An American's Journey to Germany
On March 3rd I landed in Melbourne, Australia. In just two weeks my plans to continue onto Ecuador, then Europe for the summer were shaken by covid-19. My partner and I stayed for a total 60 days total in Australia (it was amazing), catching the last repatriation flight back to the US. We underwent months apart as she flew back to Canada, then onto Germany (for work). After months apart we made a strategy to reunite. My thought was if I don't try, it's definitely not going to happen, I had nothing to lose, but time with my love. My journey to Germany involved going through the UK for 17 days, a standard passage for American's trying to enter the EU these days, then onto Germany. I'd like to tell you that I had to convince numerous agencies and border guards to let me in, but in reality, they didn't hesitate to let me through every checkpoint and no one ever asked me about my health, where I came from, or my intentions. It's with reluctance that I write this, as I don't want to convince you that every American (from the USA) should try to enter the EU. Actually, you should not make the attempt as it may be a fluke I made it this far. But, in a time where governments are flexing, information is confusing, and loved ones are torn at the seem, I learned that the reality is that no large force, even a nation or covid, can slow its people down, and close off all it's borders. Here's the story of how I made it from America to Germany.
USA to UK
It started when I reluctantly paid $1054 for a British Airways plane ticket to Heathrow. I couldn't believe how expensive it was, last year I paid $400 for the same flight. I chose a direct flight in order to reduce the chances of running into problems transiting through a third country. This was a safe travel move, and it made me feel better to connect through fewer airports, limiting my exposure during the covid outbreak. I got a covid test a day before I left and I figured my chances of contracting the virus would be low if I stayed away from as many airports as possible. The plane was empty and smooth. I landed in London with all my travel forms filled out, and strolled through the E-gates. No one asks questions at the e-gates, you simply place your passport face down, and it lets you through.
Following the UK's self-isolation orders I headed to a suburban city north of London for 14 days. The Tube was empty and even the heart of London seemed to be beating slowing during these strange days. I arrived and quarantined. The UK gov. says they might check on you by calling your contact number, but they didn't do anything like that for me. I just sat and enjoyed catching up on work and setting up some fun side projects (check it out - www.compostablestuff.com and www.bigyearcoffee). After the isolation I headed into London for two nights. The city was empty and it was really quite nice to be a tourist. All the attractions were empty and the parks were beautiful. I didn't do any tourist activities indoors, just walked around, birding the parks, and enjoying some delicious restaurants like dshoom (highly recommend).
UK to Germany
The day to get to Germany finally arrived and my partner and I were freaking out. We printed 50 documents. declaring our relationship to the German government, and trying to cover all our tracks.
✅ Health insurance
✅ Statement of partnership
✅ Travel documents (to prove we met in Germany and traveled together)
✅ Bank statement (to show we can support my stay)
It was time to go to the airport and get on our way. Once we arrived we hit the British Airways que and got through bag check easily. They just looked at my USA passport and plane ticket and ushered me through. Next, we strolled through a practically empty security checkpoint and prepared to board the plane. It seemed too easy so far. We knew getting on the plane was a problem for some folks, so we were partially relieved. We boarded and headed off to Berlin.
The border checkpoint in Berlin's Tegel airport is literally right after you get off the plane. No long walks or bus rides, the moment was here. I waited in line with my partner, shaking with subtle anxiety that happens every so often during a sketchy border crossing. I chose to go up to the guards first, infant of my partner, and by myself. I gave my passport to the young German border guard who took it firmly from my hand. He scanned over the document, told me to lower my mask, and then continued scanning. He kept a consistent, non-emotional facial expression (germans are good at this). He turned some pages, looking at my stamp pages, this was the moment of truth. As he picked up the stamp, in a rather intense fashion, a smile creeped onto my face (fortunately covered by the mask). He raised the stamp high into the air and quite dramatically stamped my passport. I did it. Overjoyed and so excited, I had finally made it to Germany after months of worry! I looked back at my partner, and raised my eyebrows to show my excitement. Finally after months apart, we could live in Berlin together for the next few months.
My story may sound too easy, and rest assured, if you are just looking for a vacation don't do what I did. I had lots of documents ready at a moments notice if the border guard wanted to interrogate me I was fully prepared. What this shows really is that the discretion of the agent is the single most important measure of if you will enter the country (it's always been this way). In the time of covid we are left thinking so much has changed. Believing every news article and update is almost useless. Many times I was left thinking there was no way to reunite across borders, and that it was pointless to even try. What my experience shows is that there is still some luck in the world, possibly for even those that see passage as a long shot. If you really want something, you have to give it a try. I am convinced I could have made it even with lots of interrogating, we had done our research and made an effort. But all that did was give me the confidence to try and go. It wasn't necessary in the end. All they did is conduct business as usual, not giving much of a shit about any specific details. As much as we try to act like the world is trying to tear us apart, some journeys are still possible, and if your loved one is far from home, try your best, you might just make it.