How is the Corona outbreak changing Germany? Our reporter Henning Sußebach went on a trip from Hamburg for the series “From another country”. Where is it less about him than about the circumstances. This crisis is also new to journalists; hardly anyone has experience – every citizen is a layperson as well as an expert. If you would like to inform our reporter about the consequences of the Corona outbreak and what is happening in your immediate area, write to him: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you take Hamburg as an example and Manshardtstraße there, it is usually a rather quiet place in a city that is rather noisy. Manshardtstrasse is a dead end in the Horn district, it ends at the entrance to Öjendorfer Friedhof, one of the largest in Hamburg. The gravestones of the funeral parlors are black and silent in the front gardens. Funeral cars come in and out quietly. Usually.
But what is normal these days? It has become quiet in the noisy places, in playgrounds, in shopping centers. And in the quiet Manshardtstrasse, behind a large shop window from Arif – tombstones and grave maintenance, a man in his mid-50s is loud. Tired, gray and agitated, he sits on the sofa of the undertaker Arif Tokicin. The visitor weighs in grief because he cannot pay his father the last honor: a worthy funeral.
The father, 80, escaped from Afghanistan decades ago, died a few days ago. His body is in a cold store, it should now be cleaned according to Islamic principles, by an imam and by the bereaved. But the cemetery administration has received instructions from above that “goodbyes and ritual ablutions” are to be avoided with immediate effect. Every body could be infectious. Therefore no washing. No petting. No forehead kiss.
“But my father didn’t have a corona!” Calls the man on the sofa.
“I believe you. We still can’t,” says Arif Tokicin, the undertaker.
The customer also had to unload guests for the funeral itself. There is “contact reduction” for the living and the dead. Please refrain from expressing condolences with physical contact. The number of mourners is limited to twenty. One hundred were invited.
No, these are no longer normal times. These are times when certainties lose their validity within days or hours. In which it seems wrong in the evening what sounded right in the morning. When Corona came to Germany, for example, some of us journalists thought that for a few weeks there would be less reality to report on. Didn’t book fairs, soccer games and film premieres fail? Wouldn’t Germany slow down and come to an uneventful standstill?
We now know that it was a mistake. We now know that the sum of reality never decreases. Reality now only takes place somewhere else than in the usual grid of perception – and often more powerful than before. For example on the meeting couch of the Hamburg undertaker Tokicin.
Those who die in Germany these days often die alone. And sometimes he is buried alone. You can postpone soccer tournaments and postpone high school exams, but death doesn’t take a break. All denominations are affected by the consequences – but the new Corona reality also means that obviously a lot is changing for those citizens who do not belong to the majority society, who do not belong to the social center to which everyday life has so far been tailored. That is why there are currently scenes with Muslim undertakers like Arif Tokicin in Hamburg that nobody could imagine just a few days ago.
Tokicin, 51, came out of the country with his parents at the age of nine Turkey to Germany. He says that the first generation of immigrants is currently dying, “people with strong roots at home”, people who only associate Germany with work, but neither origin nor place of residence, least of all not forever.
So far, around half of the approximately 250 deaths entrusted to Tokicin have been flown at the request of the bereaved. The dead began their penultimate journey in the cargo holds of the airlines, were transferred to Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran and buried there in ancient family graves that do not expire after 25 years, as is customary in Germany. So far, every coffin in the airplane’s belly also had mourners in the rows of chairs in the cabin above it, silent travelers between busy sales representatives and happy tourists.
“Only there are no more flights now,” says Tokicin.
The bereaved still have the choice to have their dead buried in Germany – against their original will – or to store them in cold rooms for weeks or months, contrary to Muslim customs. The pandemic has only just begun, but the undertaker Tokicin is already afraid of a body jam that forms along old confessional borders and currently closed national borders. He said he had been able to transfer some of the deceased in recent days to largely empty planes in Istanbul and Samsun on the Black Sea, which were no longer carrying passengers.
And two days ago, three children and their father said goodbye to the mother’s body, died at the age of 40, without being escorted to Turkey. There were caresses, forehead kisses, tears.
“A farewell was still allowed,” says Tokicin.