The German family of 13 navigating lockdown. AP
One year into the coronavirus pandemic, Katja Heimann, a mother of 11, is still trying to keep her spirits up - despite several lockdowns and months of homeschooling seven of her children. The secret of her success, she says: structured daily routines, patience and love.
Heimann, who lives with her husband Andre and their children in the small village of Eisemroth in central Germany, keeps a strict daily schedule to get everything done that needs to be done when you have 11 kids.
That includes a lot of self-discipline: getting up at dawn, cleaning the home, doing the laundry, cooking and, in addition - since schools have been closed for most students in Germany since the end of last year - helping her children with remote learning.
Despite her perseverance the situation "has become very exhausting lately,” the 51-year-old said on Thursday.
Like millions of families in Germany and across the globe, the Heimanns are struggling with the ongoing daily burdens of the pandemic. But where most families, at least in Germany, have to take care of one, two, three or rarely four children, the Heimanns have an entire soccer team of kids in the house.
The oldest, Milena, 22, has already moved out, but lives nearby and comes over for visits several times a week. In addition to the seven school-age children, the Heimanns also have three little ones - the youngest only 18 months - who are still in kindergarten, which has also been closed some of the time due to the virus.
"It's very noisy here and cramped," Katja Heimann said with a sigh, but also a smile. When the four high school students are participating in video conferences with their teachers, she helps her three elementary school students solve their exercises on the long wooden kitchen table.
Husband Andre, 52, a locksmith, says he is in awe of how his wife manages to keep their family together during the pandemic.
"She takes care of the household, the homework, the cooking, the cleaning, the paperwork, everything," he says. "She's amazing.”
Of course, the Heimanns have good and bad days.
Sometimes the kids argue with each other, they get bored and don't want to do remote learning anymore but do want to hang out with their friends again - which is not allowed due to the distancing regulations.
"Of course, we have stress and we argue too,” says Andre. "But in general the situation made us get closer together."
Across the country, families are bearing the brunt of the pandemic and parents as well as children are exhausted by the ongoing school closures.
While in some German states some schools have reopened carefully and for half-size attendance only, other states are still keeping many children in remote-learning-only mode.
Since November, the country's 83 million people have been living under various lockdown measures. Restaurants, bars and many leisure facilities remain closed.
However, despite the restrictions, infection numbers in Germany have been rising again in recent weeks as the more contagious virus variant first detected in Britain has become dominant in the country.
Contracting the infection is a constant fear for the Heimanns as their 3-year-old son Oskar suffers from a rare genetic disease, has an intellectual disability and is therefore especially vulnerable.
"We have two risk patients in our family - Oskar with his genetic defect and my husband," says Katja Heimann. "So we are living in constant fear that somebody will bring home the infection.”
Despite their worries, some of the children started going back to school part-time recently and they're hoping for full-time classes again soon.
"The best thing will be when we can all go back to school every day and meet and play in groups again,” says 10-year-old Martha.
"And play soccer again which is currently canceled - which is really a stupid thing,” adds 12-year-old brother Willi.
The rest of the Heimann family also can't wait for the pandemic to be over.
"The most important thing will be when the kids can finally be kids again and enjoy their hobbies,” says father Andre. "That they are no longer bored and can go wherever they want and do what they like to do again.”
It was shortly after 6 pm on Monday, March 22, when Angela Merkel called a break after hours of deadlocked discussion with her deputy and Germany’s 16 state premiers on how to halt a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Germany began tentatively lifting its lockdown two weeks ago, opening some shops and schools, after infection rates came down. Merkel and the state leaders agreed last week to loosen the rules further, giving religious institutions, playgrounds, museums and zoos the green light to open.
What should have been an encouraging sign of business bouncing back after the coronavirus turned into a fiasco for low-cost German airline Eurowings, as a plane was forced to turn back on arrival in Sardinia.
The reproduction or infection rate under close watch by health authorities mounted again to around 1.0, meaning each infected person passes the virus on to one other, figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control showed late Tuesday.
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