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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Extremely strict’: What it’s like to travel from the UK to Germany right now

Germany put in tough entry restrictions for UK arrivals back in May when the Delta variant began to push up the number of cases there, with exceptions for residents and citizens. Here's what it's like to travel between the two countries.

'Extremely strict': What it's like to travel from the UK to Germany right now
A sign for a Covid test centre in Berlin airport. Photo:picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

After not seeing my family in about 18 months, I booked a flight to Scotland for early June when the Covid situation looked like it would be much improved in both the UK and Germany. 

As my family and I were fully vaccinated, it felt like the best time to visit, spend time with everyone and sort out some admin I needed to do in my home country. 

I knew there were risks – and I had to pay a lot for testing and quarantine for 10 days when arriving in Scotland – but for my own reasons it was the right time to head back. 

But as we’ve come to expect during this pandemic, nothing stays the same for long. Unfortunately the Delta variant, which was first discovered in India, began to spread in the UK in May.

And on May 21st, Germany announced it was making the UK a ‘virus variant area of concern’ – effectively banning travel –just two weeks after it had declared the UK ‘risk free’.

It plunged people’s plans into uncertainty. Those who were already in the UK worried that they wouldn’t be able to return to Germany, or stressed out over the two-week quarantine period – which is how long you have to self-isolate when returning from a ‘virus variant area of concern’ under German rules. 

We’d also been in this situation before. Germany banned travel from the UK in December just before Christmas when the Alpha variant was running rampant, leaving people – including German citizens and Brits who lived in Germany, controversially, – stranded on the border or refused entry onto flights.

READ ALSO: ‘Utter nightmare’: Brits barred from flights home to Germany amid travel chaos

Quickly, though, exceptions were put in place to allow certain groups of people – such as residents and citizens and their close family – to be able to return to Germany even if there was a general entry ban. 

As the situation can change quickly, I decided to take the risk and still travel to the UK in early June, hoping that the situation might look better later on in the month. 

The UK has a high vaccination rate – and Germany’s jabs were picking up – so for me it felt different and safer to travel in June than, for example, at Christmas when we were all much more exposed to the virus. 

Unfortunately, the restricted entry was still in place when I travelled back to Germany – although it could be lifted soon, as we learned from Health Minister Jens Spahn on Thursday. 

READ ALSO:

Expensive tests

Germany relaxed travel rules, particularly for vaccinated people and those who’ve recovered from Covid, in May. 

For instance, anyone travelling by air into Germany has to show a negative Covid test before boarding the flight. But if you’re vaccinated or have recovered from Covid you can show evidence of that instead. 

In general, different rules are required for arrivals from countries around the world depending on their risk status, although quarantine restrictions were eased recently – particularly for fully vaccinated people.

However, the rules are still tough when coming from a virus variant area, such as the UK, India and Brazil, and – most recently – Portugal and Russia. 

Even if you’re fully vaccinated, you have to show a negative PCR test (taken within 72 hours before you’re due to land in Germany) or a rapid antigen test (taken within 24 hours before landing).

A flight leaving London Heathrow. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PA Wire | Steve Parsons

The issue in the UK is that there are not many places to get tested for Covid easily, especially in smaller cities and rural areas. 

And you’ll have to pay a lot for a test. Some places charge up to £150 for a PCR test. It’s a far cry from Germany’s testing network that allows for free antigen tests and much cheaper PCR tests. 

This is, of course, on top of what you paid for the day two and day eight testing when arriving in the UK. 

What happens before travel to Germany?

Once you have your negative test, you have to register online and upload it to www.einreiseanmeldung.de.

Then you may be asked – depending on your carrier – to upload the documents before you check in online. I uploaded my negative test and the PDF of the German registration to the British Airways site on my booking page. It’s usually only after these are verified that you can check in. 

My flight down to London from Scotland wasn’t overly complicated although I was asked my reason for travelling to Germany. When I explained I was a German resident, I was told evidence of this would be checked before boarding.

It got intense when we began boarding for the flight to Berlin.

The staff put out a call asking people to get their documents ready. Passengers stood around with folders of paper and their phones at the ready. 

The airline staff checked people’s documents thoroughly, and anyone that didn’t have the right papers or an out-of-date test certificate was asked to stand aside. 

A family of three who said they were coming to Germany for a wedding were not allowed on the plane.

“Sorry, the rules have changed,” said the staff member turning the family of three away and back into the departure lounge. “Only residents and citizens are allowed.”

Other people, including a group of three women, and another group of three young men, were also refused entry onto the plane. 

A few people were told that they didn’t have the correct documents but if they filled in the online entry form they might be able to get on.

There were several heated discussions with desperate travellers at the boarding gate as others – including many native German speakers – boarded with no problems.

I don’t have my Brexit residence card yet but I’d taken my Anmeldung (address registration document) for travel. It was accepted and I was able to board the plane. 

‘The rules have changed’

Once on, the pilot said we would be late in departing because staff needed to remove luggage from the hold belonging to the people who didn’t get on the flight. 

One passenger, whose documents were scrutinised before boarding, was sitting comfortably with his seat belt on when an air steward came over and asked him to leave the plane. 

“I don’t get it,” he said in an American accent as he followed the steward down the aisle and had to get off the plane. 

Some passengers, who had come from the US and were transferring through London to Germany said they recommended avoiding the UK in future. 

“It’s more trouble than it’s worth,” said one man. 

Germany says in general travel bans from countries affected by variants also apply for transit, but check official advice from the German Foreign Office and your airline for more information. 

Back in Germany I’ve had to complete a 14-day quarantine with no option of ending it earlier. My local health office contacted me by email on the first day of isolation offering a PCR test seven to 10 days into the isolation period. They also offered the option of entering into a hotel quarantine if I lived with a high risk person.

The rules are extremely strict and not to be taken lightly. But with the announcement from the Health Minister that Germany could downgrade the risk status of the UK soon. it will likely be a very different experience for others down the line.

Another thing to keep in mind is that flights are likely to be cancelled at the moment. My original flight home to Germany was cancelled, and I know people who’ve had to find other routes back to Germany because their flights were cut from the schedule. 

A British Airways spokesman told The Local: “Like other airlines, due to the current Coronavirus pandemic and global travel restrictions we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule. 

“We advise customers to check the latest UK Government travel advice at gov.uk and their latest flight information at ba.com.”e

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DISCOVERY GERMANY

Nine of the best day trips from Frankfurt with the €9 ticket

If you want to explore the area around Frankfurt this summer, there are plenty of destinations you can reach in under two hours. 

Nine of the best day trips from Frankfurt with the €9 ticket

Germany’s €9 monthly ticket, which launched in June, is also available throughout the whole of July and August. It can be used on all local transport across the country, as well as on regional trains. 

If you’re based in Frankfurt, or heading there on holiday, these destinations can all be reached on regional transport in under two hours, making them an ideal day or weekend getaway. 

READ ALSO: €9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany’s cheap travel deal

1. Heidelberg

People sit in front of the Old Bridge at the Neckar river in Heidelberg.

People sit in front of the Old Bridge at the Neckar river in Heidelberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

With its arched Old Bridge and castle on the hill, it’s no wonder Heidelberg is known as one of Germany’s most romantic destinations. The castle, which dates back to the 13th century, was even immortalised by English romantic painter William Turner in a famous painting from the mid-19th century. 

Stroll the winding gothic streets, pay a visit to Germany’s oldest university and visit have a coffee in the historic centre which still bears witness to the medieval layout of the city.

To get to Heidelberg, take the RB68 direct from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof in 1 hour and 40 minutes.

READ ALSO: Is Frankfurt a good place for foreigners to live?

2. Hessenpark

Historic half-timbered houses and an old fountain in the market square of Hessenpark, a popular excursion destination in the Taunus region.

Historic half-timbered houses and an old fountain in the market square of Hessenpark, a popular excursion destination in the Taunus region. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

Take a step back in time in this fascinating open-air museum. With over 100 reconstructed historic buildings across 160 acres, the park gives visitors a close-up look at 400 years of rural life in Hesse. 

Amongst the highlights are the market place which boasts buildings from the whole state of Hesse; a 15th-century church and an austere school room from the turn of the 20th century.

With lively demonstrations of crafts and agriculture, exhibitions, colourful markets, the museum theatre and themed tours, a trip to Hessenpark makes a great day out for all of the family. 

To get there, take the RB15 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Wehrheim Bahnhof and from there, hop on the 63 bus to Neu-Anspach-Anspach Hessenpark. In total it should take you 1 hour and 15 minutes.

3. Darmstadt

A man walks through the Mathildenhöhe UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A man walks through the Mathildenhöhe UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

A day trip to Darmstadt is a must for art and architecture lovers, as Hessen’s fourth-biggest metropolis is home to some particularly interesting cultural sights. 

The former artists’ colony on Mathildenhöhe, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most important Art Nouveau sights in Germany and the Wedding Tower and the wacky ‘Waldspirale’ (forest spiral) are well worth a visit.

Also on Mathildenhöhe is the richly decorated Russian Chapel where one of the sisters of Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig married Nicholas II, the last Russian Tsar. 

You need only half an hour to reach Darmstadt, with a direct ride on the S3 from Frankfurt (Main) South station.

READ ALSO: Less traffic, more ticket sales: How the €9 ticket is impacting Germany 

4. Königstein (Taunus)

The Königstein castle ruins are a landmark of the Hochtaunus town and are among the largest castle ruins in Germany.

The Königstein castle ruins are a landmark. They are among the largest castle ruins in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

At an altitude of around 300 metres on the wooded slopes of the Taunus lies the health spa town of Königstein. 

Königstein has been a climatic health resort since 1935, thanks to the purity of the air in the region and is home to various health clinics. 

Daytrippers can soak up the tranquillity in the parks or in the picturesque city centre.

The ruins of Königstein Castle, which date back to the first half of the 12th century, are also well worth a visit. 

There are several routes to get you to Königstein from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof in under 50 minutes, the fastest being the S5 to Oberursel, followed by the X26 bus to Königstein.

5. Wiesbaden

The Kurpark in Wiesbaden.

The gorgeous Kurpark in Wiesbaden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hannes P Albert

​​Nestled in a beautiful valley between the Rhine and the mountains of the Taunus lies Hesse’s capital Wiesbaden. 

There are plenty of things to see on a day trip to the city, including the English-style landscaped garden of the Kurpark, the neo-Gothic Market Church on Schlossplatz and the Hessian State Museum.

Those who fancy trying their luck should pay a visit to the Casino Wiesbaden – one of Germany’s oldest casinos in the former wine salon of the Kurhaus. 

Wiesbaden is also known for its thermal baths and no trip is complete without a hot tub and sauna visit. 

READ ALSO: Weekend Wanderlust – Getting my feet wet in. Wiesbaden

You only need around 50 minutes to reach Wiesbaden from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof with the S1 or S9 to Wiesbaden central station.

6. Felsenmeer

Hundreds of visitors climb over the rocks of the Felsenmeer , which is a popular attraction in the Odenwald.

Hundreds of visitors climb over the rocks of the Felsenmeer , which is a popular attraction in the Odenwald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Around 60 kilometres south of Frankfurt is a true natural wonder that will delight nature lovers of all ages. 

The Felsenmeer, which literally translates as ‘rock sea’ is a mass of boulders across Felsberg in Oldenwald. The rocks are hundreds of millions of years old, and at the information centre at the foot of the hill, you’ll find all the geological, historical and practical information you need to make the most of a hike through the sea of rocks. 

At the top of the hill, you can reward your exertions with a tasty snack at the kiosk on the summit. 

A trip to the Felsenmeer will take you around an hour and 40 minutes with the RB82 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Reinheim Bahnhof, followed by the M02 bus to Reichenbach, Felsenmeer.

7. Limburg (Lahn)

A view of the Lahn river and the cathedral in Limburg.

A view of the Lahn river and the cathedral in Limburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

A visit to Limburg in the west of Hesse, is a bit like travelling back in time to the Middle Ages. There are dreamy castles, palaces, charming half-timbered houses and ancient legends swirling around the city’s cobbled streets.

A particularly visit-worthy ancient relic is the imposing St. Lubentius Basilica. Perched on an outcrop of limestone rocks on the west bank of the Lahn river, it was the region’s most important church until the 13th century.

You can reach Limburg in just over an hour with the RE20 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof.

8. Mainz

A glass of wine stands on a table near the cathedral in Mainz during the Johannisnacht festival in 2019 held in honour of Johannes Gutenberg.

A glass of wine stands on a table near the cathedral in Mainz during the Johannisnacht festival in 2019 held in honour of Johannes Gutenberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

A short train ride away from Frankfurt, you’ll find the city of Mainz on the Rhine River. Known as Germany’s wine capital, there’s plenty to explore in the cobblestone streets of the Altstadt. Mainz has a steep history after being founded by the Romans.

For more than 1,000 years, the city’s skyline has been dominated by the cathedral.

We’d also recommend checking out the the Gutenberg Museum – one of the oldest museums of printing in the world. And of course, make sure to visit a little wine bar – known as a Weinstube.

Get to Mainz by taking the RE4 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof.  It takes just over 30 minutes. 

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

9. Walldorfer See

People enjoy a dip in the Badesee Walldorf.

People enjoy a dip in the Badesee Walldorf. Photo: picture alliance / Daniel Reinhardt/dpa

What better way to cool off this summer than to head to a lake? The beautiful Walldorfer See, south of Frankfurt, is known for being a little less busy and calmer than the nearby Langener See, which is the biggest lake in the region. 

On the southern shore at the entrance is the large sandy beach which has a snack bar, toilets, plus a beach volleyball and barbecue area. You can also explore the forest around. 

Keep in mind that the lake is near the airport so you will also see some planes overhead (which might be fun, especially if you have kids with you!). 

Get there on the S7 or RE70 from Frankfurt Haubtbahnof, and then jump off at Walldorf (Hess), and get the the 67 or 68 bus in the direction of Frankfurt airport to Mörfelden-Walldorf-Egerländer Straße. It’s then an 18 minute walk to the Badestelle Walldorfer See.

With reporting by Rachel Loxton

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