Lockdown was rough. My depression reached a similar level to that I experienced in high school, which is to say very high (low? Not good). Luckily, I didn’t dye my hair and tattoo myself or pierce anything new as I did when I was 16.
But I definitely did a lot of Yoga with Adrienne for grieving. I wasn’t sure why I was so attracted to that specific yoga flow, or what exactly I was grieving, but I returned again and again to it. Now that I’m further away from that time I know I was grieving the end of my college years, the end of my time in the United States, the countless lives lost to COVID 19, and those who were murdered because of systemic racism and homophobia. I felt my own body ache from not allowing myself to take care of it in the ways I had before: hiking, swimming, and going outside. I was scared of getting COVID and accidentally spreading the virus to someone who wouldn’t be able to handle it. So even when all the Coloradoans went out to hike this summer, I stayed back most of the time. I was terrified.
Now you know where I was at mentally. But I also was supposed to see David two more times before I moved to Germany. Those two times were in April and May. He was going to come for a week in April, and three weeks in May to celebrate my graduation. Both were canceled, and I did more Yoga with Adrienne. I cried a lot. Emotionally, I was a wreck.
But then my own flight to Europe was at risk, and I exploded. I wish I could say I rationally worked through solutions, but by that point, I was at my wit’s end. Back in March, before any borders had closed, I booked my flights from San Francisco, where I would be visiting my parents, to Lisbon, then to Frankfurt. But one day in June when I did my daily flight status check, the Lisbon leg of the trip was canceled. Cue me putting everything on hold for a lovely 45-minute wait to talk with TAP Portugal representative about my flight. After someone got on the phone and an almost embarrassing number of tears later, the representative on the phone was able to find a workaround. They could get me on a flight from Newark to Lisbon if I could get myself to Newark. I sat up straight, wiped my tears, and immediately booked the new flights.
Here’s the thing about long-distance relationships. They get a bad rep because people say they’re hard. And yeah, they are hard. But I found it wasn’t actually as bad as I’d heard it made up to be when I knew exactly when I’d see David again. It became an adventure of making plans for when we’re together, enjoying a delicious countdown of months, then weeks, days, and finally, just hours until we were in one another’s arms. But when that time together kept getting canceled, kept being juggled in front of us, that’s when it got hard. By this point, we’d been dating long distance for a year already.
So, I put all my hope on my flights to Germany. I knew it was foolish, but that was the one thing I was allowing myself to look forward to. We had found an apartment in Germany to share; David would go for tours and send me videos or Facetime me until we found one we liked.
Then we ordered a kitchen unit for the apartment, because surprise, German apartments don’t actually have any utilities or cabinets or anything in their kitchens when you move in. Then we chose a couch and living room table, I found bedding I liked, you get the picture. We were finally making those plans for when we were together again.
But of course, there were more wrenches thrown into the plan as the trip approached. I was informed by TAP that I would need negative COVID test results taken within 72 hours of departing on my flight to Lisbon. Now some of you live in places where COVID testing is accessible and fast. I’m so glad for you, appreciate that. In the Bay Area, that is not the case. When I was there, there was a 7-10 day wait on all test results, no matter how much you paid or if you went to community testing or a hospital. I booked every possible COVID test within a week of my flight in hopes of receiving results in time. I waited in 3-hour lines and even paid up to $150 for different fast tests. But finally, I found a rapid-test clinic in Redwood City that helped me out with 15-minute results. I took the test at 5 pm the day before my flight, so yes, it was a close call. My parents were huge helps with the entire process as they drove me around the city, reminded me to eat and take care of my body, and helped me with researching options. I’m extremely grateful.
Phew! So finally, I was cleared for one of TAP’s obstacles. But there was one more obstacle that literally changed every two days: entry requirements to the EU. I checked the Portuguese immigration website daily and the German immigration website twice as often, but they provided little help. In the end, the website I really staked it all on was Re-Open Europa. Run by the EU, it had updates on all things travel for every country. It was updated periodically, and I checked it every time I opened my computer. The website said that Portugal was allowing entry for American citizens because of a high level of Portuguese speakers in our country. I was stoked because Germany’s page said it would allow entry for anyone who was already cleared to enter by another country in the EU. Confusing, right? They pretty much didn’t care about your nationality, just that you had a valid reason to be there.
My thinking was that since Portugal was allowing me in, all I would have to do would be create a strong case for German immigration about why I should be allowed in on their end. And at this time, there was a huge push from Germans to allow in unmarried couples because of a campaign called Love Is Essential. It argued that many unmarried couples around the world deserve to be together too, not just married couples. The movement had already passed in a few other countries, so David and I decided that was our strongest option. He wrote me a letter of invitation in German, sent me our lease (even managed to get my name on it!), scans of his German passport and ID, and then I gathered all of my negative COVID tests, and photos and flight tickets from the past year to prove the longevity of our relationship.
There wasn’t much more to do at this point, considering I was down to the last 12 hours before my flight. So I took a shower, gathered gloves, masks, and as many disinfectant wipes as I could and called it a night. The next day, my flight to Newark was uneventful and I even managed to nap for a few hours. I surprised myself with that one, my stress levels were so high I couldn’t even loosen my jaw when I tried to.
After a 7 hour layover, I presented my packet of paperwork to the TAP check-in counter and was cleared for boarding. My heart soared. I jumped around and sped through security so I could hurry up and wait for the flight on which I would get to hurry up and wait even more. The flight was fine, uneventful, and as I disembarked, all passengers were asked for their COVID results once again. Mine passed easily and I headed to my gate for my flight to Frankfurt.
Except I couldn’t just head to my gate, I had to pass through EU border control first. It was at this moment I realized I’d never actually flown within the EU before. I’d always entered from a different country and in the case of last year, literally walked across the border from France to Spain. I’d never even thought I would have to go through border control in Portugal. Up until this point, I’d assumed I’d go through controls at my final destination.
I marched up to the agent and presented her with my passport. She wasn’t excited. “Why are you here?” “I live in Germany.” “Okay let me see your visa.” “Yes, except I don’t have one yet but here’s my lease!”
She didn’t take it too kindly. “This is tourism, I can’t let you in.” The panic set in and I began to leak from my eyes. I like to think he tears came because of 24 hours of travel and the rumbling hunger in my stomach, but they were actually because I was starting to let the desperation get to me. Either way, they had an effect on my border agent and she took me to the back room to talk to her supervisor. And then that supervisor took me to their supervisor. And soon I was ping-ponging between two men, one who wanted to help me, and one who was on the phone with the director of the airport that wasn’t so excited about my entry attempt.
They eventually allowed me to board my flight to Frankfurt after about two hours of holding me. During that time, I mostly sat and sweat in the hard plastic chair from nerves (and hunger), but they also asked me to call David and have him translate all those German documents into English for them. Luckily, he picked up and was able to translate them in time.
Next came the three-hour flight to Frankfurt. I was sitting next to a Brazilian girl who was also moving to Germany. She’d been living in Portugal for the past year, so she did not face the same immigration woes. As I expressed my growing fear about if German immigration would allow me in, her face lit up. “I don’t think you will go through immigration there!” She had done this flight two weeks prior so she could take a German language test before the move. Her confidence began to sway me, but I wasn’t fully ready to let my guard down. We descended through the clouds into Frankfurt and I held my breath. Would I be allowed in? Would this all be for naught?
We walked together off the plane and to baggage claim and didn’t face any immigration agents as I thought we would. I grabbed my bags and headed towards the exit, still not believing it. I walked through the doors and turned left towards the sound of the hustle of an international airport.
And then, I saw David. It was over, finally.
Let me tell you, my heart started healing again the moment I saw him. Yes, it’s cheesy, I know. But after the stress and fear of the 5.5 months of a pandemic, graduating, moving my life to California, and then moving it to Germany (within two weeks of each other), I was ready for the feeling of stability again.
We headed to the train station, took our three-hour train north to Hildesheim, and he showed me our apartment for the first time. I was so elated I didn’t care that it didn’t have lights or running water. We couldn’t sleep there because we officially couldn’t move in for another week, but I took it all in.
We went back to the apartment he was staying in until we could move, which was conveniently one block away from our new joint. I slept for ten hours, which made me feel confident in the journey. Maybe I wouldn’t even experience jetlag! (I did.)
Now that you know I made it on the first try and am safe, I also want to say, I was not respecting the rules put in place to keep the EU safe. I know that and I take full responsibility for it. Un-married couples are now allowed into Germany, it was passed 2 weeks after I arrived. If I had waited until it passed, as many suggested, it would have cost me upwards of another $3,000 for flights and new tests, which was just not something I could easily swing during the move. So I am grateful it worked out, but suggest following the guidelines in place to avoid being detained for a few hours of yelling and panic.
But now I’m here! I’m in Germany! We have an apartment together! It’s adorable and everything I wanted it to be. While David wasn’t so convinced we could make it cute, I always had faith. It’s a first-story, two-bedroom, one-bath spot with a balcony and a huge garden. Our kitchen is now installed and we’re working on filling it with plants and mementos that mean the most to us. Pieces from our travels hang on the walls and the office has been stripped of wallpaper and repainted (this is a story of its own…my goodness!). Plus, our couch folds into a bed so we can host our friends when it’s safe to visit.
David works at Sparkasse, a German bank, so I have the days to myself here. I work remotely for XOTV and complete some freelancing on the side. I also make yummy new meals and I’m working on creating a routine and stabilizing my life again. Hildesheim has about 100,000 people, so it’s roughly the size of Fort Collins, which feels homie to me. I feel peace.
My German…ist immer noch sehr schlecht, aber ich bemühe mich sehr. I’ll be signing up for language classes soon as I figure out the best way forward with my visa. My new friends here are very excited for me to enroll! But they’re also enjoying the touches of North America I’ve brought with me, including Taco Tuesdays. Little things like this help my new life feel familiar already.
So, TLDR; Life is a fricken’ rollercoaster and I finally arrived safely in Germany. I am happy and healthy and know that this is the right place for me to be.