Kate Malaia: Finding Meaning in COVID Voids (May - July 2021)

Berlin was empty when I got there. I walked through Tiergarten to Potsdamer Platz on one of my first days, and there was no one, like in a post-apocalyptic film. The rain and the cold contributed too, but mostly it was the lockdown, the last one caused by the original COVID variant, while the vaccinations were still rolling out. 

There was not much to do other than endlessly wander around the city and equally endlessly write. I am a university faculty as well as a researcher; during the academic year, I teach no matter COVID or not, and only during the holidays do I get a chance to focus on my writing. Of course, unless I am travelling for archival research, or travelling to see my family and friends in Ukraine, or simply travelling because after years of being an immigrant with an international research focus, I can no longer stop moving. As you may imagine, being on the road or seeing family and friends you haven’t seen in years does not help when it comes to thoughtful, difficult writing. 

So here I was, settling in Berlin for my two-month fellowship with ZZF, bringing with me my unfinished book manuscript. Despite consistent small updates, I have had it sitting unfinished for the last two years. Like anyone in my position the most hated question people could ask me was: “So, what’s happening with your book?”* 

In fact, my book was an endless source of anxiety and fears. Because of the constant lack of time, I could not finish all the book proposals I wanted, hence coming to Berlin I did not have a publisher. In Berlin’s pandemic isolation I finally found time for the proposals, received my first positive responses, and put in a significant amount of work on my manuscript. Nothing quite like marathon writing about post-socialist urban apartments, when locked up in an urban apartment in Berlin, only exiting to get a crispy duck dish from the Vietnamese restaurant next door or take a power stroll through the Tiergarten or along Spree.

Oddly enough, in the middle of the pandemic and the global heatwave, in the city known for its vibrant urban life that never stops, thanks to ZZF I found peace, quiet, and isolation necessary to finish 10 years of work. Now I just need to hope that the world doesn’t completely collapse before this book sees the light of day. 


*Thankfully, I am past the original most hated academic question “When are you finishing your dissertation?”