German government's welcome text causes major headache for travellers

German government's welcome text causes major headache for travellers

German government's welcome text causes major headache for travellers

As of March 1, everyone who enters Germany from abroad receives a friendly welcome SMS from the federal government. The text conveniently contains a link to the country’s lockdown and quarantine regulations, but woe betide anyone who clicks it.

A German hacker group has revealed the unintelligible mess behind the innocent-looking text, and is roundly mocking it as yet another example of Germany getting technology tragically wrong. 

Welcome to Germany

The German government recently announced that it would be making sure to remind any arriving travellers to respectfully observe the country's quarantine regulations, via SMS. “Die Bundesregierung, Willkommen / Weclome! Bitte beachten Sie die Test- / Quarantäneregeln; please follow the rules on tests / quarantine," the text reads, followed by a link to an information page on coronavirus in Germany from the Federal Ministry of Health’s (BMG) website.

Whilst the message itself is fairly easy to understand, despite being composed in a confusing mix of German and English, things get a bit more complicated when you click the link, as the German hacker group, zerforshung, revealed on Twitter.

Don’t click the link

Any unsuspecting traveller who clicks the link will be whisked away to the BMG’s website. A mandatory data protection popup will immediately pop up, filling the entire screen and asking you, entirely in German, to agree to 19 cookies, including ones used for marketing purposes from Youtube and Facebook. The option to accept only necessary cookies involves selecting a tiny red button squeezed between two green buttons (all are in German, obviously).

Whichever option you pick, you will then be greeted with the words: “Coronavirus – Herzlich Willkommen in Deutschland.” For anyone who doesn’t speak German, this might be a good time to change the language to English.

Underneath the title: “What rules apply to me?” there is a chart containing rules for travellers arriving in Germany from different areas. However, the chart is set to a landscape orientation, which means it cannot be displayed fully when holding your phone normally, despite the link being sent out exclusively by text.

How good is your German?

This is followed by a long list of links to different information pages. One such link is to the Robert Koch Institute website, where travellers are expected to check to see if they have come from a risk area and is only available in German - not exactly useful for any non-German speaking travellers. Should you want this information in English, you have to download a 10-page, poorly-formatted PDF document.

And, just to make things extra confusing, even if you had previously switched the language to English on the BMG’s website, some links will still take you to sites in the German language. Any non-German speaking travellers arriving in Bavaria, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein or Thuringia might want to resign themselves to the fact that they will have to do quite a lot of copy and pasting in Google Translate, as the coronavirus pages for those five states are only available in German. Just the kind of thing to look forward to when you land at the airport

Expensive information

The whole experience has been described as an example of how not to design information pages for mobile devices. Despite its rather rudimentary function, the service took weeks to develop and was coordinated by the Ministry for Health, Ministry of Economics, the Federal Data Protection Commissioner and the Ministry of the Interior.

Clicking the link and downloading the relevant information can incur some stiff roaming charges for travellers arriving into the country without a German mobile data plan. Oliver Harzheim, Chief Security Officer at Vodafone, one of the three network operators involved with the texts, said he would have liked to include a central information number in the texts so travellers could simply call instead. “But the BMG could not provide such a number ad hoc,” he said.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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