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LIVING IN GERMANY

‘A trip home is impossible’: How foreign residents in Germany plan to celebrate Christmas

Foreigners in Germany often choose to go home and visit their families during the festive season. We asked what they plan to do this year during the pandemic.

'A trip home is impossible': How foreign residents in Germany plan to celebrate Christmas
Solana Joy with husband Julian Gough, baby Arlo Gough and Sophie Gough-Fives. Photo: Juliana Socher

Solana Joy and her family never usually get a Christmas tree in Germany. But because they plan to stay in Berlin over the festive period this year, they're embracing this tradition.

“It gets dark so early now, we could use a bit of sparkle,” Joy told the Local. 

Due to the pandemic, Joy believes she won't get home to visit her family in Oregon, the US, or her husband Julian's family in Ireland.

“We haven't left Berlin all year, and don't expect to be able to at this rate,” she said.

Unfortunately this year, many people's travel plans cannot go ahead due to the health crisis.

READ ALSO: Germany mulls three-week lockdown from December 20th

As The Local has been reporting, the German government wants to ease restrictions over Christmas and New Year, but has tightened measures in the run-up and after it.

However, with countries dubbed high risk zones around the world (and as numbers are still high in Germany), travel is out of the question for most people.

Joy plans to make the best of the situation, though, by visiting any Christmas markets that are able to open.

“And I'm hoping it will snow, at least once,” she said. “Otherwise, we'll just decorate, and bake – things like that.

Solana Joy with her son and husband Julian. Photo: Juliana Socher

“My son was a tiny baby last year, so this will be the first holiday season he'll be able to kind of appreciate and get into it. So that part is exciting.”

And her tip for getting through the season? “Basically just doubling-down on carbs and shiny things,” she said.

“Also, my family is Jewish, so I usually do a little bit of Chanukah stuff around the house – menorah and latkes and that sort of thing. There may be extra potato pancake action this year. And I bought gold glitter nail polish at DM today – I haven't bought glitter nail polish in twenty years.”

'Family is really important'

“We were supposed to fly to France with our kids and two-month-old baby, as we do every year to be with family,” Camille de Carmejane, who's based in Munich, told The Local.

De Carmejane is now planning a “small Christmas” with her husband and children. But this wasn't what they'd hoped for.

“We just moved back from Australia to Europe before Covid. The idea was to be close to family (in France and north Germany) but we have seen them less then before. We were hoping to have a big family Christmas like every year.

“I was hoping my father and brother could come and visit from France. It would still only be seven of us but it doesn’t look likely at the moment.”

Nevertheless she hopes to make the season feel magical for the kids and may put up her Christmas tree early to get into the spirit.

“Family is really important, more then Christmas itself and we have to make it special for the kids because the family won’t be around,” she said.

IN DETAIL: Germany extends coronavirus shutdown and tightens restrictions

'Day trips but nothing more'

Lots of internationals around Germany are having to change their plans and adapt to the pandemic.

Anwar Donald George in Essen said his family will likely not travel during the holidays “for the first time ever”.

“Yes we are thinking of doing maybe day trips, but nothing more,” he said.

Noa Freilich Pollack  agreed that the best plan is to “stay home or travel locally”.

Claire in Munich was hoping to meet up with family and travel to Switzerland. But she isn't sure that either will happen. 

“I guess I’ll have to stay in Germany,” she said. :No idea what I will do; spend Christmas with my new friends here I guess.”

'It feels irresponsible to travel right now'

Cheryl Howard in Berlin said travelling home to Canada is “impossible” right now.

“It means a mandatory two weeks of quarantine, likely in a hotel, which is a waste of vacation time and money. Then quarantine and doing more tests when back in Germany. Doesn't seem worth it right now.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about travel in Germany (and abroad) at Christmas and New Year

Cheryl Howard wearing a face mask in Berlin. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Howard

“When Canada loosens the quarantine requirements for citizens (they are currently evaluating proposals to reduce quarantines with testing), only then can I think of returning. Soonest scenario is next spring, which is really sad.”

Howard, who has lived in the capital since 2011, plans to have a small Christmas in Berlin.

Germany has extended the 'lockdown light' over December, stopping to ease the rules over the festive period.

Howard believes it was right to extend the shutdown, but she's concerned about people travelling.

“I shudder to think of people travelling everywhere in higher numbers, especially in this cold weather, and how that will significantly amplify the spread,” she said.

“It feels somewhat irresponsible to travel right now. I think we need to do our best to navigate through this time within certain constraints and support everyone as best as we can, but I would prefer to see current measures left in place, perhaps with a stricter travel ban.”

Nevertheless she's keeping up the Christmas spirit with a pre-order of a festive dinner delivery.

“I've already put up some decorations and placed an online order for a crate of wine to gift to friends throughout December,” she said.

A Christmas tree in Hanover, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

“There will be the viewing of cute Christmas movies, listening to carols, and making some cookies. Then the day of (Christmas), getting outside for a long walk somewhere through Berlin.”

READ ALSO:

'I've booked a flight'

For some foreign residents, the plan is to see how the coronavirus situation develops and only travel abroad if they believe it's safe.

Galina in Berlin said she is “still considering” travelling abroad to see family “depending on the situation”.

Beth Davies in Berlin has booked a flight for €60 return but may not use it if the situation doesn't improve.

“I have half my family in England (my parents and one sister), and half in Switzerland (my other sister her husband and two kids). We made a decision a couple of months ago to all be in Switzerland, in the hopes it could be possible.”

Monica Sprague in Bruchmühlbach-Miesau said she can't have family over from the States, and it doesn't look she will travel.

However she will attend midnight Christmas Eve service at the chapel in the military base she's part of and plans to increase her Christmas spirit by watching more holiday movies and listening to festive tunes.

***

Thanks to everyone who shared their experience with us. Although we weren't able to include all the submissions, we read each of them and we are truly sympathetic to the challenges everyone is facing right now during this pandemic. 

If there's anything you'd like to ask or tell us about our coronavirus coverage or how the outbreak has affected you, please feel free to get in touch.

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COVID-19

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab

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