On a Wednesday evening in October, the Vox Live House in Wuhan is about half full. Under colorful spotlights a bald man beats a bulbous drum, a young woman works on a traditional string instrument, the keyboardist sings a plaintive song from the top of his throat. A driving, experimental, yet quite Chinese sound.
In front of the stage the audience teeter shoulder to shoulder, hardly anyone wears a mask. At the back of the bar area, guests chat with a beer or use their mobile phones, they obviously didn’t come because of the band. A seemingly normal concert in Wuhan. Pandemic, was there something? Already in August pictures from Wuhan had caused a global sensation. They showed people in a mood that people all over the world are longing for: in social exuberance. In the waist-high water of a fun pool, thousands were celebrating a party. In the central Chinese city of all places, where the first corona infections were detected in December
The bathing season is now over in Wuhan as well. But in the bars, restaurants and museums, on the city’s waterfront promenades and night markets, social and cultural life has picked up again – even if the former normality has not yet been fully restored. What traces has the lockdown left behind? “Only recently have I really felt that Wuhan is back on track,” says 22-year-old band leader Yang Zongxun. He wears long hair and a hooded sweatshirt with the words “Kitzbühler Ski, local quality”. His band now plays gigs like the one at Vox Live House every week. He remembers their first gig after the Corona break, which only took place in September: “The feeling was ambivalent. I was exhilarated, but also panicky because we hadn’t been on stage for so long. But as soon as we started playing I forgot everything – and just enjoyed the moment.”
For Wang Yunpeng, the work came back earlier – to be precise, it never quite stopped. The Wuhan brewery “Nr. 18 Brewing”, for which he is responsible for marketing, had been supplying its customers with craft beer by messengers throughout the spring.
As every year, they launched a seasonal beer in spring when the cherries blossomed, but this time they came up with a name for it that caught on nationwide: Wuhan Jia Hazi You, which can be freely translated as “Stay strong, Wuhan”. The inhabitants had shouted to each other from their balconies during the lockdown. The beer so named became a small symbol of the city’s reawakening; the orders that arrived from all over China became an act of solidarity.
No. 18 Brewing” reopened its three taprooms in Wuhan on April 8, the day the lockdown was officially lifted. “In April and May, we had larger groups than usual,” says Wang. “People had a need to get together and share their stories.” But he didn’t see any excesses: “I don’t see people drinking more. but they want to interact more, they put away their smartphones.” For Wang himself, something has changed Last year, he says, “No. 18 Brewing” was the first Chinese craft beer brewery to win gold at a competition in Germany. “We thought we could represent China,” he says. “But with the pandemic, we realized we were a local brewery. Before nobody knew where Wuhan was, now everyone knows.” He makes a sound that expresses resignation and defiance at the same time – although now the whole world knows his city, one associates few positive things with it. Anyway, that’s how Wang should be understood. “All our employees are from here,” he says. “We have learned what we have in common.”
In many conversations that one can have in the city these days, this feeling comes through: We Wuhans bear a stigma through no fault of our own, but this cannot embarrass us – on the contrary, we make it part of our identity. It is a feeling of veterans who find true understanding only in those who have suffered the same. “We are proud too, my family and I,” says Timo Balz. “Because we were in the middle of it, we got through it together.” Born in Stuttgart, he has lived in the city for years. He is professor of geodesy at Wuhan University. He spent the months of the lockdown in isolation with his wife and children in their apartment. The area around the campus, which he knows well, has changed since then: Many places have not survived the fact that the students stayed away. In September, the semester began with the resumption of attendance classes, and now new ones are opening. The café that Balz has chosen for a meeting has only existed for a few months: Raw wood and high ceilings; hipsters in knitted hats order waffles and coffee with milk.
After the quarantine, says Balz, many Wuhans were reluctant to venture into company. The fear was too deep. Their fears seemed to be confirmed when the authorities discovered a small cluster in May after 35 days without any reported new infections – and decided to test the entire population of eleven million people within two weeks. “Only after that did the city noticeably relax,” says Balz. “It was almost like a catharsis.” He wrote in his calendar when he himself and his family first visited a restaurant again, it was in July. “I have the impression that the people have become more friendly,” says Balz. “I don’t know whether that will last. Wuhan is not a friendly city.” Steel mills, punk music and foul swear words – that’s what it’s known for. Javanese Air is also rather unpolished. At the forged entrance gate of the bar two macaw parrots are doing gymnastics, the interior is decorated with Indonesian carvings, a mix of a Neuköllner corner pub and a pirate ship. Friday evening has started slowly, but with an increase in the number of guests and alcohol levels, there is a cheerful noise around 11 pm. A game of dice in particular contributes to the amusement, there are many tables to be played, you have to think little and drink a lot.
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