MATTHIAS LEITNER – Berlin – 2021

We all wanted to be much further ahead this March 9 – after the long interruption from the virus and a tumultuous past year, perhaps also moving to more fulfilling work. But here I am in my hometown Berlin churning out job applications and following a few new crisis hotspots in world regions that I care much about, for instance Ethiopia and Tigray in Africa or the military coup in Myanmar. I have never been at home in Germany for extended periods of time, except for a long vacation.

But this is a different experience. It has been an eye opener how little flexibility and scaling of employment or overseas work assignments can happen during a pandemic, even if there is much at stake in regions affected by new conflicts. Early warning aside that may have been missed, it is the lack of effective crisis response that has been concerning and the lack of utilizing expertise with proven credentials. This shows how massive the impact of COVID-19 really is in international affairs and its support systems. Institutions which should be on their toes to develop analysis and address conflict on the ground appear to have hit the pause button. Most think tanks need to scramble for funds more than ever. All this does not bode too well for cooperation in fighting the virus globally and rolling out vaccines.

However, more time at home has brought me closer to global challenges that I previously did not follow much – climate change, energy geopolitics and global health obviously but also the impact of digital communication on diplomacy and even mediations. With the big transformations in energy and carbon neutrality in the next decades, I hope there can be some innovative approaches also in how we deal with conflict. Working in more interdisciplinary ways is the one of the big take-home points from this crisis as well as arranging cross-learnings to have truly global conversations and build more solidarity.  

On another note, my home stay has grown into a veritable home office routine, and email traffic is approaching the messaging in my last office environment. I also got to know my neighborhood of Charlottenburg well, missed some shops that closed and will probably not come back. We have also seen take-away food of surprising quality and taste, especially pop-up pizzerias and nice additions to Asian food menus that dominate nearby Kantstrasse in my neighborhood. So quality of life has diminished overall but remains bearable. Only cocktails are difficult to get these days unless you start mixing them at home. For artists and creative industries, the lockdowns have been hard, and their online migration is a poor substitute for shows and events. There is a poster series showing Berlin artist portraits under the common theme “Miss you“ in shop windows. This gesture of solidarity and connecting faces with the work on hold gives everyone here a boost and expresses genuine value as we start exiting from the pandemic, if only slowly.