Mallorca or a hug

One fifth of Berlin’s residents are foreign nationals. Watching a distant family’s life unfold over Zoom isn’t always easy.

A passenger and grounded jets at BER.
A passenger and grounded jets at BER.Photo: dpa/Patrick Pleul

Berlin-Ah, Easter in Germany: trees adorned with cute colourful eggs, those sticks that grow fluffy leaves – and a school holiday trip to a sunny seaside resort. Even during a pandemic, apparently.

Holidaymakers to Mallorca and other destinations have been the latest corona bogeymen since it became clear such trips would be possible. Travel agents advertising lockdown-friendly holiday packages have sparked outrage, as have articles merely listing the places where people can travel to.

Yet not everyone checking the travel guidance on the RKI website is trying to find out where they can jet off for their next jolly in the sun. For Wahlberliner from abroad, the international travel crackdown means an indeterminate wait before seeing families, partners and friends again.

That’s the boat I’m currently in. At least I was lucky enough to manage a Christmas visit home to the UK before the British mutation shut the borders. I know of people who haven’t seen their families since Christmas or even summer 2019.

The limitations on movement over the past year are starting to take their toll. These days I sometimes crack open an Astra instead of a Kindl just to transport myself to the tropical climes of Hamburg. A negative corona test-sanctioned trip to Ikea feels similarly exotic – like visiting a Swedish exclave.

Living abroad, I've never felt particularly homesick for the UK. Moving to Berlin was a long-held goal and I don’t regret it. But the uncertainty about when I can expect a trip home or visits from relatives and friends has made me increasingly anxious.

The constant inability to plan or let yourself look forward to things is pretty crushing. Tentatively discussed plans with family and friends for late January, then Easter, then May have all come to nothing. At the moment, it feels like making plans only gears you up for disappointment.

I can hear you asking: pandemic or not, don’t you sign up for this separation when you up sticks and move to a new country? Of course. But humans are basic, and not having options makes us nervous. And sure, it’s not like there’s no flights landing or taking off at BER right now. But the quarantine restrictions Germany and other countries still have in place are unwieldy and off-putting – which is intentional.

The outlook for when restrictions will be eased looks bleak. Germany has lurched between different kinds of lockdown for six months, and hundreds of deaths from corona have been recorded nationwide in the past week. The arrival of vaccines has brought a light to the end of the tunnel – but the rocky start to vaccination in Germany makes it seem like that tunnel just keeps getting longer.

Columnists and netizens squabble over “Malle”, but little thought is given to those left to watch their loved ones’ lives unfold over Zoom. The experience can be isolating and anxiety-inducing – especially if you have elderly or vulnerable relatives. And we still don’t know how high travel will be on Germany’s and Europe’s re-opening priority list – whenever we reach that milestone.

Can there be a safe, effective amendment to travel regulations that would allow foreign nationals to make non-urgent compassionate trips home, at least to preserve their wellbeing? I don’t know. But in an increasingly interconnected world in which families, relationships and careers span borders and nationalities, it’s surprising to see foreign travel so often viewed only through the prism of holidays.

So, spare a thought for your Wahlberliner neighbour – chances are you have one, considering an estimated fifth of Berliners are foreign nationals. Not everyone dreaming of their next flight is looking forward to a cocktail by the pool at the end of it – some of us just want a long-awaited hug.

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