I’ve spent the last few weeks in the Germanic world of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland and want to share my experiences with pandemic-related protocols like masks and social distancing.
COVID-19 Observations In The Germanic World
I spent a couple days in Vienna recently and was surprised (and pleased) to see that masks are not compulsory in most places. While I had to wear a mask at the airport and onboard trains, in other places I did not.
When I checked into the Andaz Vienna, I was informed that a mask was not necessary inside. Indeed, no other guests were wearing masks and neither was the staff. However, I was asked to see proof of vaccination.
At restaurants, bars, and ice cream parlors I was also asked to see proof of vaccination, but this seemed more a formality than a diligent check. For example, in the restaurant where I ate dinner the maître d asked if we had it, but when we pulled it out he motioned for us to put it away without even looking closely at it and said “this is just for formality.”
It was so lovely to see Vienna bustling, with coffee shops, bars, and restaurants packed inside and out. Vienna is a city that always makes me feel underdressed and it is once again vibrant and full of life.
Back at the Andaz, the breakfast buffet was as before COVID-19, with everything self-serve.
Of the three Germanic countries, I found Austria has rolled back restrictions more than the others.
My return to Germany was marked by a woman yelling at me at DM, a drug store chain. I walked in with my cloth mask and she came up to me and demanded to know if it was a surgical mask. I said no and she lectured me about not being allowed in the store without one. She began to escort me out, but thankfully my mother-in-law had an extra KN95 mask in her purse and handed it to me.
The lady ended her lecture with a, “Du bist jetzt in Deutschland!” statement, meaning, “You are now in Germany,” then walked away shaking her head. “Du” is a much more informal way of saying you. Generally a store clerk would say “Sie” (something we don’t have to deal with in English). It was an insult.
My point: don’t mess with German rules. I’ve been wearing the KN95 or surgical masks in Germany – cloth masks are verboten in stores, restaurants, or public transport.
Most people abide by the mask rules and wear the masks properly. One time a pair of young guys had their masks pulled below their nose in Rewe, a grocery story, and the checkout lady starting screaming at them then called security over the loudspeaker. They were escorted out.
There have been a few restaurants we have visited where workers do not wear masks, but that is very much the exception.
Outdoors, masks are not required.
Rules vary by state, though I was asked for proof of vaccination in both Mainz and Munich when checking into hotels.
When I traveled by train from the south to Frankfurt, everyone onboard wore masks, but when I changed trains in Mannheim I noticed many youth sitting down drinking and smoking without masks.
Switzerland is looser on mask rules than Germany, but stricter than Austria. For example, cloth masks are permitted but masks are generally worn indoors except while seated at the table. I saw many people in Zurich, however, go without masks when stepping inside or having them pulled below the nose.
While checking into my hotel in Switzerland, I was not asked for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
Land borders between the countries remain as open as prior to the pandemic.
I actually don’t know (haven’t looked) what the actual rules are. I’m simply reporting my experiences. Germany has been the strictest and it seems that most take it seriously. Meanwhile, compliance lags a bit in Austria and Switzerland and you can wear cloth masks there.
By the way, it has been a lovely summer in Germany. I realize that may sound a bit inappropriate with all the flooding that occurred, but I love the cooler days and rain. That said, we’ve noticed higher water levels throughout our travels in Baden-Württemberg, Bayern, Hessen, and Rhineland-Palatinate.