Covid-19 | Lessons From Our Ancestors

How Our German Ancestors Endured

The struggles and concerns brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic brings about an excellent opportunity to reflect on what hardship our ancestors endured. We think a little reflection might be the best medicine right now. So here at The German Village Shop we are stepping back and looking at the lessons that can be learned from our German ancestors.


Preserving through hardship

While we may feel isolated and separated from those that we love, we are lucky to have the technology that we do. We can keep ourselves entertained and talk to our friends and family instantly.

There have been many times in our German ancestor’s history that this has not been the case. Disasters have separated our ancestors from one another and had to persevere through those times with arguably more uncertainty and risk of death than any of us could imagine.


Humans play their part in tragedy

While most of us can think of dark times that were orchestrated by humans such as the wars and the construction of the Berlin wall. These not only physically separated loved ones, but persecuted people for living their lives.

But there have been other times throughout history that have forced our ancestors (and close relatives) to drastically change their lives, due to the unexpected wrath of nature.


When Natural Disasters Get the Upper Hand

Natural disasters are not new to human history (The volcanic disaster of Pompeii in 79 AD and the largest earthquake ever recorded in Chile 1960 spring to mind). So let’s take a look at a few of the most devastating natural disaster effecting our ancestors in Germany.


A Catastrophic Storm

A more recent event that affected most of northern Germany was the freak winter storm of ’78-’79, which forged friendships among strangers and tested the patience of most civilians.   

An unusual mix of humid Atlantic air with the normal frigid winter, caused temperatures to drop by 30 degrees in only a matter of hours, bringing with it a snowstorm. Metres of snow fell, from the northern tip of Germany, all the way to Berlin. 

Roads and train lines were completely blocked, houses were isolated and power shortages were happening all over the country. However, that wasn’t the end of it, an icy wind brought another ice storm in from the Baltic coast, causing widespread flooding and destroying most ports. Northern Germany was isolated from each other, and from neighbouring countries.


It was this extensive isolation and danger that caused people to work together. Groups of strangers left the (relative) comfort of their homes to dig out neighbours’ houses, share supplies and clear roads. Civilians worked together with the military to make areas accessible, while helicopters were brought in to rescue or give supplies to those most isolated.


While reading this, you may think that it was nothing like experiences today, seemingly on-going and never ending? Reports say that snow was still falling and causing road blockages until May! That was six months of cold, miserable and uncomfortable isolation for some people.

We can draw lessons here for 'helping your neighbour'. That enduring some additional personal suffering for yourself for the benefit of your neighbour was not only noble but indeed the favour may one day be returned when needed. We can bet it was the togetherness of the neighbourhoods who helped people survive through those long and cold days.


Disease strikes!

It hasn’t just been weather phenomenon’s that have caused Germany trouble over the centuries. A tragic tale that we know quite well here at The German Village Shop, caused a permanent change to how Germans lived. You may also know the story if you have read our previous blog about the history of beer steins.


It was the bubonic plague that forced the government to change how people drank. We might have to cover our faces, but historic Germans had to cover their beer!

Almost 1/3 of the entire population in Europe died during the bubonic plaque!


The bubonic plague, also known as The Black Death, was a global pandemic that hit Europe and Asia in the 1300’s, killing almost a third of the entire population on the continent – over 20 million people. It was a devastating disease that could kill overnight, and medicine was not as sophisticated as today. Doctors in fact stopped trying to treat the disease, refusing to see patients, while priests stopped giving last rights and shopkeepers shut their doors.

While we know now that it was spread through air as well as flea or rat bites (common in that era), many uneducated Europeans thought it was “instant death upon a sick man’s spirit leaving the eyes and infecting the healthy”. While others thought it to be due to uncleanliness.


Times were tough in Germany at that time, surrounded by many other infected countries as well as being a busy port for trade. Animals were also not immune to the disease, so people not only losing their entire families, but also their food supply or entire livelihoods. 


A pandemic without modern medicine

It was many years before the plague had run its course through Europe, still waves affecting parts of the world up to fifty years later. During this time, the German Government spread word that all public spaces must be cleansed and kept clean, this included keeping insects (growing more by the day, due to the rise in deaths) out of food and beer – hence the lids on all beer steins.

People were told to isolate and keep their distance, markets were sparce and deliveries of goods prevailed. Once they also discovered that infected people were arriving by ship, entire ship crews were forced to isolate for 30 days upon arrival. Sound familiar?


They survived and so can we!

We count ourselves lucky that we are in situations where we have relative comfort and care, our ancestors have not been so lucky. However, it was times like the Winter of 1978 where we see people come together through the difficult times to help each other.

If you feel isolated, remember to reach out, we have the technology - unlike our ancestors. Draw comfort that our families have been through worse before and endured to enable you to be where you are today! We will get through the tough times and people may write about us and how we persevered.


Here are a few German phrases to pass on to your loved ones during these uncertain times:

"Immer mit der Ruhe,"

This literally translates to "always with tranquility", a beautiful reminder how we should be striving to conduct ourselves during these times, despite the stress and worry.


"Bleibt gesund"

The words "Stay Healthy" have probably been used more in the last 18 months than ever before in our lives. Its nice to be reminded of the most important aspect of living, which is health!


"Unkraut vergeht nicht"

This saying will suit us in Australia quite nicely, it means to say "we are made of sterner stuff" and actually directly translates to weeds don't die (which I am sure any avid gardener would attest to the perservence and fortitude of weeds in their lawn or garden!). This saying is a humorous reminder of our strength and can be delivered with a 'wink'.