Spooky Berlin Now

I don’t expect anyone will find it hard to believe that Berlin, where I lived from the end of 1993 until the end of 2012, currently feels very spooky. In virtually empty side streets and parks where the risk of catching Covid-19 is close to zero people are wearing masks to advertise their anxiety. The wall-to-wall fog and the sun low in the sky behind it give the scene a wan grayness. It’s the perfect backdrop to the creeping paranoia, as if the virus had a talent as movie director. Out on the street yesterday evening getting something tasty to eat at the Vietnamese eatery Monsieur Vuong, the bright Christmas lights were a feeble answer to the pervasive feeling of being under siege by an invisible army.

I’m certainly not the only person who’s found wine helpful since the beginning of the pandemic, and wine consumption in Germany is up by at least a quarter. Like many other long-term wine drinkers, during the first lockdown I opened a lot of great bottles that had been waiting in the cellar for a special occasion that somehow never came. And I really savored them, in fact they provided some of the most intense wine experiences I ever had and they colored many wonderful evenings.

During the summer, between the first and second lockdown, I was suddenly busy tasting wine for JamesSuckling.com for the first time in a year and a half. That was exciting because many of the German and Austrian white wines of the 2019 vintage are really special. Most of the wines from Alsace I tasted were of earlier vintages, but there were still plenty of fascinating wines and some inspiring ones. Since I first got involved with it professionally during the spring of 1981 in London wine has been able to inspire me. That winetasting is my job for me doesn’t in any way impinge on the intensity of those experiences, but the situation in this second lockdown has.

I think the root of this lies in the fact we all know it’s the last Covid-19 lockdown, because the vaccine is now arriving, but on the other hand it will be some time before enough people have been vaccinated that the situation changes fundamentally. Each of us now has a fantasy future we tell ourselves will be bright and shiny and so much more. It even has a name: 2021, a much better year than 2020. Of course, it will be March, April, maybe May before things get a lot better, but we’re still sticking with the idea 2020 = BAD / 2021 = GOOD. What we’re also doing, but seldom admitting to, is deferring to our mental 2021 projections, because we want to believe they are the sure signs of that better future is waiting for us.

On the other hand, some naïve people imagine there will then be a return to normality, that is the way things were before Covid-19. Others realize that during the last months plenty of things changed permanently and other major changes will follow, so there’s no possibility of going backwards. In spite of that they too, I too, sometimes feel nostalgic about the pre-Covid-19 period.

The problem with leaning nostalgically backwards to our rosy memories or expectantly forwards to our personal fantasy future is that it makes us absent-minded, that is partially absent from the present. We are all away from everything that’s here and now to some degree (because the present is awkward, frustrating, painful or terrible) and that diminishes the pleasure of wine, since the aromas and flavors can only delight, fascinate, seduce or inspire us if we are fully present for them. And for me that’s what wine is all about. So, it’s time to open another good bottle, pour a glass and to sink into the liquid here and now. 

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