karen shea, captain's log


Fri, Jul 09 2021

first vaccination

Inexplicably, I received a coveted Buchungscode, an invitation to be vaccinated, back when vaccine appointments were still to be coveted. A slight hiccup: the letter was posted to my previous registered address, and had my ex-roommate moved out just a month earlier, I might not have received it at all.

"You can open it, it's probably nothing" I texted them. A letter from the Senatsverwaltung für Gesundheit, Pflege und Gleichstellung?

"I think you're gonna want this one..." they replied.

On the bus ride to the now defunct Berlin airport Tegel, I wondered if the residents of that part of Reinickendorf missed the sounds of airplanes taking off and landing. After its closing at a point during lockdown when no one was traveling anyway, I never thought I would go to Tegel again, let alone wait in line for hours there, or have the contents of my bag inspected in its terminals.

By the time the bus arrived at the last stop, we were only solo travelers left. The invitation letter clearly stated that accompanying persons were not allowed. No families, couples, or friends, and no attendant conversation about the destination we all shared. Alone, together.

Two shuttles waited at the last stop on the bus line. First Buchungscode paper check. We were driven the short distance into the drop off area of Terminal C. A snaking line of hundreds of people greeted us, starting from some entrance, looping through the drop-off area, into the long-term parking. We were shown to the end.

An older German gentleman latched onto the man behind me, and began to quatsch endlessly, that is, perform the horrible act of talking at rather than to this perfect stranger, who, out of politeness, deference to social norms, had no choice but to listen and respond with varied mmhmms, joas and achsos. Were I German, maybe I would have felt a modicum of pity for the man - we get lonely as we get older, no one to talk to - except I found him tiresome. He rambled about the exotic vacations he didn't get to take anymore, boasted about visiting Thailand and all four corners of the US, and Bulgaria; he loved Bulgaria, and mentioned it repeatedly. He bemoaned the hordes of non-German speaker foreigners flooding Berlin. And all of it in Berlinisch. I literally tried to stop up my ears. No one else in line was talking, it was impossible to not hear him.

An hour later, we were finally shuffled into the building, document-checked, fever tested by raygun, bag-checked by gruff men, and bounced between volunteers to the individual, walled-off registration counters, where our documents were checked again.

In this version of the airport I'd never been to, it felt like the process of moving apartments, when the bareness of the walls and disarray of furniture makes it feel like a foreign place, all at once familiar and new.

I was directed to one of the vaccination booths whose walls were plastic sheeting. After a couple minutes a doctor took a seat on the swivel stool before me. He asked me if I had any questions. I had many questions, but nothing to say. The jab of the needle was sudden, but the slow depressing of the plunger took longer than I remembered. I felt a rush of something between euphoria and panic. Questions came. Is this this it? Is this the beginning or the end? Are we going forward or backward? Is this progress or is this just fighting to stay upright? I identified the urge to hope, a virtue un-indulged for the past year, and slowly atrophying.