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Moving to Germany: How I’ve kept my long distance relationship alive during the pandemic and Brexit

Moving to Germany: How I've kept my long distance relationship alive during the pandemic and Brexit
Charlotte Hall with her boyfriend James in Berlin in January 2020 before the pandemic hit. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Hall.
When Charlotte Hall first moved to Berlin, she thought her partner back in the UK would come soon after. But Covid-19 regulations and new post-Brexit laws have led to a more complicated situation.

On a sunny day at the end of August 2020, I moved to Berlin from England for my year abroad. In the summer glow of buzzing streets and parks, Covid seemed like a fever-dream I’d woken up from as soon as I left the airport. 

Besides masks indoors and the clubs, which had opened as beer-gardens and pubs, it was more or less business-as-usual in the capital (at least, so far as a stranger to the city could tell). Perhaps this is what lulled me into a very – I repeat very – false sense of security concerning the pandemic. Though, perhaps I was just blinded by the excitement of being somewhere completely new after six months of being indoors. 

The plan was: I would move into my apartment in Neukölln, start establishing my life here, and a couple of months later, my boyfriend, James, would quit his job in the U.K. and move out to join me. I’ll admit right now that I was being naive. I just had no inkling, at the time, of exactly how naive. 

READ ALSO: Love in the time of Corona: How couples in Germany can connect during a time of flux

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Of course, this didn’t happen. Within a matter of weeks, the infection, case and death rates were skyrocketing in both England and Germany. In the UK, numbers overshot the figures that had scared us in April by almost double, then triple – and that was just the beginning of October. England started going into lockdown and travel abroad was banned. 

Germany also began to think about tightening measures, and travel was strongly discouraged unless essential.

The combination of – and I emphasise, necessary, Covid-19 restrictions banning all international travel out of the UK and the final Brexit deadline coming into effect on December 31st 2020 has been a fatal one for our reunion. 

At Christmas, sandwiched between 10-day isolations either side and a relay race of Covid tests – I was able to go home and then return to Berlin a month later. The privilege of my German passport (thanks mum) and my Anmeldung (the crash-course in German bureaucracy most expats will experience upon first moving to the country) were what made this intra-pandemic round-trip possible and legal.

For James, it’s a different story. With no official registration in Germany, and no claim to EU citizenship, he’s not allowed to cross the border at the moment. 

READ ALSO: Post Brexit visa rules: How can Brits move to Germany in 2021 and beyond?

When he does, it will be on a 90-day visa-free visit. The pencilled-in date for lifting travel restrictions in England is May 17th – which will make it almost six months since I have seen my boyfriend in person and almost 11 months since I lived with him. 

Charlotte Hall and James. Photo: DPA

‘What if we just get married?’

Needless to say: it’s been difficult. 

We are, of course, not the only couple whose shared lives have been completely uprooted by the pandemic. Plenty of couples grappled with being thrown into, essentially, long-distance relationships, even when they just lived on opposite sides of town. The Brexit element just adds a prospective longevity to the situation that hangs heavy on both our hearts. 

During a phone call, James exasperatedly suggested “well, what if we just get married?” Which was, of course, a joke – not to mention the least romantic proposal I could possibly imagine. But it sums up the bizarreness of the situation pretty accurately.

Sustaining a relationship across Brexit-borders, during a pandemic, requires a lot of creativity, and above all, an openness to digital improv. Another delightful element of the post-Brexit world is the humongous VAT and import tax on mail. So you can go ahead and ignore the listicles online that advocate for love-letters and regular gifts-by-mail to spice up long distance relationships (unless you have some money to throw away). 

READ ALSO: How to cope with stress and anxiety during the corona crisis in Germany

From video-call Valentine’s brunch to (more-or-less) synchronised date-night cooking, arguing over text, simultaneous series-bingeing and sleepy late-night calls that end in one party snoring into the mic, my main advice is: fake it til you escape it. Simulate a life of togetherness as much as you possibly can. It’s a bittersweet loving, for now.  


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