The hamsters are loose in Berlin

Hamsters on the loose in Berlin (Photo: imago images/7aktuell)

It’s not surprising that the culture which gave us specific words for a brilliant idea you get while drinking but end up regretting later (Schnapsidee — I get a lot of these), and for the perverse sense of satisfaction at taking joy in someone else’s pain (Schadenfreude) should also have a term for hoarding.

The Germans call panic buying Der Hamsterkäufe (‘hamster buying’). When I think about it, ‘hoarder’ has connotations of greed, of grabbing as much as you can for yourself, and perhaps that’s appropriate for North America. I like ‘hamster’ better, with its sense of blind preparation for an approaching season of difficulty.

But semantics aside, these hamsters are fucking annoying.

They’re still hoarding toilet paper, for one, and I just don’t understand the obsession. I haven’t seen toilet paper in my neighbourhood shops in at least a week. But it doesn’t stop there.

I haven’t seen a single package of flour at my local Rewe in at least a month and a half, either. That and dried grains like beans, quinoa and bulgar. These city dwellers are rediscovering pioneering skills they never knew they didn’t have, such as baking their own bread. It won’t go well.

Eggs were completely cleared out, too, for the third time this month. That’s right. There wasn’t a single egg in the shop. All the milk was gone, too — even that crappy 1% milk. The only thing left was a few cartons of a lactose-free milk product, and a bunch of so-called ‘oat milk’ which isn’t milk at all.

Look, I will not pour some sludge of ground up almond or oat powder and water into my coffee or tea. It’s not the same thing as the gift of the cow, so please stop pretending it is.

And while we’re at it, let me get something else off my hairy chest. Humans are omnivores — or as my partner in magazine assignments, Jason George, used to say, opportunivores. We’re animals, part of a vast food chain in which life feeds upon life.

So by all means go on imagining that broccoli doesn’t scream, and plants don’t communicate with one another. But please stop coming up with nonsense names like ‘tofu bacon’, or ‘tofu turkey’, or ‘veggie burgers’. You gave those foods up. You don’t get to eat them anymore.

It’s either a vegetarian plot to convince the rest of us we’re not really missing anything by swapping in some highly processed soy sludge for nature’s most delicious food: bacon. Or an attempt to convince themselves of an obvious lie.

You lot go on eating your pre-formed processed soy sludge, chock-full of man-boob-forming phytoestrogens for the man bun crowd, and I’ll keep eating bacon, and we’ll agree to peacefully judge one another as fools and monsters, respectively.

Anyway, what was I saying?

Oh yes. What the hell are these hamsters doing with all those eggs and all that milk? How exactly is one supposed to hoard them? I thought they might be freezing the milk, but Berliners are apartment dwellers with tiny refrigerators, who tend to shop day by day. There’s barely enough room in our freezer compartment for a small container of ice cream, a couple ice cube trays, and some bread for toast.

I saw one guy last night buying 30 tins of kidney beans. I hope he’s practicing Stoßlüften (‘shock ventilation’) in his flat, because he’s going to need it.

And so we’ve come full circle. I really can’t understand why these people are hoarding so much toilet paper. It’s not as though they’ll have much use for it. They’ll be able to shit through the eye of a needle on their diet of dried beans and raw flour. (“Oh, you think it’s difficult to fit a camel through there? Matthew, hold my beer…”)

Are COVID-19 hoarders or hamsters active in your neighbourhood? What are they stashing away? Please add your stories in the comments below. I love a good rant.

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • Lucky you … only missing toilet paper for a week… we’ve been under TP shortage for close to a month.. we are at the point where a friend living in a town a couple of miles up the coast from me texts me to say she’s seen TP in a shop in her neighbourhood; should she get me a packet? And vice versa.
    Also MIA are eggs, rice, pasta. Oh and those special hours in supermarkets reserved for the vulnerable or their carers to do their shopping? Ha-bliddy-ha. The other day the queue snaked around the block twice… it’s crazy.
    It’s also fucking annoying ….

    • I really worry about what will happen in Malta, given the total incompetence at the top of the government, the VGH scandal, and the sheer amount of people living so close together in a very small space.

        • So far the Germans seem to be handling things pretty well. Too many people are still gathering in groups outside, at least in Berlin, but I think it’s still better to be here than in a lot of other places.

  • My farm days had two piles of corn cobs in the outhouse: one pile of red cobs, one pile of white cobs. You use the red cob first then use a white one to see if you need another red one🤣. So this guy writes Sears asking the price of tp. They write back to look on page 50 of their catalog for the price. He says if he had their catalog he wouldn’t be needing tp 😆. That’s enough! You

  • At the start of all this, we had the hamsters too. Cleaned out our one grocery store. But I was totally amazed at how well the town did shutdown. I mean one day it was busy as per usual, and the next, crickets!! Well, not really, it was still winter here.

    But the townspeople have really cooperated fantastically, even the younger folks. Ryan, it was so quiet here, not much traffic, and no one out and about. I loved it. Like your good self, I’m also a master at isolation.

    But alas, winter is over, partial openings, and literally within days, you realised how bloody noisy it had gotten. And tons of people out, of course. Most still social distancing, but there is always your few covidiots. Like today at the drugstore, a dude planted himself directly behind me at the cash. I politely asked him to stand on his social distancing spot…which he did, with a mocking look..and then proceeded to cough away. Actually more like hacking. I so wanted to just deck him!

    Every place has their village idiot, I guess.

    • Things went smoothly here, too, apart from the stockpiling during the first month or so.

      As far as keeping distance, it was mostly mid-30’s / early-40’s parents with young kids that I saw ignoring it and gathering in the parks during the worst phase. Things are opening back up now, shops and restaurants a couple weeks ago, gyms next week, but not bars, cinemas or clubs. We still have to wear masks in shops. And I’m happy with the marks on the floor that get people to leave space in a queue. For some reason Germans like to spoon total strangers in line. We have a very different sense of personal space.

      Germany — and Berlin — handled things really well. And they used the lockdown to create a big field hospital in the main convention centre, so they’re fully prepared for a resurgence. Travel inside the EU seems to be opening up, too.


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