Drawing: People strolling along the Danube Canal

Distance, concern, routine, help


"I think I have seen enough", Sarah said and switched off the TV, automatically picked up her smartphone but put it aside straight away and even stood up to place it somewhere where she couldn´t see it. Stefan sat on the sofa still viewing the screen where there had just been media coverage about the coronavirus.

An earthquake had struck Zagreb and the top of one of Zagreb Cathedral´s spires had broken off and collapsed. A 15-year-old girl was in critical condition and women had to flee from a clinic onto the streets with their newborns. People from the neighbourhood left their houses despite the curfew and provided them with the absolute necessities

Open eyes, open ears

It was the second week that people had to stay at home and avoid social contacts. The Viennese mayor had sat two meters from the moderator in the news studio and they hadn´t even shaken hands. Police patrols were driving through the city and thanked the citizens for following the instructions of the authorities with flashing blue light and music from the loudspeakers. There were also people who were not following the rules and some of them had already gotten fined. The Lipizzans were walking around "Burggarten” which was closed off like all federal gardens. The parks of the City of Vienna were still open, the playgrounds, however, were closed. In a lot of places, the city was full of blooming trees and shrubs. Spring flowers were growing because it was warm like in summer – until winter was back with ice-cold air from the north.

There were the first deaths in Vienna. They said primarily people older than 65 years and people with pre-existing health conditions were endangered. Therefore, it was especially interesting for Sarah and Stefan who were just a little over 30 to know how old those who had died from the coronavirus actually were and also if they had chronic illnesses or not. Because the findings about the disease were not yet that certain – even experts who had to know said so. It could not be completely ruled out that the virus could potentially also pose a deadly risk for them

Uncertain routine

The bar Stefan worked at up until last week was closed and a termination was a possibility. It wasn´t sure yet if his boss would make use of the short-time working arrangement of the government. Sarah was working from home. For the time being everything carried on as usual. The computer was on the coffee table, next to it a booklet with her work documents. Stefan was watching TV a lot and moved to the bedroom while Sarah was working. He went for shopping – with disposable gloves and a shawl wrapped around his mouth – and cooked. He made a couple of push-ups every day or at least intended to. He was having long baths in the bath tub. Every now and then he went to the living room to check on Sarah and to have a chat with her. This had been their everyday life for more than a week. They called it "the life of a hamster" by now.

"I go out", Sarah said. "I´ll ride the bike. Do you feel like coming with me?" "It´s too cold outside." Stefan changed his position on the sofa and put a pillow under his head. "I wanted to try to sew a face mask today. I found a great pattern. I only have to find a suitable piece of wire." "For what?" "As a bridge for the nose." "How about those small plastic bag ties for freezer bags that we never use? We could finally put them to good use." "They should work. Tell me, do you have more work to do today?" "No, I have already finished for today." Sarah stood up and laid down next to Stefan on the sofa.

"All this cannot be for real, can it?" Sarah said, after keeping quiet for some time.

"Yes, it´s totally crazy", Stefan said.

"Such absurd things are happening. The swearing in of a government with the people wearing face masks! The whole Slovak government was wearing them and the president even had her face mask colour-coordinated with her dress."

Stefan shook his head and after they had quietly laid there for another while he said, "And those poor women in Zagreb. As if it wasn´t already difficult enough to have a baby in these times right now, they even have to flee onto the streets with their newborns because of an earthquake."

"How do we even process all of this, what do you think?", Sarah said.

"No idea", Stefan said, "we just do it."

"The world is upside down. And we are lucky enough to have everything we need. A warm flat, something to eat."

"We are healthy… and we have each other."

"You are right, we have each other", Sarah was thinking. "Still two short weeks ago I didn´t have the same level of gratefulness for that like today. Do you remember how upset I had been that you came home from work so late?"

"Yes, that´s how quickly things can change… The bar was full, there was an abundance of beer. Unimaginable today." Stefan cleared his throat. "Unfortunately, I am still not sure if I contracted the virus while on my last shift." "It´s been two weeks now, you haven´t contracted it. You are healthy. You are only smoking a little too much." Sarah gave Stefan a kiss on the cheek and stood up. "I go out now." "I´m coming with you. On our way out let´s check on Mrs. Nepomuk and ask if she needs something." "Good idea, let´s do it."

Do not touch

Sarah and Stefan put on their coats, went down to the first floor and rang at Mrs. Nepomuk´s door. Mrs. Nepomuk was already over 80 years old and unsteady on her feet, normally it took her a little while until she made it out from the room to the door. Sarah and Stefan were listening. They heard her coming and were waiting for her to ask "Who is it?"

Only today that question wasn´t asked. Instead Mrs. Nepomuk was handling the keys to unlock the door so loudly that Sarah and Stefan looked at each other with a puzzled look. When Mrs. Nepomuk opened the door, they saw her red blotchy face and wet eyes. "What´s wrong?" Stefan held Sarah back who made a step in her direction and instinctively reached out to her to show her empathy. "My daughter", Mrs. Nepomuk said, looked into Sarah´s eyes and started crying heavily. Again Sarah´s arms were reaching out to support Mrs. Nepomuk and again Stefan was holding her back. "It is difficult, I know." Sarah gave Stefan a look filled with outrage and pain, took a deep breath and finally let her arms sink.

"Mrs. Nepomuk, what is it, what happened? Tell us. Don´t worry, we are here now." Still sobbing, Mrs. Nepomuk walked through the hallway with small steps. Sarah and Stefan followed her slowly keeping the recommended distance.

In good hands

Mrs. Nepomuk didn´t sit down on the armchair which she usually did when they came to visit but stood at one of the two windows and looked down to the Danube Canal.

"I can´t sit down right now", she said over her shoulder to the young couple that stopped in the middle of the room. "My daughter, she was tested. She is positive." Mrs. Nepomuk kept quiet for a moment. "I have only just found out about it." The old lady took a deep breath and shook her head. "She is taken to the hospital today. And I must not visit her." She shook her head again. "My child is in the hospital and I am stuck here and can´t do anything." Mrs. Nepomuk burst into tears and her distress was so strong that she lost her balance and slowly collapsed to the side.

Sarah and Stefan rushed to catch her, and they succeeded. Supporting her on both arms they led the woman to the chair. "I am sorry", she moaned, "I´m sorry. Now I´m even putting you at risk." "Don´t worry, Mrs. Nepomuk. We are alright. Don´t worry." Stefan went to get her a glass of water from the kitchen and Sarah pulled over a footstool where Mrs. Nepomuk could rest her feet on.

Now Sarah was speaking in a very clear and determined way, "Mrs. Nepomuk. Your daughter is getting help. She is in good hands. There are enough beds – even for the most serious cases. Here the system hasn´t collapsed. Because we all stick together and are here for each other." Mrs. Nepomuk was listening and nodded. "And both of us, Stefan and me, will keep being there for you, as we did before. We care about you. You are not alone."

Mrs. Nepomuk lowered her head and started to cry again. "If only everything turns out well. If only all this was over soon." "We are in this together", Stefan said with the glass of water in his hands, "as Sarah just said. And as soon as we have all this behind us, we are going for a walk on the Danube Canal together with your daughter, exactly as you enjoy it." "Yes", Mrs. Nepomuk said, "that´s a good idea." With a sigh of relief Mrs. Nepomuk looked first at Sarah and after at Stefan and said "Thank you."

Links about the urban story

Questions and answers regarding coronavirus and the CoViD-19-disease (City of Vienna)

Danube Canal – wien.at Vienna City Map

Drawing: Sandra Biskup
Text: Simon Kovacic
Translation: Doris Nicht