One of the questions I get asked the most about the Germany VTL is what daily life is like in Germany right now.
Are restaurants and attractions open? Will my Singapore vaccination certificate be recognised? What kind of mask do I need? How do I do my pre-departure PCR test? Is it true every taxi there is a Mercedes, and how was this utopia created? Etc, etc…
Having visited Munich, here’s my attempt to provide some colour on these questions. If you haven’t already done so, I’d highly recommend reading this article in conjunction with another called Explained: Germany COVID-19 restrictions, testing and proof of vaccination.
You can think of that post as the theory; this post is how it plays out in real life.
As a preface, it’s helpful to remember that COVID-19 restrictions in Germany differ by state and city. I’ve compiled links to the relevant rules of the eight largest cities in Germany below (not all may be in English):
|✈ VTL flight|
You can monitor COVID-19 caseloads, hospitalisation stats and vaccination progress on the RKI’s website (Germany’s equivalent of the Singapore NCID).
Since 2 September, Germany no longer considers the number of new cases when determining whether or not to tighten restrictions. Instead, it looks at the seven-day average of new hospitalisations, which at the time of writing is fairly low at 1.69 cases per 100,000 people.
Since I visited Munich, I’m going to be focusing specifically on the situation there. In Bavaria (Munich’s state), the following thresholds are applied:
- Level Yellow is triggered when there are more than 1,200 COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals within the last 7 days
- Level Red is triggered when there are more than 600 COVID-19 patients in ICU in the state
At Level Yellow:
- The mask standard will be raised to FFP2 (no more surgical masks)
- Contact restrictions will be enforced
- Only PCR tests will be accepted (no ART)
- Caps on capacity for public and private events
At Level Red, the state government will introduce further undefined measures in addition to those present for Yellow.
Queues at Munich Airport immigration looked long, but moved very quickly; it took about 15 minutes to get to the head of the line. Unlike some countries with parallel immigration queues that force you to bet on a horse, the German system is perfectly equitable- single queue, first come first serve.
The immigration officer asked me for proof of a negative test or vaccination. I showed the physical printout of my HealthHub certificate, which passed muster even though it had less information than the certificate from Notarise (I’d recommend printing the Notarise certificate just in case, since that one has your passport number).
|💉 How to generate your vaccination certificate|
HealthHub: Login to HealthHub, click COVID-19 records, download PDF
Notarise: Login to Notarise, click Vaccination Certificate, fill in details, PDF will be generated and sent via email
Here’s a further important point to note: Sinovac is not on the list of recognised vaccines in Germany, and as such, those vaccinated with Sinovac will be treated the same as unvaccinated individuals.
This means they will need to present a negative PCR test to enter Germany, and undergo regular testing under the 3G rule (see below).
Mask wearing rules
Germany only permits surgical, FFP2, FFP3 and KN95/N95 masks to be worn. These are widely available in Singapore, and you can buy additional ones in Germany at any pharmacy (called an apotheke) or supermarket.
I’d recommend bringing a few KN95/N95s in addition to surgical masks, because there may be periods of tightened restrictions where surgical masks are not allowed. For example, Munich’s state of Bavaria only recently eased its mask mandate to allow surgical masks; before 2 September 2021 this was not permitted.
Mask wearing is compulsory in indoor settings, be it hotels, restaurants (when not eating), shops, supermarkets, or museums.
Masks are also compulsory on public transport, whether bus, tram or train.
They’re required at stations too, even if they appear to be open-air. A good example is Munich Hauptbahnhof; even though it looks like a big airy shed, masks still need to be worn on the premises. Simple rule: do what everyone else is doing.
You will also need to wear a mask in a private hire cars or taxis, although strangely the driver doesn’t.
Once you’re outside, it’s mask off, period. You can of course choose to retain the mask if you wish; some people do and no one gives them funny looks. It may be advisable when in crowded outdoor areas, although that call is entirely up to you.
Enjoy that fresh air.
The 3G rule
Throughout your time in Germany, you’ll see signs with three Gs on them. This is known as the 3G rule: geimpft (vaccinated), genesen (recovered) and getestet (tested).
What this means is that individuals will need to show proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19, or a negative test to enter places such as:
- Air travel
- Cinemas, theatres, opera houses
- Driving schools
- Events, sporting events and concerts
- Gyms, swimming pools, sports halls
- Hairdressers, beauty salons, massage parlours, tattoo studios
- Hospitals, nursing homes (for visitors only)
- Nightclubs, discos
- Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoor areas)
- Zoos, amusement parks
|A system called “3G-Plus-Model”, which features the 3G requirement plus a negative PCR test, is required for visiting nightclubs, discos and, er, brothels. In return, you get to take off your mask (among other things).|
This is not an exhaustive list, and private business owners/event organisers may impose the 3G rule as they see fit.
The 3G rule does not apply to the following spaces:
- At work
- Doctor’s practices
- Garden centres
- Private gatherings
- Public transport
- Weekly markets
Children under the age of six are exempt. However, there is no such concession for those aged 6-11; since they cannot be vaccinated, they must go for an ART/PCR test. The results are valid for 24/48 hours respectively.
I had no issues using the physical printout of my HealthHub vaccination certificate to access restaurants, hotels and attractions. In fact, the majority of tourists from outside the EU will be doing this, and establishments are already used to it.
Truth be told, it’s not the most robust of systems- I can’t imagine the average frontline employee has the wherewithal to evaluate and verify vaccination certificates from all over the world. But it’s a system nonetheless, and you’ll need to play along.
You may also be required to fill out a contact tracing form. In some places this will be a bit more high tech…
…but in most places, less so.
These are just minor inconveniences, and nothing to be concerned about.
Update: For easier contact tracing, you might consider downloading an app called Luca. This is available in app stores worldwide, and unlike CWA, is not an official government app- it’s created by a private enterprise.
Luca provides contact tracing and can store digital vaccination certificates; it also works with local health authorities and can be seen as a semi-official app in that sense. Read more about the differences between CWA and Luca here.
Some people have asked about getting their Singapore vaccination certificate recognised and digitised in the Corona Warn App (CWA) or CovPass, Germany’s equivalent of TraceTogether and HealthHub. The short answer is that you might be able to, but it’s really not worth the effort.
Many apothekes offer a free digitisation service called “digitaler impfpass”. The idea is that you show your physical vaccination certificate and passport, and get an EU Digital COVID Certificate (DCC) uploaded to the CWA or CovPass app.
But people from Singapore can’t even download the CWA or CovPass app, at least not easily. For Apple users, you’d need to create a new Apple ID with Germany as your country. For Android users, you’d need to change your Google Play country to Germany (and remember, you’re limited to one country switch per year).
Moreover, the official guidance from the German government states:
“As of 1st September 2021 the following persons, who are not vaccinated in Germany, are entitled to receive DCCs:
- who are insured in the Federal Republic of Germany in the statutory or private health insurance,
- who have their domicile or habitual place of residence in the Federal Republic of Germany,
- persons who were eligible according to § 1 paragraph 1 sentence 2 number 3 to 5 of the Coronavirus Vaccination Ordinance in the version valid until June 6, 2021,
- persons employed in the Federal Republic of Germany, including seamen, who are employed on board a ship that is docked in a German seaport or operates in German inland waters or on German inland waterways,
- other persons who are in Germany for medical treatment and who do not belong to the groups of persons specified in numbers 1 to 4.”
Some pharmacies follow this rule strictly, which means they won’t let you convert a Singapore vaccination certificate. Others don’t, so YMMV.
Update: A couple of readers have had success visiting a pharmacy, presenting their Singapore vaccination card and getting a physical printout of an EU Digital COVID Certificate.
Since the Singapore vaccination card is widely accepted in Germany, the EU Digital COVID Certificate is more useful for those planning to venture to neighbouring countries. You can do this under the VTL provided you’re willing to subsequently return to Germany and wait 21 days before flying to Singapore (14 days from 7 October 2021)
tl;dr: There’s no need for it. Your physical printout will work just fine in Germany.
As part of the 3G rule, unvaccinated individuals need to present an ART or PCR result (or proof of recovery from COVID) to participate in many aspects of daily life.
|❓ To prove you have recovered from COVID-19, show a previous positive test result. This is valid from 11 to 180 days after you tested positive.|
To that end, numerous providers have sprung up all over Germany providing schnelltests (aka ART; schnell means fast) and PCR tests.
Schnelltests are currently free-of-charge to German citizens, but this will end on 11 October 2021 in order to encourage more people to get vaccinated. That’s more of an FYI, since non-citizens have always had to pay for their tests anyway.
|Update: Or not. According to a couple of Singaporeans who visited after me, they’ll swab anyone who asks for it, regardless of nationality. Not that you’ll need a swab if you’re vaccinated, but if you like some extra peace of mind…|
If you’re reading this I’m assuming you’re already fully-vaccinated. But if you’re travelling with a child aged 6-11, it’s slightly more complicated. He/she will need to take an ART/PCR test (obviously ART makes more sense because it’s cheaper, and you can obtain and use the results within 15 minutes), while you won’t have to.
Now let’s talk pre-departure PCR testing (PDT). VTL travellers from Germany (and from 10 September onwards, non-VTL travellers too) must present a negative PDT taken within 48 hours of their flight to Singapore.
You can find many places offering PCR tests in Munich (note that some locations may provide schnelltests only; be sure to check before heading down). The more expensive tests can deliver results in as little as 35 minutes.
|⚕️ Munich Test Options|
|Corona Teststelle||3||€76 (S$121)|
|Covid Zentrum||1||€79.90 (S$127)|
|Test Smart||6||€89 (S$142)|
I got my PDT done at a Medicare centre located at Marienplatz Galeria Kaufhof, in the heart of the old town tourist area.
The entire process from arrival to discharge took perhaps three minutes. It cost €75 and the results were back in 23 hours. I was first swabbed in the throat, and then in the nose (well, that’s the order you’d hope they do!).
Since it’s such an important aspect of VTL travel, I’m planning to do a separate post just on PDT in Munich. Stay tuned.
|😷 What happens if you test positive?|
If your PCR result is positive, the lab is obligated to inform the local health authority (called the Gesundheitsamt). They will then issue an isolation order, which will be at home/in a hotel or in a hospital, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
Self-isolation could be up to 14 days, although this may be reduced to five days for fully-vaccinated individuals with a low viral load. There is no general rule, and you’ll need to consult the local health authority for guidance.
Even after you’re released from self-isolation, you’ll still need to wait until 21 days (14 days from 7 Oct 2021) from the date of your positive test to fly home. That’s because ICA has a policy that anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 within 21 days (14 days from 7 Oct 2021) of departure may not fly to Singapore.
For the full details on the implications of testing positive in Germany, refer to the linked post.
Daily life in Munich
What’s remarkable in Munich (and I’m sure the rest of Germany) is how ordinary things look when you’re outdoors. The masks are gone, the crowds are back. If not for all the signs reminding you about testing and distancing, you might even believe it were 2019 again.
I walked outside without a mask, listened to street performers, drank alcohol after 10.30 p.m, and dined with background music. I saw groups of people on walking tours, and attractions were open as usual.
I also dined at the famous Hofbrauhaus, although I suspect I may have done the beer garden experience wrong…
Heck, I even enjoyed a self-serve breakfast buffet. The rules of engagement are simple. Wear your mask, grab a pair of gloves, and shovel food onto your plate. Rinse and repeat.
Sure, I took precautions, but nothing beyond what I was already doing in Singapore. Mask up indoors, avoid crowds, sanitize your hands, don’t touch your face. I also made a point of dining outdoors wherever possible. The only thing I couldn’t do was go to a club or bar, but even that’s expected to change from October.
And to preempt questions about anti-Asian sentiment, I never once felt I was treated differently because of my skin colour. No one looked at me funny in the streets (at least, not any more than back home), and for all intents and purposes, I was just another dumb tourist blocking the sidewalk and talking selfies everywhere.
In fact, the most hostile treatment I received was when I visited Bucherer in Marienplatz, on orders from a friend to seek and purchase hard-to-find watches.
I pulled open the door, only to have my ingress blocked by the salesman inside.
“Do you have an appointment?” he asked in a tone that suggested he already knew the answer.
I conceded I did not.
“No entry without appointment,” he said as he withdrew into the sanctum and shut the door.
Munich and Germany in general present a picture of what post-COVID life could look like, if government and society are really willing to treat the disease as endemic. I’ve been tracking developments back in Singapore, and it’s disappointing to hear talk again of tightened restrictions and even circuit breakers.
Now, obviously the MTF has access to the bigger picture, thanks to their models and data, and I’m just some armchair pundit. That said, the optics are bad- with one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, we should be taking the lead in showing other countries what endemic COVID life looks like. Instead, there’s been a jarring change in tone from barely a week ago, almost as if we’re afraid to be the first to do something.
Germany looks like a great model to follow. They haven’t gone all crazy like the UK and declared a freedom day; in fact, restrictions indoors remain very similar to Singapore. Masks stay on, alternate urinals/gym equipment are blocked, maximum X people in a lift, safe distancing markers on the floor, check-ins are required for contact tracing. These are sensible precautions.
But why require masks in outdoor areas like parks? Why make no distinction between the thumping bass of a club and the soft background music in an upscale restaurant? What’s the rationale behind banning alcohol sales after 10.30 p.m, when clubs and bars are already prohibited from operating?
It’s frustrating to be sure, especially when you see how other countries with a much lower vaccination rate are learning to live with COVID. It’s as if we got to the finish line first by going gangbusters with vaccinations, and now we’re scared to cross it.
I know some might object to the term “finish line”, since we’re dealing with a virus that evolves and mutates. I completely agree. If COVID mutates in a way that nullifies the protection of existing vaccines, then there’s every reason to tighten restrictions again. But that’s a bridge we cross when we come to it. The data shows that vaccines still work in reducing serious illness, and while the elderly/immunocompromised will need boosters, it’s a process that can run in parallel with opening up.
If nothing else, there’s now an option for Singaporeans to witness first-hand what life could be like in a truly COVID-endemic country.
Albeit a 13-hour flight away.
Any other questions about the on-ground situation in Germany? Post it below.