What you need to know about travelling in Germany right now

Germany is currently on a partial lockdown for the month of November. So is travel allowed? What about day trips? Here's what you should know.

What you need to know about travelling in Germany right now
Passengers at Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. Photo: DPA

With restaurants, bars art galleries, theatres and gyms closed until the end of the month, activities are limited for people in Germany.

So some people may be wondering if they can take a (corona-safe) holiday within the country, or a road trip.

We break down what you should know about travel during the shutdown.

READ ALSO: Germany introduces new quarantine and testing rules after travel from risk zones

Is travel allowed?

First of all, there are no bans against travel. But the government, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, is advising that people in Germany do not travel at the moment due to the rising coronavirus rates.

“Citizens are urged to avoid unnecessary private travel and visits, including by relatives,” said the government and states in its agreement for the latest coronavirus restrictions. “This also applies in Germany and to day trips away from your region. overnight accommodation in Germany is only provided for necessary and expressly non-touristic purposes.”

Are hotels open?

Hotels in Germany can remain open in November but, as stated above, they are only available for non-tourist purposes. So for example, if you need to travel for business then you would be able to stay in a hotel, but not if you were visiting Leipzig to check out the city.

What if I have a negative coronavirus test?

It doesn't matter. From November 2nd, there is a general ban on accommodation nationwide, even if you get a negative coronavirus test: there are no exceptions on this.

Can I visit relatives or friends or invite them to my home?

As stated above, the government does not want you to do this. But theoretically, it is possible to stay with relatives and friends.

Here's what we've been told about socialising:

The government and states decided that only members of your own household and one other household – with a maximum of 10 people in total – will be allowed to meet in public during the shutdown in November. So as leisure and cultural facilities are shut, as well as cafes and restaurants etc, that would mean in public areas such as parks.

They further stated that “groups of people celebrating in public places, in apartments as well as private areas are unacceptable in view of the serious situation in our country” – but did not specify a rule.

However, Bavaria (and possibly some other states) plan to take a clearer line on socialising privately. In Bavaria until the end of the month a maximum of two households can meet, with no more than 10 people, in both public and private settings.

READ ALSO: The charts and maps that explain the state of the pandemic in Germany

In Berlin, only members of your own household and a maximum of two people from other households, or up to 10 people from a maximum of two households are permitted to be together in public and private spaces. In any case, no more than 10 people may be together at any one time.

There are some other regional differences on contact restrictions so check with your local authority.

What does this mean if I've booked a hotel in November?

It should be possible to get your money back (although of course each situation is different).

The Federation of German Consumer Organisations advises that holidaymakers should invoke the so-called “impossibility of service” (Unmöglichkeit der Leistung) so they can withdraw from the booking free of charge and even reclaim their deposit.

What's the aim?

Experts as well as the federal and state governments have repeatedly and clearly appealed to residents in Germany to stay at home and reduce contacts as much as possible.

Chancellor Merkel, for instance, says that the aim of the new measures is a “systematic reduction of contacts”. She explicitly mentioned a reduction of 75 percent, saying this was the only way to reduce the risk of infection.

Therefore, people in general are asked to refrain from private trips and visits to and from relatives and friends unless they are absolutely necessary.

READ ALSO: 'Four long months': Germany faces hard winter, warns Merkel

What about travel within my city or region?

There is a small ray of hope for gloomy November: regionally limited day trips – to the nearby forest or park, for example – remain permitted. And at least in the capital Berlin, the outdoor facilities of the zoos (but not the animal houses) remain open.

Zoos may also be partially open in other regions so check before you plan a day out.

But keep in mind that these spots will likely be busier in November so don't forget your face mask.

Please keep in mind that this article, as with all of our guides, are to provide assistance only. They are not intended to take the place of official legal advice.

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Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation