Coronavirus: What to expect when visiting Germany’s top tourist spots

Could the coronavirus pandemic offer visitors a rare chance to take photos without other people getting in the way, or will new restrictions ruin the experience?

Coronavirus: What to expect when visiting Germany's top tourist spots
Hygiene regulations are in place at tourist attractions across Germany. Photo: DPA

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle is one of the most popular attractions in Germany. These romantic ruins, which overlook the Neckar river, are quieter than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Imperial Hall, Great Heidelberg Tun and the castle gardens are receiving only half of their usual 4,000 daily visitors. 

“Visitors can enjoy a more individualised experience,” said Michael Bös, head of the castle’s management team.

Guests only have to queue to access the German Pharmacy Museum located within the castle. The tube-like shape of the museum makes it difficult to adhere to social distancing regulations. As a result, the number of people able to view the laboratory equipment, medicine cabinets and various medicines has been reduced to 40 at any one time. 

Elbphilharmonie Plaza






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Some visitors have been able to obtain a free entry ticket without having to queue. Even the famous curved escalator has been spotted without tourists from time to time. The Elbe Philharmonic recommends booking online in advance. 

Social distancing regulations mean that fewer visitors are allowed than usual. From the reopening of the viewing platform on May 25th to August 12th, there were only around a third as many guests compared to the same time last year (331,048 compared to 895,944).

Cologne Cathedral

Visiting the Cologne Cathedral is often more difficult now than it was before the pandemic. But once you are inside, hygiene restrictions have made the experience all the more overwhelming.

READ ALSO: 10 odd tourist attractions in Germany you shouldn't miss 

At the moment only 300 visitors are allowed in the cathedral at any given time. This can lead to long queues, especially at the weekend, but it means you can enjoy the largest church in Germany relatively undisturbed.

In the silence, the sound of the old cathedral clock as it strikes the hour is downright deafening. But before the pandemic, you couldn't hear it at all – the sound was drowned out by the noise of thousands of visitors.

Those wanting to climb the tower should also expect long waiting times. A one-way system which switches direction every 20 minutes ensures that visitors ascending and descending do not come into contact on the narrow spiral staircase, allowing social distancing regulations to be observed.

Reichstag Dome






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From the roof terrace of Berlin’s famous Reichstag building, you can admire the Government Quarter and the Brandenburg Gate, or look down into the Parliamentary Chamber through the glass roof – but at the moment access is limited.

Individual visitors are welcome to the Reichstag dome, designed by architect Norman Foster, if they book in advance. 

Visitors can now sit in on plenary sessions or go on a tour of the building one more. The dome is also open to a limited number of visitors every evening (from 6:30pm to 9:45pm). People are still visiting in good numbers despite coronavirus restrictions, according to the Bundestag. 

Berlin Museum Island

There are also fewer people visiting museums in Berlin, because access to museums like the Pergamon Museum and the Neues Museum remains limited and is only possible if you book a certain time slot in advance. 

This means, however, that visitors finally have a chance to see attractions such as the Nefertiti bust without having to contend with swarms of tourists. 

Many visitors are enjoying the extra space afforded to them by social distancing regulations, according to the executive board. “Generally, the need to comply with our current hygiene regulations is making people more considerate.”

Visitor numbers in 2020 will still be considerably lower than in previous years, however. Currently, estimates suggest that there will be about 30 percent of the 4.2 million visitors seen last year. 

Mainau Flower Island






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Acres and acres of flowers – and some peace and quiet. The Flower Island on Lake Constance is seeing fewer visitors coming from abroad and by bus, according to a spokesperson. 

“In recent years we have been receiving 7,000 to 8,000 visitors on a day with good weather”, said a spokesperson. They normally see around 1.2 million visitors a year. “This year we won’t see the same numbers”, she said.

For visitors, however, that means a more relaxed experience, allowing them to admire the arboretum in peace, explained the spokesperson. Their historical tree collection, which boasts giant sequoia trees over 45 meters high, has more than enough space for visitors. Even when temperatures are warm the island remains pleasantly cool. 

READ ALSO: Seven corona-safe events not to miss in Germany in September 2020

Frauenkirche Dresden

After eight weeks of closed doors, the Dresden Frauenkirche reopened to visitors in mid-May. However, access to the dome and the church for private prayer, church services and concerts has been significantly reduced. 

Only 50 people can visit the dome at any one time, capacity in the church has been limited to 40 and at concerts only about 350 of the 1,660 seats can be used. The Frauenkirche Dresden Foundation expects only half the amount of guests this year.

The world-famous 18th century church, which was destroyed at the end of the Second World War and meticulously restored after the reunification of Germany, only received a third of its normal number of visitors in the first half of this year. 

“Visitor numbers significantly improved in June, July and August”, said director Maria Noth, with more German and European tourists coming than usual. “The church is spacious and well ventilated, which does put us at an advantage”, she said.

Neuschwanstein Castle






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King Ludwig II was an unsociable type and sought solitude in Neuschwanstein Castle. Shortly after his death in 1886, the castle was reopened to visitors, bringing life back to his former refuge. 

The ‘fairy-tale king’s’ castle, situated in southern Germany’s Allgäu region, would attract up to 6,000 tourists a day during peak season in previous years. During the pandemic their daily figure has still reached around 1,080, according to the Bavarian Palace Administration in Munich, with people needing to book a ticket online in advance.

Neuschwanstein is particularly popular with tourists from abroad. Normally, 28 percent of tours are conducted in English, with 19 percent in German and 19 percent in Mandarin. At the moment, however, 69 percent of tours are being conducted in German. 

For the castle director, Patrick Korb, the ‘corona season’ has been an interesting experience. He never imagined that one day he would be leading tours with just 10 participants. 

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

This small medieval town in the Franconian district of Ansbach is home to around 10,000 people and attracts an estimated 1.9 million visitors every year. The town – known for its half-timbered houses and its Christmas market – relies quite heavily on tourism. 

According to a city spokesman, around 560,000 overnight stays were recorded in 2018 and 2019. The spokesman estimates that the pandemic will lead to a 30 percent decrease in bookings this year. 

Since overnight stays were allowed again they have received a steady stream of tourists, but far fewer of them are coming from abroad.


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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.