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TRAVEL NEWS

What it was like navigating Covid travel rules to get home to the UK from Germany

Like many people, the Local Germany reader Michelle Jung, who runs a childcare centre, had lots of ups and downs while trying to visit her home country of the UK this summer. Here's how confusing Covid travel rules affected her plans.

What it was like navigating Covid travel rules to get home to the UK from Germany
Michelle Jung with her mum after managing to get home to the UK. Photo courtesy of Michelle Jung.

I have lived in Germany for 26 years but this summer has been the most difficult and complicated year to get back to the UK and visit family. My summer plans were a mixture of excitement, worry, frustration and hours and hours of scouring the net for information!

The original plan was that my husband, who’s a teacher, and I drive over to the UK for three weeks. We wanted to have enough time to visit relatives and also spend time sightseeing this wonderful island. These plans kept us going through a very challenging school year. April, May and June passed and regulations in the UK were still pretty tight not allowing visitors, even if they were fully vaccinated, to visit the country without going into self-isolation.

Unlike Germany, there were no “special” regulations for families to be reunited and I had to face the fact that I was being treated just like millions of other European tourists. My British passport seemed irrelevant. As July approached we started to get unrestful – the summer holidays were looming ahead and we had nothing booked. We set a deadline for ourselves and if nothing had changed by the end of July we would scrap our plans to go the UK. My poor family in England were left dangling – are they coming or not?

READ ALSO: Better than I could have imaged – how foreigners feel about being able to travel to Germany

‘Gave up all hope’

With no change of restrictions by the end of July we gave up all hope of traveling to Britain. Going into self-isolation was not an option for us. I was feeling pretty despondent and as a comfort we spontaneously booked a non-refundable holiday travelling in Austria and Italy. As fully vaccinated travellers living in Germany this was no problem. I had just started to get excited about our new holiday plans when the British government finally got round to changing travel restrictions at the beginning of August.

Now I was in a mess! How can I go round travelling in Europe when I haven’t seen my family for over a year? I decided to spontaneously slot in a week’s visit to the UK before going on holiday to Austria.

I quickly booked a flight before all seats were taken and started the process of wading through regulations.

Michelle reunited with her mum, brother and sister. Photo courtesy of Michelle Jung.

The tricky part was flying on a Sunday but having a PCR test not older than 72 hours. How do I get my results at the doctor’s surgery at the weekend? Then I had to order an expensive PCR test in the UK for day two of my visit. Before the trip had even started I had spent nearly 200€ on tests. Good that I was travelling alone and not with my husband and three children.

Just before flying off to UK and anxiously awaiting my PCR test results, I discovered that Austria and Italy do not allow anyone to enter the country if they have been in  the UK  in the past 14 days. Great… we had to cancel our holiday and lose money. The long awaited summer holidays were turning into a disaster and my stress levels were pretty high.

READ ALSO: How travel to England from Germany has become stricter

Reunion with family 

Yet the unbelievable seemed to happen – I arrived in the UK safely and had a lovely reunion with my precious family. Everyone was happy but the trip was over-shadowed by coronavirus. My day two PCR test results came through half way through the week. Fortunately they were negative and so now the holiday could really begin. A day later a family member announced that she was ill and had tested positive. The rest of the family appointments were all cancelled and everyone had to do a PCR test and wait anxiously for results. My biggest worry was if I could get back to Germany.

And something else happened – on my second to last day in England I happened to read the latest issue of The Local on my phone and with horror discovered that people vaccinated with two different vaccines (Kreuzgeimpfte) aren’t counted as fully vaccinated in the UK (note from ed – these rules have now changed).
The bizarre thing is that UK citizens living in the UK don’t have to go into self-isolation after returning to the UK if they have had two different vaccinations. There are some things in life which are totally incomprehensible – UK Covid rules included! So I spent the last two days in the UK lurking around trying to avoid any attention or contact with authorities. When I finally got to Manchester airport to fly home I saw two fully armed policeman patrolling the halls. I was that stressed that I genuinely thought for a moment that they had come to arrest me! Sitting on the plane flying to Germany, I let out one big sigh of relief.
Michelle Jung takes a trip down memory lane by visiting her old school. Photo courtesy of Michelle Jung

Week three of my summer holidays: sitting here in Germany  after getting back from UK without having caught Covid. Needed a couple of days to recover from all the stress whilst travelling. My husband and I have spontaneously booked yet another holiday but just locally in Germany. After the booking confirmation came through, I discovered that Austria have yet again changed their travel restrictions and I can now enter their country. It’s not even worth thinking “what if….”

This summer holiday has been pretty exhausting and as I approach the end of it, I am feeling pretty drained when it comes to travel. I am almost looking forward to just getting back to work. As I write these lines I realise that I am complaining on a pretty high level and my problems are luxury problems. My family and I are all well and have managed to see one another. We have a house, plus work and peace in our country. Maybe my chaotic summer was there to teach my what really counts in life.

Member comments

  1. I shared some of Michelle’s worry and frustration but did have a rather easier ride over to UK, after postponing twice earlier in the summer. My ten-day trip at the beginning of this month was to visit family and friends for the first time in over a year, especially to see how my 97-yo mum was faring. As it happens, I saw everyone I wanted to except mum. After dodging the virus for eighteen months, it finally broke through the defences of her care home. Most of the residents and staff were infected and were forced to adopt a strict isolation policy with no visitors allowed. Fortunately, they’d all been double vaccinated and have recovered remarkably well, but the curfew was only lifted on the day after my return to Germany.

    I did have a momentary wobble when the passport officer at Frankfurt airport asked the purpose of my visit. My reply “I live here” brought a request to see my ID card and Covid-pass, swiftly flashed and sailed through to get back home.

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TRAVEL NEWS

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

Germany's €9 monthly transport ticket is coming. Here's everything you should know about the deal that will allow you to to travel the country for next to nothing this summer.

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

What’s all this about cheap transport?

Germany is about to launch a mega cheap transport ticket – and a lot of people are getting very excited about it.

The “€9 for 90” ticket is a monthly travel card that people can buy for just €9 per month over a three-month period. It’s a fraction of the price of a normal monthly travel card and – even more incredibly – can be used anywhere in the country on local and regional transport. 

The deal was initially announced back in April as part of an energy relief package put together by the government. And despite some anger from state leaders over funding for the scheme, the ticket cleared its final hurdle in the Bundesrat on Friday.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

So far, the €9 ticket has received a lot of publicity and attention. That’s probably because it’s one of the more fun measures to combat the energy crisis – one that doesn’t involve complicated claims and write-offs in your tax return.

Instead, the government is hoping that the new ticket will cut monthly transport costs for households and encourage people to use more eco-friendly transport options. With fuel prices spiralling, it’s a great time to leave the car at home and travel around for next to nothing, while doing your bit for the environment. 

Sounds great. Can everyone buy it?

Yes! It doesn’t matter whether you’re a tourist on a weekend trip from Austria, a part-time Germany resident or Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself: everyone will be able to purchase the €9 ticket. (We imagine Olaf may already have his own transport, though.) 

It will, however, have your name on it, so it can’t be pooled between friends (as tempting as an even cheaper travel deal would be). 

READ ALSO: What tourists in Germany need to know about the €9 public transport ticket

Busy train in Stuttgart

People board a busy train in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

When will it be available?

It’s currently available in a handful of cities, including Hamburg, Stuttgart and Freiburg – but everyone else will be able to purchase it from May 23rd onwards. 

The deal itself will be a summer travel offer. That means the first monthly ticket will be valid from June 1st and the last monthly ticket will expire on August 31st. Each of the tickets will be valid for the full calendar month so you won’t be able to mix and match with existing tickets.

For example, if you’ve already bought a ticket that’s expiring in mid-June, you wouldn’t then be able to buy a €9 ticket running from the middle of June to the middle of August.

Instead, you would require two €9 tickets  for June and July – though you can get a refund for the part of the prior ticket you didn’t end up using.

Where can I get hold of it?

The ticket will be available via Deutsche Bahn’s DB Navigator app, on the DB website, at in-station terminals and at ticket desks and offices.

Regional transport operators are likely to have their own ticket purchasing options as well – most likely online, but in some cases also at ticket machines and in-station offices. 

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin

A regional train near Hornberg, in the Black Forest.

A regional train near Hornberg, in the Black Forest. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

What types of public transport can I use it on?

The ticket is valid throughout Germany, but only on regional and local transport.

That means you can use it on all local trains like the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, as well as on trams and buses. You can also travel on the Regionalverkehr (regional trains) across Germany. 

You can’t use the ticket for private services like Flixbus and Flixtrain or on other long-distance rail services like IC, EC and ICE trains. If you’re travelling around your state and aren’t sure if the ticket will be valid, check if the train you’re taking has an ‘RE’ in the name. That’s the shorthand for regional trains.

It probably goes without saying, but taxi services won’t be included in the price. And, yes, you will still need to pay for those e-scooters as well. 

Can I use it to travel first class?

If you’re hoping for a month of budget transport but also want to be treated like royalty whilst on board, we may have to disappoint you. The €9 ticket can only be used in second-class carriages.

This is largely because there’s likely to be huge demand for the budget offer – so there could be scuffles for first-class seats with that extra bit of legroom. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

I’ve already got an Abo. What can I do?

This has been a big concern for the folk who have already opted to pay full price for their public transport. (What fools they were…) 

Luckily, this group of keen transport users won’t miss out either. According to the DB website, people who’ve already shelled out on a monthly or annual ticket will be contacted by their local transport provider and informed about how they can get a refund.

If you’ve got a standing order set up, the transport operator will likely just debit the €9 from your account instead of the usual amount. Otherwise, you may get sent a refund via direct debit. 

Your subscription ticket will be valid for local public transport throughout Germany during the three month offer period – not just in your area.

Will students also benefit from the ticket?

Absolutely – though this is one area where things may be a little less well-organised. If you’re a student with a semester ticket, you will be entitled to a refund of the extra amount you paid, which will likely be handled by your university. 

One thing that seems a little unclear is whether the semester ticket will suddenly be valid outside of your local region, just like the €9 ticket is. We assume it will, but we’ll try to clarify this with DB and other service providers in the coming weeks. 

Can I take my bike on board?

Unfortunately, bikes aren’t included in the offer – and this seems like a deliberate choice. 

DB is recommending that people leave their bikes at home during the three months that the €9 ticket is on offer. This is because trains are likely to be extremely busy and they can’t guarantee that they’ll have room for everyone, let alone a hundred or so bikes. Instead, you can usually hire a bike at your destination.

However, if you’ve already got a subscription that allows you to take your bike with you (i.e. a student semester ticket or another type of Abo), you’ll still be able to do so. 

What about my dog? 

You will unfortunately not be able to purchase a €9 ticket in the name of Rover T. Dog (well, you could try, but it probably won’t work). However, the usual rules will apply to travelling with a furry friend. 

In some places, you may need to buy an extra dog ticket for Rover, while in others, he’ll be able to accompany you free-of-charge. 

READ ALSO: Who benefits from Germany’s €9 public transport ticket offer?

A woman carries her dog through a Berlin train station

A woman carries her onesie-clad dog in a Berlin train station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Do children need to pay for a ticket? 

Children under six can travel for free on public transport, while children over the age of six will need their own €9 ticket. 

What about seat reservations? 

Transport operators are trying to keep things as flexible as possible to cope with demand over summer, so you unfortunately won’t be able to use the ticket to reserve a seat in advance.

Won’t public transport be rammed? 

At the moment, nobody really knows. According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), there could be as many as 30 million public transport users per month over summer – but this is only a rough estimate.

READ ALSO: How many people will use the €9 ticket?

One way around this is to try and travel on weekdays and off-peak services where possible and (as mentioned) to hire bikes rather than bringing them in the train.

It could also be helpful to familiarise yourself with different transport connections and routes in your area. 

The other thing that could help ease the crush on public transport is the fact that the government is also planning to cut taxes on fuel in tandem with the €9 ticket. That means that, for three months over summer, drivers will be able to get cheaper petrol and diesel – so some may indeed decide to take the car after all.

The ticket ends at the end of August. What happens next? 

Once again, it’s hard to say. Critics of the €9 ticket say that the scheme will leave gaping holes in transport budgets and could ultimately lead to ticket prices going up in autumn.

On the other hand, proponents of the offer believe that it could have the effect of luring people back to public transport after the Covid crisis. That would mean that more people would be buying subscriptions after summer and using local buses and trains, which can only be a good thing for transport budgets in the long-run. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 transport ticket

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