Before the Covid crisis, Humanities student Tjeu Schellekens (27) worked full-time at café Melief Bender. “I often start my working week on Thursday, and we have long shifts that last ten to twelve hours. You basically buckle down and keep going.” What did he do when the bar closed up for the duration? “I got bored. I actually like the pressure. I also worked on my thesis a bit, but I prefer to do this on campus or at De Heilige Boontjes rather than at home. I updated Melief’s social media accounts occasionally – although we didn’t have much to say. And like the rest of the Netherlands, I used the spare time to do some DIY.”

‘Hardly spontaneous’

He’s glad that the bar has been allowed to reopen as of 1 June. “We need to see how the 1.5-metre rule works out. We have 85 regulars, and we’re quite informal with them. I hope our place will still feel as friendly as it used to. Usually, you’d find our guests sitting at the bar – with more and more people pulling up a stool along the way. Now, the maximum allowed is two side by side.”

Normally speaking, Melief Bender is packed to the rafters. But under the new rules, only thirty patrons are allowed in at a time – sitting at alternately set tables. “With divider walls in-between: for a false sense of security. Fortunately, we also have a lot of outdoor seating for our guests. But everyone needs to reserve in advance, so you could hardly call it spontaneous. And people have to wait outside to be seated.”

‘After six weeks, they may decide things are moving a bit too fast’

Tjeu is a bit worried that the relaxation will be reverted

One thing he is worried about is that the current relaxation of anti-Covid measures will be reversed. “After six weeks, they may decide things are moving a bit too fast.” He personally isn’t afraid of becoming infected. “Two of my nine housemates work at the Erasmus MC and tested positive for Covid-19. After that, we all caught the bug, and we were in full lockdown for nearly three weeks – with our parents dropping off bags full of food. So it doesn’t feel as exciting as it used to. More than anything, I’m really happy that I can go out and enjoy a few terraces myself.”

Interacting with the guests

Johanna Melsheimer (24) has worked at Spanish restaurant La Cazuela ever since she started on her Management of International Social Challenges bachelor programme 2.5 years ago. It actually suited her to have some unexpected time off. “I’ve been working on my thesis. But like everyone else, I’ve been bored too. We stayed open for take-out and deliveries, so occasionally I helped out writing our menu on the blackboard outside.”

She continued to get paid 80% of her wages via the government’s support scheme. “I’m really happy that we’re opening up again – we’re working hard on making all the necessary preparations. I look forward to getting back into the swing of things. One the other hand, I still feel a bit nervous too. You don’t know for sure how people will behave.” One of the dilemmas she’s still struggling with is whether or not to wear a mask. “As a waitress, it’s very important that you can interact with your guests. They can’t see me smiling behind a mask. I imagine that will be very weird.”

Still anxious

The recent crisis threw up more problems for Johanna’s fellow student and housemate Anna Ahlemeyer (22). “I was working as a dishwasher and commis at the Fenix Food Factory, which would actually be opening at its new location in mid-March.” Since she was actually in between contracts when the measures entered into effect, her employer couldn’t apply for government support in her case – meaning she had no income. “I was afraid that the Netherlands would go into total lockdown, so I booked a flight to England where my family helped me out until it was all over.”

She flew back as soon as it became clear that bars and restaurants would be allowed to reopen as of 1 June. “At the new location, I’ll be working the cash register and explaining the new rules to our guests. I’m still a bit anxious though whether people will abide by them. But what I may be even more nervous about, is that I’ll be helping people in English rather than Dutch!” Still, she’s relieved more than anything. “It’s a job! I’m incredibly happy to have my independence again, rather than relying on my parents’ support. It’s great to have a goal and be back in ‘real life’ again.”


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