What you need to know about travel in Germany (and abroad) at Christmas and New Year
There are conflicting messages about whether people can or should travel during the festive holidays. Here's what we know about travelling in Germany, abroad and what politicians are saying.
NOTE: The coronavirus situation in Germany is changing rapidly. Please read our latest story detailing the tougher lockdown measures here.
Despite the grim year, most people are looking forward to a bit of relaxation, watching holiday movies and eating good food during the festive season.
So what's the deal with travel? Should you visit family and friends? Or keep it local? Here's what you should know.
What's the latest?
At the moment Germany is enforcing a lockdown until at least January 10th.
Currently only five people from two households are allowed to meet until January 10th, although these rules are set to be loosened during the festive season. MORE DETAILS HERE.
Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a a tougher lockdown on Sunday December 13th, sees shops shut and schools close or move online, to take place after Christmas until January 10th.
Can people travel to visit family or friends when the rules are relaxed?
Non-essential travel is still viewed as undesirable in Germany, but it is not banned. At the moment, hotels are only allowed to open for essential overnight-stays such as for business travellers.
In some states, however, hotels and other overnight accommodation have been given the green light by the local governments to open to relatives visiting during the Christmas/New Year period when contact rules are relaxed. However, this may not be the case with the new lockdown rules.
Berlin, for example, initially announced that it would allow private overnight stays in hotels for visits to relatives over Christmas because they would not be of a tourist nature.
Since then North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Hamburg, Hesse, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Baden-Württemberg, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt have followed suit.
As you may have guessed, this has created a lot of confusion as people try to make plans for the festive season.
We'll give you an update on this when we get it.
What are politicians and experts actually saying?
They don't want anyone to travel over Christmas. Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn spoke out on Wednesday against the idea that some families could meet in German states which have set more generous rules for holiday gatherings.
Meanwhile Chancellor Merkel said it was wrong for states to allow hotels to accommodate relatives at Christmas. This creates "incentives" to travel, she said.
Tobias Kurth, professor of public health and epidemiology at the Charité in Berlin told The Local his advice was for people to hold their Christmas celebrations online. "I understand how difficult this is, but we simply do not know if we will spread the virus and infect the vulnerable," he said.
What about if you're driving?
According to ADAC congestion experts, the heaviest traffic on German motorways is expected on December 23rd and 26th. Due to the early start of holidays in many German states, there might also be busy roads at different times.
Overall, less travel is expected, as many people will probably avoid visiting relatives and friends and classic holiday trips such winter sports cannot take place this year.
Note that petrol stations and car parks along the motorways are generally open. Only the restaurant dine-in areas are closed, but at most service stations you can get takeaway food.
Anyone planning to visit their loved ones at Christmas should note that certain coronavirus rules for drivers and passengers may also apply in the car (for example masks).
People driving recently in the Frankfurt region. Photo: DPA
What about if you want to travel by plane, train or bus?
Deutsche Bahn plans to put on extra trains for passengers during the holidays as in previous years. In order to comply with the coronavirus distance rules, even more trains are to run between December 18th and 27th. This means that there will be around 13,000 extra seats available by the end of the year.
In addition, only a maximum of 60 percent of the seats per train can be reserved. In principle, however, it will still be possible to travel by train without a reservation.
Mask checks are also being stepped up. It goes without saying, but remember your mask and to stick to hygiene rules if you travel on public transport.
Flixbus stopped operations at the beginning of November when the shutdown came into force, but announced that it would be offering services again at Christmas time. In the booking system for the long-distance bus operator, trips are available from December 17th until 11 January.
Airports are open as normal but there will likely be limited flight schedules due to the shutdown.
Christmas visits and holidays out of Germany
Authorities do not want people to travel, but as we said earlier, it is not banned. Those who want to travel abroad during the festive and holiday season have limited options, though.
Some neighbouring countries, such as Denmark or the Czech Republic, are currently not allowing tourists to enter. Other countries only allow entry for essential reasons. Drivers should be prepared for checks and longer waiting times at certain borders.
Austria is imposing a 10-day quarantine on all travellers from coronavirus risk areas (including Germany) from December 19th to January 10th.
Quarantine for returnees from risk areas
Wherever you plan to travel, you'll have to check the rules of your destination, as well as find out if it's deemed a risk country in Germany.
Currently, parts of all European countries except Iceland are considered coronavirus risk areas in Germany, due to high Covid-19 numbers. The German Foreign Office issues a warning against travel to these places.
Anyone coming into Germany from a risk area must fill out a digital entry registration form on this site (in English): www.einreiseanmeldung.de and immediately go into a 10-day quarantine.
The quarantine can generally be ended with a negative test result.
In Germany, tests are no longer covered by health insurance for people coming from risk zones.
There can be differences in this regulation among states so check with the local authority for more information.
You can keep up to date with which countries are deemed risk zones by Germany here.
READ ALSO: Germany to scrap free coronavirus tests after travel
What about skiing?
There's not much on the horizon this year for ski fans. Germany, Italy and France have decided to postpone the start of the season to mid or late January.
Austria is optimistic and wants to open the slopes on December 24th. But due to the quarantine obligation of 10 days, only locals will be allowed to enjoy themselves.
Switzerland intends to open all ski areas as planned, and has already done so in some regions.
Should you travel then?
At the end of the day, it is up to you. There are lots of risk factors involved and you'll have to think about your own individual situation and that of your close friends and families. Keep an eye out on the Local in the coming days for all updates on the coronavirus situation, and any changing travel rules or contact restrictions.