, personally in office, and by luck in telephone. The most of these places are very little prepared for work electronically. So many of these places that are so important and have closed (psychologists, doctor organizations, …) didn’t really offer an electronic alternative. They closed “until further notice”. Although it is true that with this of the coronavirus pandemic, in all the world have been taken measures from night to morning without time for preparation, nor of thinking about better solutions, nor studying the consequences, and some have end being incoherent. Fortunately this week with the lockdown easing some social helps offices or organizations for people without health insurance started to open. Recently it has been established the obligation of wearing masks (or something that covers the face) in supermarkets, stores, etc. The medical masks sold for privates got sold out long ago, at beginning of March you didn’t see them anywhere, so the people started making fabric masks with everything they get (old bedsheets, etc.). If in any supermarket there are some masks for sell to privates, they put them at exorbitant prices, such as 15 € for a fabric mask that it’s not even medical. The privates that may have some masks at home and need to earn money from where they can, have been prevented from selling them: Ebay Kleinanzeigen (the german ¨Milanuncios¨), Quoka (more of same), Facebook and all the big sites for online sales of privates banned the publishing of sales of masks, gloves and such.
Here in Chemnitz the big supermarkets have practically the monopoly of the few masks for privates that can be bought, and therefore they can put the price they want. There is quite a lot of people unhappy with the measures and the fake promises of social helps that to many didn’t come, and lately there are several demonstrations, many of them in the street, gathering again the people. For example today (09.05.20) in Stuttgart there has been a demonstration of around 10.000 people. The official numbers are still not published. There was 50.000 people registered but only 10.000 people was allowed to participate. In Chemnitz there has been demonstrations too, but here in Chemnitz they use to be bound to opportunistic parties of extreme right-wing like Pro Chemnitz and AFD, that simply try to win the people that is unhappy with the current government and measures.
Were you able to go to your work place? Teleworking?
I work in all Europe making photoshootings or recordings, therefore I have to travel constantly. Having closed all borders, all the jobs I had scheduled have been canceled. Not only because the borders closing and not being able to travel to the places where I had to do the shootings, but also because of the cancellation of all events. I use to work much in the motor world:motorcycles, cars, classics, etc. Now all the car events and meetings have been cancelled. Normally from March to September use to be always the strong season for events and when I have the most jobs available, and I reach to save enough money to counteract the “low season” of the winter. What it means that I will have to make a 180 degree turn in my work and search another way. Although, we artists are quite used to have a plan B, C, D,… Z, and having to diversify our work areas.
Luckily, at the end of February I started with my project of online clothing shop, and it’s very probable that now I will have to put the vidéo production more aside, and focus my work fully on fashion design. Maybe is that it was the moment to fully risk in a different area than what I always worked, and now I have more reasons than ever.
Who knows, maybe in a few years I’m more successful with the clothing as with the audiovisual production and I realize that there is no harm that does not come for good.
With the coronavirus the factory for the clothing production in Lithuania with which I work closed for one month. Recently they opened again, but the borders keep closed. I’m pretty eager waiting that finally they get opened and being able to go to Lithuania to continue with the production. As it is not some essential thing nor I’m a health worker, I don’t know if I will manage somehow to get a permission to go before they get opened, in case it will get much longer. For this year the clothing shop is my best alternative to face the losses caused by the cancellations of the photo-video jobs, and that’s why I am here everyday looking the news for if they already put date for the reopening of borders. Meanwhile I am preparing the shop page, www.zhoak.com, and a crowdfunding project to be able to make a biger investment.
How do you stay in contact with your loved ones in Basque Country and outside?
Facebook and Whatsapp. Although I don’t have much time for the social life (I explain why in the next question).
What do you do for spend your time?
Here I don’t need to think how to spend the time, neither I have the opportunity to “get bored”. In the moment where you want/try to recieve any economical help because of the coronavirus, get ready for a non-end fight with the german bureaucracy.
Every day I fill forms and forms. It has no end. Now I just need to tell them the size of my bra, because they have already asked everything else 50,000 times. Here when requesting helps they even ask you who you go to bed with (indirectly, but they do). They always need to try to find some excuse for not giving you the helps that corresponds to you and make you having to start all paperwork from zero in another entity. That’s how they take care during all the coronavirus to keep entertained all the people that got “without job”. I see my basque friends that look movies, the Netflix, the Facebook, the online courses, etc. I don’t have any free time at all. I have been doing paperwork every day since March. Till now I have achieved 800 € of helps. If they don’t take it off in future (something pretty typical with the helps in Germany: first they give you money, and then they search some excuse for ask it back). So we will see, when some time passes, if I really achieved 800 € helps or only a loan. But I can be happy, because many others didn’t receive anything, and that’s also one of the reasons why there is so much discontented and the demonstrations get more frequent, as I previously mentioned. Apart from the issue of the bureaucracy for getting help, we have at the other hand that many companies of services such as vehicle insurances, or the german public TV “GEZ”, etc, have taken advantage of the situation, that lawyers and legal advisors have closed due to coronavirus, for take your money illegally and that you can’t appeal nor make anything because you can’t hardly go to even to a private lawyer.
The few lawyers that open, are saturated with all the problems of flight cancellations, work problems due to coronavirus, and such. I got cancelled a flight to Turkey and they didn’t return me the money. So with this issue of legal disputes and having to read on my own about laws in german without lawyer help, I got pretty entertained as well. I already invested part of those 800 € in the clothing project, because I know very good that in this country you can’t rely nor expect that the social helps will save your ass in the crisis due to coronavirus, but new business ideas. And if I have any time left from making forms for achieve helps or loans for the coronavirus, I use every minute in preparing the next designs in which to invest.
Now where you live how it’s the thing? How does it get into ¨normal¨ life ? Are you worried?
“Normal”, between quotation marks, like you write. I think this is actually the beginning of the worse, the economic crisis, and it will never come back to the “normality” that we had. Me, like mentioned before, had to forget about my audiovisual production jobs that were scheduled for this year and redirect my business into another different area.
My partner, at his work, that it’s a pretty big company in Chemnitz, are many days in “Kurzarbeit” and they know it will last long. (This of the Kurzarbeit is that they don’t go to work some days of the month because there is not enough work. Those days they get paid only a percentage of the salary, that comes from state helps.) Or Kurzarbeit, or taking holiday days, or days without get paid. And they can be happy that they don’t loose their jobs, like many others. Y had a couple of classic cars for sale. They have lost almost 50% value compared to last year. With the cancellations of classic cars events and the economic crisis, the people are not for classic cars, even though in Germany there has been always a great fondness for the classics. So like with the classics, I’m sure that it happens in general with everything “not essential”. I think this “war times” will last long. Many jobs will have to change or die. The unemployment will rise and the bureaucracy for social helps is slow, inefficient, and expensive. There will be people in a very bad situation, and the young germans are not used to a crisis of such dimensions. Many have been living till now with expenses over their possibilities and credits since very young, and as being the first economy in Europe, they have always taken for granted that Germany will always be good and they will always have job and money. Here in Chemnitz except some students, almost nobody speaks English, and almost nobody is interested at all in learning a foreign language, because they have always believed they will have job around the corner easily and that they will not need to emigrate nor work internationally. And now that the businesses will have to reborn in the online world, many are not prepared for work internationally in English, and they have removed possibilities themselves.
Although I’m convinced, that at least here it will not be as catastrophic as in Spain. With Spain I’m really worried with the economic crisis that come near.
A positive point?
In some cities the nature has been able to come to enjoy a bit its streets, normally hyper busy and contaminated. Looking images of wild animals wandering freely around big cities, is a very unusual experience, and perhaps is this an opportunity to hear them and realize that we have stolen their space. I think the coronavirus is an opportunity for reflection, that the nature gives us crying out, so that we stop destroying it and overpopulating it.
An opportunity for self-criticism. Already with the Australia fires she was sending us the message crying out, but sometimes we humans need to get more banged up for a reaction.