EXPLAINED: The rules and official advice for Christmas and New Year in Germany

The German government and states have agreed to tighten Covid restrictions ahead of New Year's Eve, and have issued advice for Christmas. Here's what you need to know.

People at Berlin's main station ahead of Christmas.
People at Berlin's main station ahead of Christmas. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

In 2020, Germany had stricter lockdown measures in place over the festive season. Bars, restaurants, cultural and leisure facilities had closed in November. Private gatherings were limited to a maximum of five people from two households – with an additional four close family members allowed over Christmas. New Year was also very quiet, with fireworks and big gatherings banned. 

In 2021 things are different in Germany, but there are still tough restrictions. Among them are nationwide 2G rules for most public places such as non-essential shops, culture and leisure facilities. It means only people with proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid can enter – what some politicians call a de facto ‘lockdown for the unvaccinated’. 

READ ALSO: Germany agrees tougher Covid restrictions from December 28th

Here’s a look at the latest rules and advice.

Christmas 2021 – contact restrictions

The government has not ordered nationwide contact restrictions for vaccinated/recovered people for Christmas, but some states are choosing to bring these in in the coming days. 

Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, for instance, say that private gatherings between vaccinated and recovered people are limited to 10 people (not including under 14s) from December 24th or Christmas Eve. 

Contact restrictions for people who choose not to get vaccinated are already in place and will continue. Unvaccinated people are allowed to meet with their own household and a max of two people from another household.

Other restrictions such as the 2G rule for access to public venues remain in place, and states/businesses can also choose to implement the 2G-plus rule (where vaccinated and recovered people have to show a negative test for entry). 

The German government has issued strong advice, urging people to celebrate Christmas in smaller groups. 

In their agreement reached on Tuesday December 21st, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the 16 state leaders asked people in Germany “to celebrate responsibly during the Christmas holidays”.

They added: “The number of contacts at family celebrations should be limited, and the rules for keeping distance should be observed. The usual hygiene measures – wearing masks and regular ventilation – should also be in place.”

A sign for Covid testing in Wilhelmshaven. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

The government and states also call on people to take a Covid-19 test “before meeting family members and friends”, in particular when coming into contact with older people.

“This way Christmas can be celebrated together safely,” they said. 

Are restrictions being tightened?

Yes. As we mentioned above, some states are choosing to make restrictions tougher before Christmas, so keep an eye on the situation where you live. 

Nationwide, the federal and state governments have agreed that rules will become tougher from December 28th at the latest (so states must bring the rules in by this deadline). The aim is to target large New Year’s Eve parties to try and avoid an accelerated spread of Covid in view of the expected “explosive” Omicron wave.

By December 28th:

  • Nightclubs and dance venues will have to shut
  • In a bid to avoid large celebrations over New Year’s, just 10 people who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed to gather for private parties (excluding children up to 14-years-old)
  • Contact restrictions for unvaccinated people remain in place
  • Large organised events, like football games, will have to take place without spectators
  • As already decided by the government, the sale of fireworks is banned over New Year, and setting off fireworks is strongly discouraged to protect the health system and essential services
  • German authorities strongly advise that people take Covid tests before socialising 

What about vaccinations?

Germany is aiming to keep up the pace of giving out vaccinations and boosters over the holidays. 

The government and states thanked health care staff for their work and urged them to continue getting jabs into arms over the holidays.

In their agreement, the government said it wanted to provide a further 30 million vaccinations by the end of January 2022, with the aim to make access to vaccines “quick and easy”.

Authorities also want to expand vaccination services for children.

READ ALSO: Germany’s vaccine panel recommends booster shots after three months

Could restrictions be even tighter?

Yes. The agreement says that these restrictions are the “minimum standards” nationwide, but regions can choose to have extra rules or tighten existing ones. 

Some states already have harder lockdown measures in place, such as Saxony which has been badly hit in the fourth wave, with many intensive care units at full capacity. 

The government and states are set to meet again on January 7th. They will decide then on whether to bring in even more restrictions or to ease off. They will refer to the newly set up ‘council of experts’ ahead of the meeting.

It’s unlikely that there will be an emergency meeting during the holidays, but it of course depends on how the infection situation develops.

What about travel?

The government and states haven’t officially ordered people to limit travel. But there are already regulations in place for foreign travel. They were recently tightened for people coming from the UK where Omicron is widespread.

For travel within Germany, there’s the 3G rule for public transport, meaning people have to be vaccinated, recovered or tested against Covid before they go on a bus, train or tram (test must be taken within 24 hours of travel).

READ ALSO: Should I travel within Germany or abroad during the holidays?

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) had called for tougher measures, including the closure of restaurants, bars and clubs, and an order for essential travel only, to be introduced “immediately”.

But the government and state leaders went against their calls. 

What else should I know?

The government and states are also calling on operators of critical infrastructures (like emergency services, public transport and other essential services) to “immediately review and adapt their respective operational pandemic plans and ensure that they can be activated at short notice”.

There are fears that when the Omicron wave hits, many people will have to take time off work at the same time, which could paralyse essential services. 

Will clubs and other businesses receive support?

Yes. The German government and states said they were extending the bridging aid (Überbrückungshilfe IV) for businesses affected by the restrictions. 

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EXPLAINED: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

The EU recently recommended that masks no longer be mandatory in air travel - but Germany is not changing those rules, at least for now. Here's what you should know about mask rules in Germany.

EXPLAINED: Germany's current Covid mask rules

People in Germany have been wearing face coverings in lots of public places for around two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But in April, the mask rules were significantly relaxed.

It means that in Germany you currently don’t have to wear a mask (but can on a voluntary basis) in these places:

  • shops and supermarkets
  • restaurants, cafes and bars 
  • cultural buildings including museums and galleries
  • leisure venues, including gyms and cinemas
  • hairdressers and other body-related services

However, businesses can ask customers or visitors to wear a mask so you may find signs on the door of some venues or facilities. 

Some businesses will have a sign with the word Freiwillig (voluntary) and the mask symbol at their entrance, which means customers are encouraged to wear a mask but are not legally obligated to.

That’s the case at the Kleinmarkthalle in Frankfurt’s city centre as shown in this photo. 

A mask sign in Frankfurt.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

In Germany you still have to wear a mask in these places:

  • on public transport (all buses, trains and trams) and in stations
  • on flights to and from Germany
  • in hospitals and medical practices including doctors’ surgeries 
  • in care facilities, such as care homes for the elderly or other places where there are vulnerable people

What type of mask is required?

FFP2 masks have become standard in Germany, but it depends on the state or business rules. In some areas, medical masks are sufficient. 

But hasn’t the EU relaxed mask rules for flights?

Yes. However, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s (ECDC) move to end mandatory masks on flights earlier this month is only a guideline – and the ultimate decision lies with the country. 

A German Health Ministry spokesman told The Local: “The decision on mandatory masks is made by national authorities. The mandatory mask requirement in aircraft therefore continues to apply on all domestic German routes as well as on flights that take off or land in Germany.

“An FFP2 or medical mask must therefore be worn when boarding and disembarking as well as during the entire flight. This may only be removed when eating and drinking. Exceptions to the mask requirement exist for children under six years of age and, for example, for people who are not allowed to wear a mask for medical reasons.”

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear masks on planes?

Has there been any confusion on this?

Apparently so. There have been reports of some airlines not pointing out the rules for mask wearing in Germany. 

On at least two of Swiss Airline’s flights from Hamburg and Berlin to Zurich recently, Swiss cabin staff did not let passengers know about the mask requirement, reported German news site Spiegel. That is despite the rule that all travellers have to wear a medical face mask on all flights to and from Germany.

On the flight from Hamburg to Zurich, an estimated 40 percent of the approximately 200 passengers were travelling without face coverings, Spiegel said. When asked about this, the news site reported that a flight attendant said: “We don’t have a mask requirement at Swiss anymore.”

The Swiss airline, which belongs to the Lufthansa Group, lifted the requirement for masks on board at the beginning of April. However, it has to comply with the Covid regulations of the countries it flies to.

A sign telling people to wear a mask at Hamburg airport in February.

A sign telling people to wear a mask at Hamburg airport in February. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

One of the problems with the latest round of rules is that the legal situation in Europe varies – while countries such as France, Poland and Switzerland have abolished the obligation to wear masks in the cabin, it remains in force in Germany, and some other places including Spain.

Italy also requires FFP2 masks to be worn until June 15th at the earliest. In total, 14 EU countries still require people on flights to wear masks. 

A spokesperson for Swiss Airlines told Spiegel: “The obligation to wear a mask applies on flights to destinations where it is mandatory. Thus, for example, our guests have to wear the mask on flights to Germany, but not on flights to Switzerland. Our aircrafts are registered in Switzerland, so Swiss legislation also applies on board.”

READ ALSO: Do flights to and from Switzerland require face masks?

So will masks remain mandatory on flights – and on other transport in Germany?

Politicians have been speaking out recently about the possibility of lifting the mandatory mask rule in Germany. 

Germany’s Transport Minister Volker Wissing, for instance, said that he supported getting rid of the mandatory requirement to wear a face mask on public transport in Germany, as well on planes.

But the Health Ministry told The Local that the mask wearing obligation will remain in place as part of the Infection Protection Act until at least September 23rd 2022 – unless the rules are “adapted to the situation”. 

READ ALSO: German politicians row over lifting mandatory Covid mask rule