COVID Travel Diaries - Traveling in times of the pandemic
Olivera Zivkovic | Emily Gordine
July 24, 2020
We, Olivera Zivkovic and Emily Gordine from DW, traveled for two weeks across Germany in a camper van to find out how the coronavirus pandemic has affected traveling and tourism in Germany. This is what we experienced.
Traveling during a pandemic is challenging, especially abroad. That’s why we decided to rent a camper van and go on a road trip through Germany. Starting at the Baltic Sea in the north, we visited nine different stations.
Our adventure started on the biggest German island Rügen, located in the north at the Baltic Sea. Upon arrival, first challenges arose. We arrived fairly late in the evening, too late for check-in. We slept on the parking lot in front of the campsite we thought we had booked. It was a cold night and we were freezing in our van. In the morning, we discovered that we had gone to the wrong campsite entirely so we quickly packed our stuff and drove to our proper campsite. Once we sorted everything out, we decided to go straight to one of Rügen’s most popular seaside resorts, Binz. We had a nice walk along the beach and managed to soak in some sun. The water was very cold, so we decided against swimming, but we at least managed to plan our first adventure – a boat ride to the famous UNESCO protected Chalk Cliffs that are a part of the Jasmund National Park. We ended the tour at Cape Arkona, the most northern part of the island. On our last day on Rügen, we visited the Treetop Walk in Prora. A network of paths that enables visitors to move around an ancient forest at eye level with the tree tips. The path eventually leads to an enormous wooden construction. When we climbed to the top, we could enjoy a splendid view over the Baltic Sea and the nature around us. In Rügen, we mainly wanted to find out if it is possible to safely go to the beach. Large groups of mainly German tourists that were socially distancing at the beach ensured us that summer vibes were definitely present this year.
Partying in Berlin moved outdoors
All roads lead to – Berlin. The main reason why we visited Germany´s capital city was to find out how the absence of the club scene due to the coronavirus pandemic is affecting Berlin’s nightlife, and what kind of outdoor activities you can still safely do. On our first day we explored Berlin by kayak on the river Spree. While paddling along, we saw that many young people were passing by on party boats. Boats seem to be a good alternative for crowded indoor clubs. The next day we went to the Mauerpark, one of Berlin’s largest urban parks, where hundreds of people were enjoying a warm Sunday afternoon with music, drinks and food as well as the flea market. So, even though partying indoors is not possible, Berliners found another creative solution – dancing outside while respecting social distancing. We ended our Berlin tour at the Tempelhofer Feld where groups of people gathered to listen to bands giving small concerts in the sunset. This relaxing outdoor flair seems to be thriving all over the city.
Climbing the Sandstone Rocks in Saxon Switzerland
South-east of Berlin was our next station: Saxon Switzerland, a mountain range seated in the Elbe river valley. Known for its breathtaking nature and thousands of climbing and hiking possibilities, this was another must-see for nature-lovers like us. Our two-day stay took us on an 8-hour long hike to see the famous Bastei Bridge that is located in the Saxon Switzerland National Park. The breathtaking view from and on to the bridge made the whole tour absolutely worth it. But we even dared to go further: The next day we faced our fear of heights and climbed the ancient Sandstone Rocks we visited the day before. With the help of our fantastic insturctor Bernd, we managed to climb two rocks, the second one being 25m high! It was a great socially distanced activity and both fun and learning experience. We also noticed a large presence of German tourists, who seemed to be relaxing on their summer holiday in the woods. It felt like everyone was going back to the nature after an exhausting period of the lockdown.
Beer tasting in Bavaria
Next stop was another UNESCO World Heritage Site with one of the most preserved old towns in Europe – Bamberg. Even though it was only a pit stop on our way to Munich, we managed to try out some of the local specialties: smoked beer and pig shoulder – both incredibly delicious.
The last big city on our map was the Bavarian capital Munich. We spent our days strolling around the famous Marienplatz square, where many tourists (mostly from Germany) were enjoying the Glockenspiel – bell play. We also visited several beer gardens, but the English Garden, a large urban park, left the biggest impression on us. Hundreds of people were spending the warm summer day outdoors with music, drinks and sports, especially at the famous Eisbach wave, where surfing was possible again after a strict curfew. It felt like everything was back to normal, and that the pandemic was over. Only the heavy police presence that was overlooking the measures to contain the further spread of the virus reminded us that things are not as normal as they seem.
Exploring German lakes and the fairytale castle Neuschwanstein
In Bavaria we visited three Alpine lakes. First, we went to Lake Starnberg, where we tried windsurfing for the first time. Then, after a sleepover at Lake Bannwald, where we went for a nice evening swim the night before, we headed off to one of Germany’s most beautiful castles: Neuschwanstein. After one last hike that lasted for about half an hour, and then queueing for another 20 minutes, we were there. Here, we could finally spot some international tourists who told us that they were visiting Germany because they felt safe in the country. However, the fact that we had to wear a face mask on Mary’s Bridge from which you catch the best view of the castle, reminded us again that fear of the coronavirus was still looming. Sunset at the so-called German Caribbean, Lake Walchensee, was the last thing we relished in on our trip. When we arrived, we immediately jumped into the cold lake that is surrounded by breathtaking nature.
Driving back home we had time to think about our memorable experiences, people we met and local specialties we tried. We can only come to the conclusion that a wonderful summer vacation is possible in Germany. Swimming in the sea or a lake, hiking and climbing mountains, as well as strolling around vibrant cities provide endless possibilities to enjoy a variety of outdoor, socially distanced activities. But since the threat is still present, the large majority of holidaymakers, who mostly come from Germany, are respecting all the measures to contain the further spread of the virus. This made us feel very safe and contributed to the fact that we managed to enjoy an unforgettable summer camping trip.