By Karenita Haalck

Covid-19 has changed everyday life fundamentally. Public locations like markets, shops and museums maintain a certain normality, yet the current measurements have an impact on how society behaves.

Winding back the clock to September 2019. It’s a prosperous Saturday, 11 AM and life is slowly being breathed into the Albert Cuyp market. It’s a wakening call for the senses and the mind; vibrant colours of produce catch the visitor’s eyes. The sweet, velvety smell of Poffertjes wafts through the air, just to be superseded with the earthy aromas of Greek tapas from the shed aside. People are standing, chatting, conversating. Jazz music from a nearby café merges with bike bells hectically ringing. A group of tourists is plotting their weekend in the city, vividly discussing and furiously pointing in directions. A stall keeper is in a serious conversation with an elderly woman, evaluating the best potato breed to use for a Sunday roast.

The Albert Cuyp market is a melting pot in many ways. The visitors are diverse – young and old, locals and tourists, students and families, flamboyant personalities and traditional thinkers. Located directly in De Pijp, it’s the epicentre of social connection. Many come here in the morning and end up staying around the main street until the late evening. The moments are volatile, but the memories and encounters are certainly not. Looking back, it’s a place of brisk business and spontaneous interaction. However, in the past few months, the market has changed.

Fast forward to September 2020. It’s a gloomy Saturday. At first glance, not much has changed on the Albert Cuyp street. Fruit stands line up with fabric sheds, all kinds of international foods align with Dutch Stroopwaffel advertisements. People are slowly strolling side by side, but the cafés are filled sparsely. The queues look weirdly spacious. Some are wearing masks. The atmosphere seems muted as if someone turned down the volume until the usual buzzing sounds turned into white noise.

There are separation lines on the ground – walk left, walk right, don’t get in the way of the opposite pedestrians. ‘Keep a distance’ is sprayed onto the cobblestone pavement every dozen of meters. The yellow colour is smudged as if the letters are doubting their own message. The clouds are hanging heavy and low,  like a metaphor for the all-round presence of Covid-19 shadowing over people’s lives. “I used to cross this market in spontaneous zig-zags, looking for fresh produce and the best offers across the sides. Now I make my way up on one side and then back down the other side. There is no spontaneity anymore. It feels like walking on autopilot instead of exploring,” Marika Hanschke (23) ruminates. “I’ve come here to get a change of scenery,” Rebecca Moede (24) says. “All weekdays I am in the office and most social interactions are limited. But wherever you go to take your mind off things, Corona is present as well. The common mood is so down, even here,” she adds.

Five girls, Rebecca Moede and Marika Hanschke among them, are standing in front of a jewellery stand. The tarpaulin is of a vibrant magenta, bleeding onto the passer-by’s standing underneath, limewashing their faces with an out-of-place pinkish tone. It creates a weird contrast to the grey weather and their neutral expressions. The girls are looking at a display of tiny rings and necklaces. A particular piece catches the eye of one of the girls. Hesitantly, she approaches. Mid-movement she abruptly stops. Another customer stepped in front of the display. Without making eye contact she expresses her apologies, “Sorry. Go ahead”.  Hastily she takes two steps back. 1.5 meters distance.

The stall keepers notice a change as well. “It’s not the same,” Wes Muller (52), owner of a vegetable stand, admits. “The customers don’t talk as much as before. They purchase what they need and turn their back towards the stands. If we have conversations with them, it’s superficial. Even regular customers are less interested in exchange,” he elaborates.  “I am craving alternation and effortless contact, yet when I go out and about I can’t escape the reality. I feel like we all make an effort to pretend everything is normal when it’s not,” Anna Pries (24), who is part of the friend group, reports.

The changed atmosphere of the Albert Cuyp market is only one of many examples of how the aftermaths of Covid-19 are making dents in social interaction. Back in March during the first lockdown, people hadn’t grasped the sci-fi scale of 2020’s course. Now, towards the end of the year, many realize the impact the pandemic has on everyday life – and individual disposition. Daily habits taken for granted have turned into distant anecdotes. It proves a point: society relies on the bonds of communication and proximity.