“Yeah, this place is such a shipwreck. But this shipwreck, it is mine”, Svenja quotes from a song Neck Deep when she discusses her home town of Meinerzhagen, an hour’s drive from Cologne. She was so keen to leave and now that she’s back, she feels as if she has never left. “But if does feel different. Not like I’ll be going back to secondary school. Not having to cook everyday also feels like a holiday.” Germany is in lockdown too, but Svenja had gone back already for a dentist’s appointment. She is concerned about local business owners who are suffering. “If all those lovely small businesses go bankrupt, there’ll be nothing left in this village for young people. They will then be even more eager to leave than I was.”

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Competition for the nicest Christmas tree

Christmas without Christmas markets does not feel complete. This year, Svenja was looking forward to it even more. This is the time of year when students come home, and it’s always fun. After a big redevelopment in Meinerzhagen, this year there was also going to be a skating rink for the first time. “My mother and I have already tried three times to make our own candied almonds, which we normally buy from the market. Each time, we failed miserably.”

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Fortunately, they are able to decorate the whole house for Christmas, something that’s taken very seriously in Svenja’s family. “We have at least four storage boxes filled with decorations. And the Christmas tree must be perfect. We always get it from a local farmer, so you always meet people you know. My mother, sister and I always used to go together. We would each choose a tree, and if the others didn’t like it, you had to find a new one. And that went on until we found the nicest tree.” This year, they couldn’t all go, so her mother chose the trees (also for the grandparents) herself.

More time for reading

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Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

What are Svenja’s plans for the Christmas holiday? “Studying, obviously. In January, we need to have finished an enormous book, so things have turned out all right in that respect. I have plenty of time to read.” Other plans involve watching lots of films. “Because that’s one of the advantages of the lockdown: there are lots of good films on television.” Another advantage is that the bank where her boyfriend is doing an internship is nearby and he has a lot of time too. He lives near Svenja and they see each other often.

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Svenja definitely wants to go back to Rotterdam, even if it’s only because she can’t do her Statistics exam at home. “I have a Chromebook, and SPSS doesn’t work on it.” This year, most of her lectures were online and tutorials offline. “We had one whole course online, and that was also the one that everyone struggled most with. Probably no coincidence,” she laughs. She is looking forward to returning to campus, even if it’s only to go cycling with a friend. “We cycle past the Kralingse Plas and always wonder what those gorgeous houses cost. In Germany I used to hate cycling, now I don’t.”

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