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‘Love is not tourism’: How Germany wants to bring couples separated by pandemic together

'Love is not tourism': How Germany wants to bring couples separated by pandemic together
Tüchsen Hansen and Rasmussen after they were reunited on April 24th. Photo: DPA
One partner in Germany, the other abroad: many long-distance partners have been separated during the coronavirus pandemic. Here are their stories, amid the political push to reunite them soon.

2020 was supposed to be their year.

A romantic wedding together with a large garden party and finally living together in one country: German Andreas Kurth and his Thai girlfriend Anny had planned everything in detail. 

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The two have been in a relationship for five years, across borders and continents. They met after the now 30-year old Anny impressed Kurth with her cooking in a small restaurant in Phuket. The production manager fell in love not only with the spicy curry Massaman, but also with the chef.

On June 10th, the couple wanted to say “I do” to each other in Linnich in North Rhine-Westphalia.

READ ALSO: 'Not how we imagined it': How German couples are getting married amid the corona crisis

Now Anny’s bridal dress, which she bought on her last visit to Germany, “hangs unused in a closet,” said 49-year-old Kurth in a disappointed tone. 

Anny’s last visit to Kurth was in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic struck. 

“In March we wanted to apply for a marriage visa in Phuket but the German embassy told us that no visa could be issued at the moment,” said 49-year-old Kurth.

Kurth and Anny last together in Linnich on August 10th, 2019. Photo courtesy of Kurth

Love without borders? 

That’s not the case in coronavirus times. Why? Border closures.

It can be a nightmare for unmarried couples, in which one partner lives in Germany and the other abroad. Anyone who cannot present a marriage certificate often carries out their relationship over WhatsApp or Skype.

Now many couples forced to be apart have taken to Twitter and other social media platforms to express their discontent – under the hashtag #LoveIsNotTourism.

There’s even a political push to make it easier for them to reunite. “For lovers, other rules must apply than for tourists,” said European Commission MEP Moritz Körner from the FDP (Free Democrats).

“In June I received many emails on the topic and decided to get involved on the topic,” said Körner. “The stories were really close to my heart and I don’t think that coronavirus should permanently prevent these couples from seeing each other.”

He already contacted Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU sister party. 

“In the parliamentary Committee on the Interior, I have asked him to make exceptions for lovers. He has promised to solve the 'nuisance' – but so far nothing has happened in Germany.”

Over the weekend, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of the Social Democrats (SDP) also joined the debate and pushed for national solutions. 

“Germany should be a pioneer in Europe, not a straggler, when it comes to bringing back together loved ones who have been torn apart for months due to the coronavirus,” he told Der Spiegel.

Seehofer, on the other hand, wants the EU Commission to first make concrete recommendations as to what an EU-wide coordinated approach to the issue might look like.

What about couples who can’t marry?

Meanwhile, the situation is particularly tricky for LGBTIQ couples. In many countries, unlike heterosexual couples, they are not allowed to marry at all. 

Spyridon Karatzas, 39, and Mark Andrew, 34, have not seen each other since December – and don't know when the next time will be. 

Karatzas from Greece lives in Germany, while Andrew comes from the Philippines and works in Dubai. They have been a couple for six years.

They were used to reuniting for mutual visits or joint holidays every two to three months. In March they wanted to meet again – and then came the coronavirus. 

Even the resumption of air travel does not help them: Karatzas would have to spend two weeks in quarantine in Dubai, and Andrew, as a non-EU citizen, is not allowed to enter Germany at all.

All that remains are Skype and zoom conversations – and the hope for a vaccine. “It's really hard,” says Karatzas.

Can Germany look to other countries?

Countries such as Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands are already going their own ways and have found solutions for binational couples.

In Switzerland, for example, unmarried couples have to present “proof” of their relationship in the form of love letters, emails and holiday photos in order to be reunited again. 

Last week the Netherlands also followed suit – and Mick Janssen, 36, from Arnhem is “super happy”, as he said on state radio. After almost five months he is finally reunited with his beloved Renata, 33, from Sao Paulo in Brazil. 

“The long-distance relationship was difficult but not impossible thanks to the Internet. We sent each other 50,000 WhatsApp messages,” says Mick. But even those couldn't have replaced the real get-together.

And others found a way to meet directly at closed borders: 89-year-old Karsten Tüchsen Hansen from Süderlügum in Schleswig-Holstein and his girlfriend Inga Rasmussen, 85, from Gallehus in Denmark met at a border crossing after the Danish border closed in March.

German politicians Körner (l) and Garg hold a banner with the inscription “#LoveIsNotTourism, Liebe kennt keine Grenzen” as they demonstrate together with others on July 25th at the German-Danish border.

The two of them went to the Aventoft border crossing every day by e-bike and car to drink coffee and chat – each on his side of the closed border. The story has now found a happy ending: Karsten and Inga were able to drink their coffee from a pot again after Denmark lifted the restrictions on lovers.

For countless others, the torturous longing continues. “If you follow the descriptions from all over the world attentively, you can sense an increasing desperation of people. Also because they are not even offered a perspective as to when this state of affairs will end,” said the Minister of Health of Schleswig-Holstein, Heiner Garg (FDP). 

But he remains hopeful: “Following the clear statements made by Foreign Minister Maas at the weekend, I am currently cautiously optimistic that a settlement will also be reached in Germany”.

Meanwhile, Andreas Kurth is hoping that the wedding will be successful by the end of the year. Since July 2nd, people from selected third countries – including Thailand – have been allowed to enter Germany again. 

READ ALSO: Who is allowed to travel to Germany from outside the EU?

The next date for the registry office is November 6th, if the visa works out this time. On his smartphone, he flipped through photos of Anny. 

“We are just looking forward to being together again soon.”

Has your long-distance relationship been affected by the coronavirus crisis? Share your experiences with us in the comments or by email.

Vocabulary

Marriage visa – (das) Heiratsvisum 

Marriage certificate – (der) Trauschein 

Get-together – (das) Beisammensein

Discontent – (der) Umut

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

 


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  1. It’s interesting how some states do insist on maintaining a unhealthy control on whom their citizens marry, especially when its a foreigner. Germany is no exception. My German wife and I were both divorcees when we decided to seal our already 7 yr relationship. My heritage is originally Scottish, so we decided to marry on a tiny island in the Inner Hebrides. At first the arrangements seemed straightforward, until the German authorities started demanding translations of all my past papers, even though we were marrying in the UK.
    My advice to anyone having trouble is simple . . . do what John Lennon & Yoko Ono did, or Sean Connery . . . just go to Gibraltar for a couple of days of ‘residence’, attend the Registry Office with your passports, and go through the simple ceremony at the end of which you get a beautiful UK marriage certificate stating ‘married in the City of Gibraltar’. There’s nothing any bureaucracy in the world can do to avoid recognising this!

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