- Countries Visited: 12
- Travel Wishlist: Iceland, Tanzania, Peru, Georgia, and South Korea
- Locked down in: Torquay, Australia and now Dresden, Germany
“It’s mind boggling to be able to say that in a global pandemic, we were able to reinvent our lives twice, on opposite sides of the planet“
If not now, when?
This quickly became our mantra in finally planning our move to Germany. For years we’d talked about trying life in my husband’s home of Dresden, but never made the leap. There was just always something holding us back: me finishing my Masters degree, new jobs, our wedding and then the addition of our baby girl.
So in 2019, just after our little lady was born, we planned our big move for 2020. The ultimate adventure. Because if not now, when? Travelling would be easier, we thought, with a baby instead of a young child. We were still free of the bonds of school and other things that keep you still as a parent. We were still young enough to do the hiking we dreamt of with a little person on our back. We both had jobs to return to if we decided Dresden wasn’t for us. We were still naive enough to think that our plan would be final.
Despite thinking that we had planned for all eventualities and leaning very hard into the “what will be will be” mentality, nothing could have prepared us for a Global Pandemic.
The original plan for 2020
January 2020: New Zealand by car to explore the South Island and attend the wedding of our good friend.
February – March 2020: Live in Torquay with family to enjoy their company while enjoying the beach life.
April 2020: A month in Sri Lanka, a place we adore, eating and surfing.
May – December 2020: Arrive in Germany for our second summer, travel Scandinavia while the weather is forgiving, enjoy life and slowly settle in Dresden if it feels right.
The actual 2020
I remember when my husband first told me of a “strange virus” that originated from Wuhan. I panicked because I had spent a week in Wuhan in October 2019. After reading further about what we now know as Covid-19, I decided that I probably hadn’t contracted it and paid little attention to news about it. Besides, Melbourne was covered in a thick smoke haze by then so my concern rested with everyone suffering the ongoing effects of the unstoppable bush fires.
Through all this, we packed up our rental, sold our stuff and enjoyed our three-week New Zealand adventure. As we walked through the Melbourne terminal for our flight to Christchurch, we laughed at the idea of buying masks to wear against the bush fire smoke. Wearing a mask outside of a hospital seemed so absurd! Covid-19 continued to spread. Tucked away at the bottom of the world in New Zealand’s Fjord land though muted its significance. Australia’s bush fires still seemed of greater importance since the smoke haze had followed us across the Tasman.
At the airport, waiting to board our return flight to Melbourne from Christchurch, this changed. There, as passengers from Seoul disembarked from their Korean Air flight, the severity of Covid-19 hit me. Every passenger and staff member was wearing masks and gloves. This sight gave me chills.
The reality of Covid-19 and my own ignorance slapped me in the face upon our arrival in Melbourne. Walking through the terminal we were greeted by retail and immigration staff wearing masks and gloves. That was the first time that I felt uneasy about the rest of our travel plans.
But, if not now, when? Besides, we didn’t have a home to go back to anymore, so we were set on course for our adventure to continue.
While my husband continued to work, I was finalising travel arrangements, sorting visas, checking required immunisations and packing up our final belongings to be shipped or stored. Covid-19 still seemed so far away. There were cases in Australia by now but we were confident that we would still be able to make our journey.
By mid-February I had 12-months leave without pay approved from work and my husband had resigned from his job.
In the worst case, we thought, we’d cancel our month relaxing on the beaches of Sri Lanka and head directly to Germany. Because if not now, when? Now we had no home or income anyway, so we were set on course for our adventure to continue.
March 2020 – “We’re still going! Nothing to worry about, it’s just a flu!”
It’s hard to describe the feeling of your entire life grinding to a halt. The ringing in your ears that begins as the fog descends when you realise there is no plan-b.
As we approached our departure date of March 31, it was becoming more and more obvious to us that Covid-19 was serious. “Self-isolation”, “Quarantine” and “Incubation Period” were becoming everyday language. Testing for Covid-19 was now becoming routine, as was “contact tracing”, something now so common it’s strange to remember it being new. Working from home was a new and novel experience for many.
It was clear that flying was risky. We stocked up on wipes and hand sanitiser for our stay in Sri Lanka. We started reading up on health conditions, medical facilities and restrictions in Sri Lanka. Skipping the Sri Lankan leg of our journey was still our worst-case scenario!
March 2020 – Nothing could have prepared us for a Global Pandemic
On March 13 the Australian Government updated it’s travel advice to Australian citizens to “Reconsider your need to travel” to every location in the world. I laid in bed, ignoring the world, commiserating the month in Sri Lanka that I had so looked forward to. We quickly changed our flights to travel directly from Melbourne to Germany, departing May 01. We were set on course for our (slightly altered) adventure to continue.
On March 17 the EU closed its borders to non-citizens (like me!). As both my husband and daughter are dual citizens, we quickly arranged an appointment with the German consulate in Sydney for me to lodge the visa application I would normally be able to do in Germany. It would be a frustrating process but it could be worse. We were set on course for our (slightly altered and more bureaucratic) adventure to continue.
On March 25 Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that there would be a ban on all Australians travelling overseas. Our flight to Germany was cancelled. We had no home. We had no jobs.
The ringing in my ears was loud and the fog was thick.
March 2020 – When life gives you lemons, grab a tequila and get back to the drawing board
We were stuck. We had to make decisions. And quickly. With no blueprint for how to rebuild our life plans when a Global Pandemic wreaks havoc, it was tricky to navigate the anxiety, the unknown and the guilt of being a parent without a home or job to support our child. Suddenly we felt reckless and foolish.
Circumstance, kindness and a big pot of luck were on our side to make this unimaginable situation easier to handle. Our family agreed to house us as long as needed, something we will be forever grateful for. My workplace took me back part-time, revoking my year of unpaid leave as if my return had always been planned. My husband also found a part-time job. Our daughter, as if by magic, was able to start childcare almost immediately.
April – September 2020
Our life was good. We were grateful for the way we had landed on our feet even though everything had been upended. But the questions of “when?” lingered.
Daily we would check the travel restrictions and try to think of way around them. Daily we would wonder if we had to wait for a vaccine before we could travel. Do we just find independent accommodation, cut our losses and try again in 2021? Do we throw caution to the wind and just go on the next flight out of Melbourne?
As the pandemic continued, and the daily press conferences from Premier Daniel Andrews’ (Uncle Dan in our house) became routine, these questions became harder and harder to answer.
Melbourne’s lockdown happened. Then it ended. Then it happened again but harder and for a much longer period. State borders closed, reopened and closed again. Australia’s border closed. Europe’s border closed and opened again.
Being in Torquay meant that we were ‘regional Victoria’, so didn’t bare the strictest conditions like Melbourne. And oddly enough, it didn’t impact us all that much (aside from the obvious grounding of all of our plans). We had no friends in Torquay, so we didn’t miss out on socialising. We have a baby, so we didn’t miss the nightlife. We tolerated wearing masks and working remotely, making the best of the extra at-home time we had with our daughter and extended family. And of course, life on the beach, something we knew we wouldn’t have as long as we would be in Germany.
But this was a temporary arrangement. The planned six weeks with family had crept into almost ten months.
In July we applied for our travel exemption from the Australian Government. After trawling forums of fellow travellers, we felt ready and able to get what we needed. In essence, we had to prove that our travel was not for tourism purposes and that we had no intention of returning to the country within six months. It felt utterly absurd for three Australian citizens, two of who were also German citizens, to be required to request permission to leave. My husband’s German family, the elder of whom spent much of their life in the Socialist DDR, compared this to their experience in the police state.
Our exemption was granted within 48 hours.
What were we heading toward? Were we running from lockdown to lockdown? What would we do if we stayed in Australia? Do we wait until the European Summer instead of going into another winter? Should we look at some rentals here just in case?
Suddenly the number of unanswerable questions grew.
We came to the conclusion, if not now, when?
It felt as if we were on a knife-edge. On one side was all of the adventure we had hoped for and dreams for our family, albeit in a brave new world. On the other side was settling down, getting back into full time work and living with the memory of what might have been.
If we don’t go now, during what will possibly be the most difficult time of our lives, when would we again have the courage to pack up our family and move to the other side of the world?
October – November 2020
We arrived in Dresden very late in the night on October 3. Three exhausted travellers, two of whom couldn’t quite believe what they’d just accomplished. Moving your family to the other side of the world is a bold move in normal times. In Corona times, such a move feels equal parts bold, brave and entirely stupid.
Our departure from Melbourne was reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead. The airport was almost silent. All food outlets, most of the retail outlets and check-in counters were closed. To board the flight we needed to present:
- Our passports (normal)
- Travel exemption granted by the Australian government (hopefully only a phase)
- Negative PCR Covid-19 tests for my husband and I (perhaps the new normal?)
- Health declaration for Germany confirming that we were Covid-19 negative, confirming our willingness to be tested again upon arrival (again, perhaps the new normal?)
Our flight from Melbourne was surprisingly full, though the joy of flying was somewhat ruined by travelling with a toddler. The significantly reduced service on the flight and of course, wearing a mask for a 14-hour flight to Dubai, took away from the romance of travelling. From Dubai to Frankfurt the flight was almost empty which was eerie. Another quick Covid-19 test in Frankfurt airport and it was time for the last leg of our journey to Dresden. The train from Frankfurt to Dresden was almost at capacity and aside from people wearing masks; it felt as if life here was normal. Not covid-normal, just normal.
This was the first time I could sense the difference between living in Torquay and Germany.
People were wearing masks in the airport and on the train, though “social distancing” seemed to be a quirk from Melbourne, as did the use of hand sanitiser on the regular. In our first days in Dresden, I was scandalised to see cashiers not wearing masks in supermarkets, no masks being worn on the busiest intersections and crowded pubs operating as usual.
Since that time, measures have been repeatedly reintroduced to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19 in Germany. There was a hard lockdown in April of this year but it seems that people have become fatigued, forgotten the danger or just don’t care.
Currently the lockdown measures, which are the strictest that have been in place since our arrival:
- Compel individuals to wear a mask when inside a retail store or on public transport.
- All bars, cafes and restaurants have returned to offering take away only.
- Gyms, spas and sporting groups are closed.
- Accommodation providers are unable to provide their service for tourism purposes
- Gatherings of people outside can be of up to 10 people from two households
- Travel between cities is strongly discouraged
Compared to Melbourne’s lockdown, these measures feel laughable. I have seen virtually no voluntary mask wearing in densely populated areas, such as playgrounds and markets. Hand sanitiser at the entrance of a shop is an uncommon sight. In Dresden, most people still work in their offices, despite the number of individuals testing positive for Covid-19 increasing daily. Schools and childcare centres are still open and, to my knowledge, have no mandate to close or for staff to quarantine and be tested when there are individuals with Covid-19 within their facility.
While it sounds like a cavalier approach, it has been interesting to hear locals’ view of these restrictions. There is a sense of outrage and suspicion of any government limiting personal freedoms. There have been protests with tens of thousands of people demonstrating against this very point (interesting side-note: despite the government’s attempt to limit all mass gatherings, the German constitution enshrines the right to protest and freedom of worship, so neither protests nor attending a place of worship can be prohibited). While I can’t say people are Covid-deniers, there is what I can only describe as either an acceptance of it and an attempt to just get on with life combined with this deep suspicion of government intervention. Given Germany’s recent history (particularly in the East where Dresden is) this is unsurprising.
On the other hand, Germany’s heath care system is, so far, coping with the increased health demand. So much so that Germany was accepting Covid-19 patients from Belgium and France, both countries now are beginning to seriously struggle under the strain of the disease. How long will this continue? I don’t know. Having experienced such a vastly different approach to Covid-19’s management makes me deeply suspicious of any attempt to manage it differently. Only history will know which approach offered the greater outcome.
Winter is coming so time will tell what we’re in for.
Once again, we’ve landed on our feet. In our first two months of being here, we have found an apartment, finalised my visa, my husband has found full time work and childcare has been arranged for our daughter. It’s mind boggling to be able to say that in a global pandemic, we were able to reinvent our lives twice, on opposite sides of the planet. Our priviledge isn’t lost on me and I’m incredibly thankful that we’ve been as lucky as we have. Being a Social Worker, I’m well aware of how hard these lockdowns have and will continue to impact society broadly, and it could easily have been us.