Travelling to Germany / Berlin this year? Here is what you need to know
This post was updated on 5. December 2021
Will you travel to Germany or to Berlin this year?
Here is a short service post for those wishing to visit our capital, or Germany in general. With many restrictions for travel, entertainment and education eased, Germany and Berlin in particular have become worthwhile destinations again. And with the necessary precautions, you won’t have to share the attractions with too many people at present. Over the autumn, our case numbers have unfortunately increased, and the country has been subject to further restrictions.
In short, you need to show proof that you are not infected upon entering Germany. Normally, airlines should do this at the point of embarkation. You will need to show proof of a complete COVID-19 vaccination, or a negative PCR- or antigen test.
If you are fully vaccinated, no test is required unless you arrive from a “variant of concern” area. Vaccinations accepted are Comirnaty (Pfizer-Biontech), Spikevax (Moderna), Vaxzevria (Astra Zeneca) and Janssen Covid-19 Vaccine (Johnson&. Johnson, single-shot). Preferably you have a digital vaccination certificate on one of the German or EU apps (the Ministry of Health Corona Warn App or The Robert-Koch Institute CovPass are the German Apps) but worry not if you don’t have them – there is no compulsory digital “Green Pass” like in some EU countries.
Your vaccination records should still be accepted, especially if in the yellow WHO vaccination book, which is very common in Germany, but other vaccination records like the NHS or CDC cards work, as long as they are correctly completed with your name, date of birth, name of vaccine, what the vaccine is against, date of birth and an identifiable institution where the vaccine was administered.
In the past weeks, as fake vaccinations certificated have been making the rounds, it is adviseable to visit a pharmacy with your vaccination record and ask them to convert it into a QR code which you can use on one of the German apps (Corona Warn App or CovPass) or just show the QR code on paper. They may charge you a small amount if you are not a EU citizen, which shold not exceed 18 Euros.
If you are recovered from COVID-19, the authorities require proof of positive PCR Test.
If you arrive from a high-risk area, you will need to complete a digital registration before entering Germany.
Arriving by Air in Berlin
I am going to warn you if you are coming to Berlin this year. When you arrive in Berlin by air, you need strong nerves right now. During the pandemic, a lot of airport staff had been laid off, and despite a brand-new airport, they are barely coping with moderate numbers of travellers, resulting in complete chaos recently when a few Berliners wanted to go on their autumn break. I have written a post about how to deal with travelling through Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, where you will find all the details. In short, travel with hand luggage, check in online wherever you can and arrive at least three hours early.
Where to Stay in Berlin this year
I highly recommend staying in a hotel or B&B. They are regulated by the hospitality authorities and take quite serious sanitation measures – also, most of them will check your immunisation/infection status seriously. Moreover, letting flats or rooms without a licence is illegal yet still very widespread in Berlin, but is increasingly being clamped down on. I understand landlords wanting to make a profit, which they sometimes cannot with the stringent German rental laws, but turning apartments into holiday lets isn’t the answer to Berlins chronic shortage of affordable living space.
My favourite areas of Berlin are Mitte and Charlottenburg. Mitte, of course, is the most central, very convenient.
Best areas to stay in Mitte are in the bit between Friedrichstrasse, Torstrasse, and the B2, with some nice pockets out towards Invalidenstrasse and Prenzlauer Berg. But beware. There are pockets of Mitte where it’s deader than dead. And some are not exactly safe. Therefore, areas to avoid (to stay) in my opinion are Alexanderplatz, the Nikolaiviertel, basically the entire triangle below the B2/Unter den Linden and the Spree is either very generic or very quiet/dead.
Good hotels here are hard to find or expensive, and sadly, Berlin has almost no old-timer in the cheaper and moderate price ranges. Even that stalwart of tradition, the Adlon, is a postwar reconstruction – and price-wise, well off!
One I recommend for its superb yet quiet location and decent prices (about 75 Euro per night) is the Adelante Boutique Hotel, a small no-nonsense modern hotel. And I have some reservations to recommend a pricier hotel, but the Hotel Oderberger is, to a certain extent, a beautiful historic hotel in that it was once a Art Nouveau Swimming Pool which has been preserved beautifully and is now part of the hotel facilities. Drawbacks are price (about 170Euro) and the location in tourist central with very little that is original or special – you’ll have decent subway connections nearby, though.
Charlottenburg has some incredibly nice and some really boring/featureless bits. My favourite bit is the area between Kantstrasse and Olivaer Platz – mostly for shops, cafes and restaurants. Good hotels here are also hard to find and mostly generic like the Hampton on Uhlandstrasse, or the NH Hotel Kurfuerstendamm which, in reality, is closer to Savignyplatz, but well, both stay in price well under 100Euro, which, for a four-star in Berlin, is not bad.
Hotels near Hauptbahnhof are plenty, mostly decent chains like Motel One and and Ibis, usually are a good deal, including the excellent Steigenberger which is the best of them. Of course, transport-wise and geographically, you are totally in the centre here, but the area is absolutely dead – it’s mostly offices and business hotels but well… good value and if you like to walk, the delights of Mitte are 1-2km away on relatively safe routes via the government quarter or the Charite so you don’t have to go too far for entertainment – just don’t expect atmospheric Berlin accommodation.
I also like Kreuzberg a lot for its huge diversity – from genteel old-timer apartment blocks in tree-lined streets to deprived social housing, you get everything. I don’t kn ow Kreuzberg well enough, and it certainly has its no-go areas, so I will stay away from any Kreuzberg tips.
If you want to party, Friedrichshain is a good place to stay. But it will be full of partying tourists.
Special COVID-19 Rules
There is currently much discussion in Germany whether the “Pandemische Lage nationaler Tragweite”, basically, a national State of Emergency, will be extended beyond the end of November 2021. If it does, any rules and regulations can be put into place rapidly – just as in the past 18 months. If not, it will be more difficult for federal government to impose new rules and regulations or make changes to existing laws. It has not been extended but there are now federal rules as well as local rules in place.
In practice, for you as a tourist, this will have few practical implications.
Basically, everything is open! I have been out and a bout a bit in the past few weeks and have not been turned away anywhere, although the more popular attractions may require pre-booking online.
The current default in the federal states of Berlin and Brandenburg is “2G” meaning that you have to be either be vaccinated or recovered from COVID to enter restaurants, some shops, visit hairdressers/beauticians/gyms, or theatres and cinemas. Very few places operate by “3G” rules meaning a negative test will suffice.
You have to wear a medical mask in all inside spaces and on public transport in Brandenburg, and an FFP2/N95 mask on public transport in Berlin.
In practice, checking tests or vaccination records in restaurants and shops is pretty common now. Apart from some very cursory visits to large station trains platforms, the mask rule is little enforced on public transport, although 95% of people do wear at least a medical mask.
What to bring
While I have seen hand sanitizer pretty much everywhere in Europe right now, this is not the case in Germany – it is best to bring a small bottle to use while you are out and about. MAsks including FFP2 masks are readily available everywhere in town, in newsagents, drugstores, supermarkets etc, but it might be worth to bring one FFP2 mask if you arrive at the airport and plan to use public transport into town, as I have not seen them anywhere for sale in the airport. However… if you arrive some time during the day, there is a supermarket between Arrivals and the Train Station that will sell FFP2 masks.
As we are getting up to autumn and winter, Berlin can get cold and rainy, and with us going back on Middle European Standard time, it will get light relatively early (7-8) but get dark early too around 16.00, leaving you little time to explore in daylight. Bring a windproof and waterproof coat for sure, and a warm sweater as well as water proof boots, for it can rain or snow a lot, and more often than not, when that happens, the side walks turn into slides quickly.
WiFi is still terrible for a Western Capital city, so you are better off with your own internet access. Likewise, charging points. Not very many out in public.
Public transport is running and there are “3G restrictions” restrictions other than the mask rule, so you will need proof of vaccination for local transport or long-distance, a proof of recovery or a negative test from within 24 hours.
However, the Berlin public transport system, especially the ubiquitous S-Bahn trains, groan at the slightest breeze and a lot of the time, all public transport gets incredibly crowded, turning the 1,5m distance rule into one big joke. Therefore, it is best to avoid rush hour between about 7.30 and 9.00 and 15.00 and 18.00.
What to do
One reason many tourists come to Germany is winter is its Christmas Markets! And while Berlin is not the place that springs to mind for Christmas Markets, it does have lots – including some really nice ones. There are entry rules like 2G/3G for all but most Christmas markets, after everything got cancelled in 2020, will take place.
My favourite Christmas Market is on Gendarmenmarkt. You pay a small entry fee and it is rather crafty/high-ish end, but is beautifully decorated and with the setting of the classicist architecture, is one of the most beautiful and photogenic Christmas Markets in Germany. Avoid at weekends when it can get very, very crowded.
A very similar market is held at Schloss Charlottenburg, with very similar high-quality crafts and foods, where entry is free and with this being somewhat off the beaten track, it is a good option for weekends. However, it has been cancelled for 2021
The largest market is at Alexanderplatz, and you are bound to pass it at some point. I like it a bit less, for it can get a bit rowdy, with emphasis certainly on huge mulled wine and sausage stalls, but they do have some nice Eastern German old-time favourites like the Pulsnitzer Lebkuchen and Glass Ornaments from Lauscha. I visted a week ago and found it pretty ssad – perhaps 30% of the usual stalls, no gingerbrad, no glass ornaments.
And what else? On the UNESCO World Heritage Museumsinsel, the magnificent Bode-Museum and Pergamon Museum have quietly re-opened from their long restorations. You can see the Altar or Pergamon and the Ishtar Gate in its full glory again. The “New” National Gallery, that spindly sparse Mies van der Rohe Building, has re-opened after restoration work. Theatres are running a full programme, with some of them selling tickets at full capacity, and bars and clubs have re-opened.
The Small Print
Please note that rules and regulations concerning the pandemic situation may change rapidly, and I may not be able to keep track of them immediately. All information is correct at the time of writing but I do not take responsibility for them and advise that you confirm the rules in place and adhere to them when you travel.
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