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COVID-19

‘Better than I could have imagined’: How foreigners feel about being able to travel to Germany

Although travel is by no means simple, it is easier for many people to visit Germany after restrictions were eased this summer. Here's how The Local readers feel about their trips and plans.

'Better than I could have imagined': How foreigners feel about being able to travel to Germany
People enjoy the Saxon-Switzerland national park in eastern Germany this summer. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

From catching up with friends, meeting family members – including newborns – or hoping to see the Christmas markets, many people are delighted to be able to come to Germany again, or at least hopeful that they can plan a trip. 

On June 25th, Germany lifted entry restrictions for fully vaccinated people coming from many non-EU countries, opening up the possibility of smoother travel. 

READ ALSO: Germany relaxes travel rules for non-EU residents: What you need to know

Of the people we surveyed earlier this summer, just over 30 percent had booked travel to Germany, while around 36 percent were planning a trip. 

Jennifer Hill, 48, in Wisconsin, the US, had been planning her summer trip to Germany for over a year.

She was due to visit Munich, Würzburg and her great-grandfather’s town in Lower Franconia in May. But she moved it to July. Luckily Germany eased travel rules for the US as well as other non EU countries at the start of summer so she could take her trip. 

“I had originally planned to include Austria, but decided it would be better to just stay in Germany,” she told us.

Hill opted to stay in Airbnb accommodation instead of hostels to avoid too much contact with other people. She also packed FFP2 masks and bought travel insurance with Covid medical benefits to prepare for the trip. 

She said the vacation was less about sightseeing and more about “seeing where my family lived and enjoying being in Germany”.

“My visit was better than I could have imagined,” said Hill, who is fully vaccinated. “I felt very safe there, regarding Covid. I visited a few churches and other sites, ate at beer gardens, hiked, did some family research, and stayed with relatives in my great-grandfather’s town.

“I really appreciated that masks were required in public spaces, as they are not here in the US. And the restaurants I visited had good contact systems in place.

“At the end, I took a rapid take home Covid test to re-enter the US. Cases are up now in my community at home, as they are everywhere with the Delta variant. I’m glad I had the opportunity to go there when I did.”

READ ALSO: How Germany’s travel rules to fight the Covid fourth wave could affect your holiday plans

Of those who answered our survey, the majority – more than 67 percent – were fully vaccinated against Covid. 13 percent were not fully vaccinated just yet, and just over 13 percent were not vaccinated but still wanted to come from Germany. 

‘I miss my children’

Lots of people told us they were desperate for family reunions or to see loved ones in Germany. 

Eloise Tunnicliffe-Grundy, from the UK, said: “I’m visiting to see my boyfriend of three years, as we’re in a long distance relationship. I’m looking forward to spending time with him and eating local food, as well as seeing his family.”

Lars Kroll, 32, in the Netherlands plans to go sailing with his dad, see his parents and grandma, as well as friends.

Lots of people said they were concerned about Covid rules affecting their plans. 

Pat Milner, 65, from Rugby in England, said: “I cannot wait to visit my son Stephen and Anne who I haven’t seen for a year. They were due to get married in 2020 and their rearranged wedding was for this July. Now it has been put back until summer 2022.

“I feel relatively safe as I have been vaccinated, but worry about being refused entry to countries because of Covid restrictions.”

People at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in July. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

George Throup, 20, from London, is planning a trip to visit his girlfriend and her family. “I’m most looking forward to good food and getting out of the UK. I’m worried that we will be hit in the UK by another variant and we’ll be put back on the banned list!”

For some people it has been really difficult to plan due to complications with Covid restrictions. 

Harafa Minga Jerome, 42, in South Africa said: “My children and ex husband are living in Germany. My kids are still young and in school. I last saw them in 2019 when I went to Hamburg to visit.

“I was planning to visit in February 2020 but lockdown started and our borders are still closed and I am unable to travel to Germany. I miss my children dearly. I am looking forward to seeing them smile, holding them, talking to them and we love to dance as a family.”

Susan Mathew, from Bangalore, said she wanted to visit her son and daughter-in-law in Germany, and enjoy the countryside.  

‘I fell in love with Berlin’

Others are looking to explore their past. 

Greg Carter, 66, from Nevada in the US said he was stationed in Germany in the 70s. He loved the beer and food and has lots of friends he wants to visit. 

Steven Thompson, 61, in Las Vegas was also stationed the US in the 70s. “I would spend my weekends mostly in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and would like to look up old friends,” he said. 

“Since I’m not traveling until September, I’m in a wait-and-see mode right now.”

With tourist attractions across the country such as stunning castles like Neuschwanstein in the south as well as lakes, mountains and beaches, Germany is at the top of some people’s wish list.  

READ ALSO: Germany moves United States and Israel to ‘high risk’ list: What does it mean?

A stunning summer’s day at Titisee-Neustadt, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

Gary Michael Dubret, 57, based in New Orleans, Louisiana, said: “I want to visit my friend and I’d like to see the world largest model railroad train table in Hamburg.”

Melissa Mongelli, 45, is from the US. She came to Deutschland in 2019 and “fell in love with Berlin”, making her desperate for a return trip at the earliest opportunity.

“Love the city,” she said.

Charlie Ehrmann, 78, based in Georgia, US, said he attended high school in Berlin and met his wife on a trip to Munich so he’s taken many trips to Germany.

He wants to take his family – including his grandkids when they graduate from high school – to Germany. He loves the “Germany/Austria area, castles, mountains, food and music”.

Ehrmann said he was looking into how tourists can get tested in various cities. “Most hotels have been helpful in letting us know if they require and/or provide testing,” he said.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about Germany’s testing rules 

Mark Jeavons, 58, in England, wants to get back to the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) for his annual trip to improve his language skills. 

Chris Laing, 53, from Edinburgh, is also a frequent visitor. “We visit Germany every year,” he said. “We love the food, beer and mountains.”

David and Nancy, who are in their 70s and live in Indiana, US, also visit on an annual basis.

“We lived in Germany for six years,” they explained. “Looking forward to driving along the Rhein and Mosel rivers and enjoying the scenery and great restaurants. Unfortunately we missed Spargel (asparagus) season!”

Meeting grandchildren

Others who responded to our survey said they wanted to get back to their second home in Germany, attend weddings – or even prepare for studying in the Bundesrepublik.

For Sharon Rosslind in Cape Town, a trip to Germany will be “to meet my two grandchildren”.

Tsitsi Makoni, 59, in Zimbabwe, said she wanted “to see my grandsons”.

She added: “One was born in 2020 and due to Corona I haven’t been able to visit and meet him. My other grandson is arriving on the 27th of July 2021 and would really like to be with my daughter when she gives birth.”

***

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 when it comes to travel during the pandemic. 

If there’s anything you’d like to ask or tell us about our coverage, please feel free to get in touch.

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COVID-19 RULES

KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

The German Health Ministry has put together a seven-point-plan to combat Covid in autumn. Here's a look at the proposals which are being discussed this week.

KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats, is presenting Germany’s proposed Covid-19 autumn strategy this week to the states. In seven points, the plan outlines the federal government’s course of action in the expected autumn wave.

Three scenarios for autumn

According to the strategy paper, the government’s Covid Council of Experts sees three possible scenarios for the development of the pandemic in autumn.

– In the most favourable scenario, a less severe Covid variant than the currently widespread Omicron variant would become dominant in autumn. In this case, the Health Ministry says that stronger infection control measures would then no longer be necessary, or would only be needed to protect risk groups. 

– However, a moderately severe scenario is considered more likely, with a disease burden comparable to the current Omicron variants. In this outcome, infections and sick leave from work are expected to increase throughout the colder season. “Despite the moderate Covid-19 burden in critical care, work absences could again require area-wide transmission protection measures (masks and indoor distancing), as well as contact reduction measures on a regional basis,” the ministry’s strategy paper says.

READ ALSO: The Covid rules in place across German states

– In the worst-case scenario, “a new virus variant with a combination of increased immunity escape or transmissibility, and increased disease severity” would spread and become the dominant strain. In this case, the healthcare system would be severely burdened and protective measures such as mandatory masks and distance requirements could only be scaled back in spring 2023 at the earliest, the ministry says. 

But even in the moderately severe scenario, the Health Ministry estimates that without further measures Germany could see about 1,500 Covid deaths per week.

What’s the seven-point plan for Germany to get through autumn?

1. New vaccination campaign

The Health Ministry wants to purchase vaccines that are adapted to the Omicron variant from the manufacturers Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer, depending on the availability.

From September onwards, a fresh vaccination campaign is to be launched to promote the fourth vaccination (or second booster shot). The aim is to “close the vaccination gap and promote the fourth vaccination; especially in the older population group”.

A man receives his second booster vaccination against Covid in Springe. Lower Saxony in February.

A man receives his second booster vaccination against Covid in Springe. Lower Saxony in February. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ole Spata

2. Testing strategy

People in Germany should have access to a PCR test after a positive rapid test. For symptomatic patients, a PCR test should also be possible in doctors’ surgeries without a prior rapid test, as is currently the case.

However, under the plans, there would no longer be free rapid tests – Bürgertests – for everyone. Instead, they would be restricted. Lauterbach wants to continue to offer free tests to people with Covid symptoms and for certain groups.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister wants to scrap free Covid tests for all

The proposals state that there should be preventive rapid tests in nursing homes and hospitals, and for children as well as for people coming into contact with lots of people, for instance before a large event. 

Furthermore, people who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons should also be entitled to free rapid tests. 

Lauterbach also wants to continue to make free rapid tests available to refugees fleeing war in Ukraine, as well as to people in Covid hotspots.

An easily accessible testing infrastructure, including in pharmacies, should be kept in place, says the paper. 

However, the federal government wants to pay the test centres less money per rapid antigen test and PCR test in future. “The total costs are to be reduced by about half,” the ministry writes in its strategy paper.

The amendment of the test regulation is to be completed by the end of June, the Health Ministry states. Free rapid tests are available in Germany until the end of this month.

A sign for a Covid test centre in Hamburg.

A sign for a Covid test centre in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

3. Optimisation of treatment

The German government’s Health Ministry wants to promote more treatment options for Covid.

“Since mortality can be significantly reduced by adequate and timely treatment, a treatment strategy (including for oral antiviral pill Paxlovid) is essential,” the ministry said, adding that effective drugs are not being used enough at the moment. The expert council has been asked to develop an appropriate treatment concept.

4. Protection of vulnerable groups

The Health Ministry considers a comprehensive care and safety concept for nursing facilities and care services essential in preparation for the expected autumn wave.

Lauterbach wants to see that all care facilities establish a ‘hygiene officer’, as is already the case in hospitals. For early treatment with medication, the appointment of a specialised care coordinator should also be put in place.

The aim is to keep nursing homes open for visits from members of the public. However, visiting and hygiene rules need to be established, says the paper. In this context, “the three effective protective measures ‘vaccination, testing, masks’ for staff, residents and visitors are to be enforced”.

5. Daily data

Lauterbach wants to order all hospitals to report the data that is necessary for pandemic management via the German Electronic Reporting and Information System for Infection Prevention (DEMIS) on a daily basis.

The reports should include intensive care capacity, the number of Covid patients in regular wards and intensive care units, and the numbers of free beds. According to Lauterbach’s plans, health care facilities that don’t comply with these reports would be sanctioned.

6. Protection plan for children and youths

The aim is to keep schools and nurseries open throughout autumn and winter. 

“Daycare centres and schools must remain open,” the strategy paper states. But in order to protect children and young people, a nationwide recommendation is to be developed by health and education ministers. Meanwhile, youngsters should also be a particular focus in the vaccination campaign.

An FFP2 mask hangs on a coat hanger at a school in Stuttgart.

An FFP2 mask hangs on a coat hanger at a school in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

7. Changes to the Infection Protection Act

Germany’s Covid infection protection laws allow for rules such as mandatory masks. However, the law expires on September 23rd, and states have been pushing for the government to extend and strengthen it in case they need to put in place tougher measures, like contact restrictions.

READ ALSO: German states seek powers to enforce tougher Covid rules in autumn

According to the paper, the law is to be “further developed in good time before 23rd September 2022”. The Health Ministry said the findings of the expert council’s statement would be taken into account, as well as those of the expert commission evaluating the previous Covid protection measures, by the end of June.

However, a decision on exactly which measures the Infection Protection Act will contain after this date is to be made only after the evaluation reports have been presented on June 30th.

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