Travelling in Germany this Christmas: What is and isn't allowed?
With Germany now under stricter lockdown rules, the maxim for the coming weeks is: Stay home as much as possible. But what does that mean over the holidays? Are family visits allowed? Will hotels remain open? Is travelling between federal states permitted? And is public transport even running? Here’s an overview.
Travelling in Germany during the Christmas holidays
In an attempt to bring COVID-19 in Germany back under control, tougher measures will apply in the federal republic from Wednesday, December 16, until January 10. Under the new rules, schools, daycare centres and non-essential businesses are closed, and the consumption of alcohol in public and the sale of fireworks are banned.
The contact restrictions are due to be eased slightly over the Christmas holidays - specifically, between December 24 and 26 - when slightly larger family gatherings will be permitted. But what does all of this mean for travel?
Is travel banned in Germany?
First of all, travel has not been prohibited outright - but it is expressly not encouraged. The federal and state governments are urging everyone to “refrain from travel that is not absolutely necessary at home and abroad” for the next few weeks.
Can I travel abroad?
Travelling abroad is not banned, either, but remember that if you re-enter Germany from a foreign risk area (as designated by the Robert Koch Institute), you must undergo a compulsory 10-day quarantine period, which can only be ended by a negative coronavirus test taken on the fifth day after entry, at the earliest. The government has also stopped providing free tests after non-essential trips - and will no longer cover the salaries of those who cannot work from home.
If you were planning on a skiing holiday this year, don’t get your salopettes out just yet. Ski resorts in Germany will remain closed until at least January 10, and Angela Merkel is calling for the delay to apply Europe-wide. Italy and France seem to be in agreement. Austria will open its slopes from December 24, but only to locals. Hotels will remain closed to vacationers from risk areas - which currently includes Germany. In Switzerland, the lifts are already running in some ski resorts.
Note, however, that apart from a few teeny exceptions (the Kleinwalsertal and Jungholz exclaves of Austria, for example), all of the countries that border Germany are currently considered coronavirus risk areas, meaning that if you choose to travel to them you will be required to self-isolate for at least five days upon your return.
Can I travel within Germany / between federal states?
Here, too, the urgent appeal to stay home and reduce social contacts as much as possible applies. That means, refrain from private visits and trips unless they are absolutely necessary. Over the Christmas period, contact restrictions are being eased slightly to allow gatherings of up to one household plus four extra people, but this should be limited to the “closest possible family circle”.
In principle, people are still allowed to travel to another federal state, but they have to observe the coronavirus rules that apply there. Day trips are also strongly discouraged; in any case, popular destinations such as amusement parks or cultural institutions are closed.
Are hotels open?
The government’s regulation means that all accommodation offers, including hotels, holiday homes and guest houses, can only be “made available for necessary and expressly non-tourist purposes.” This means that they are only allowed to serve guests travelling for essential reasons such as business.
However, a number of states have said that they will allow relatives visiting family over the Christmas period to stay in hotels or other overnight accommodation, rather than forcing people to stay in potentially already crowded homes. Currently (as of December 18), visiting relatives are allowed to stay at hotels in these federal states:
Nonetheless, even if hotels are allowed to open over the Christmas period, the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga) has made it clear that it is uneconomical for hotels to open for just a few days - and so it’s likely that supply will be limited. It’s also possible that the rules could change last-minute, so make sure to check the regulations in your destination state before travelling.
Is public transportation running in Germany?
Necessary trips can still take place; Deutsche Bahn has put on extra trains over the festive period and will limit reservations on all long-distance trains to ensure social distancing is possible. However, nothing changes in the cancellation policy, meaning that only the top-priced flex tickets can be cancelled or exchanged free of charge.
Travelling by coach is a lot trickier. The biggest long-distance bus service in Germany, FlixBus, was due to resume operations on some routes from December 17, but announced this week that it was cancelling all services until January 11. Customers with journeys already booked will be contacted and given a refund, plus a 15-euro voucher for a trip in the coming year.
Air traffic to and from Germany is still heavily reduced, and hygiene and distance rules apply at all German airports and on planes. If your booked flight is cancelled, you are entitled to refund of the flight price under EU law. However, the current coronavirus restrictions do not entitle you to simply cancel your flight free of charge.
Can a pre-booked holiday now be cancelled free of charge?
Yes, so long as tourist trips are banned in Germany, booked holidays can be cancelled free of charge. If a hotelier or holiday home landlord cannot provide accommodation due to official requirements, the guest does not have to pay anything for it, by law. You can withdraw from the booking free of charge and claim back any deposits paid.
Christmas travel plans
Whatever your plans this Christmas, it’s best to make travel arrangements well ahead of time, and to check the latest rules and regulations before setting off.
Leave a comment