A Love Story in a Third Country: How I saw my Boyfriend despite Border Closures.

August 21, 2020

Unmarried binational couples separated by travel bans
A German-American Lovestory in times of Corona

There is a strange sentence in my obituary: She died of a Corona-induced heart attack. From the time this evil pandemic was given a license to kill like James Bond, it is no longer fun for many people, especially for international unmarried couples. The borders are unyielding; the governments feel that a relationship without a marriage certificate is “not essential”; and I have been throwing up cubes for four months. My boyfriend lives in the USA, while I live in Germany. I was on the verge of developing a stomach ulcer when, out of sheer desperation, I finally spent a month driving alone from the Alps to the North Sea. Then I found the fantastic Facebook group, “Couples separated by Travel Bans.” This gives me the first hint that there may be a loophole. Croatia. It is one of the few countries that is in the European Union but is not a Schengen country. Schengen countries do not allow “non-essential” travel to and from the USA. As of July 2020, Croatia will allow EU citizens AND Americans into the country.

 

I immediately alert the Special Operations Command (which consists of my boyfriend, my best friends, and myself) and we all begin to research the situation like madmen. Could it really work? After four months of forced separation, I begin to run around like a headless chicken through my room. We book the tickets. A rental car. For a little road trip. Although I don't really care what we do. As long as we can finally get back into one another’s arms. And then of course, all hell breaks loose again shortly before departure. Here comes - again - one of my crazy love stories. With everything Hollywood can offer.

Saturday Night with the Federal Police

Loophole Croatia for unmarried binational couples
What the hell - just let me fly!

I wake up after dreaming of weird stuff about my boyfriend and myself on a sailing ship on the Amazon River. I stare at my cell phone. There is a message about my flight to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, which is due to depart in less than a week. I open it and my heart slides deep down, into my gut. My flight has been canceled! The short reason: Because of Corona. I begin to think, "Then I won't have to pay my taxes anymore and if the tax office asks why I stopped, I just say: ‘Well, because of Corona!’" I begin to go into a rage. My boyfriend already has several connecting flights in the USA itself before he flies from Washington DC to Frankfurt. From there our plan is to fly together to Zagreb.

 

But now instead of looking forward to it, my brain has elevated its terror threat alert level back to RED. We try to rebook the Zabreb flight to a later one on the same day, but for more than 24 hours it is unclear whether it will work. At the same time, I begin to spam the German Federal Police to find out if Americans are allowed to pass through the Frankfurt Airport to change flights. We know that my boyfriend is not allowed to enter Germany from the USA and the Netherlands interprets its restrictions in such a way that not even a flight transfer through the Amsterdam airport is allowed. Our flight is due to depart Frankfurt next Tuesday. On Saturday evening at 8:30 PM I receive an e-mail from the police at the Frankfurt Airport. It is legal. He can enter the airport for transit as long as he does not leave the building, which would contaminate the whole of Germany with his American passport. Reading this, I pour wine into a suspiciously large glass and send the email with the good news to my boyfriend.

The thing about the Corona test

Corona stress, border closures, separated couples
Freaking out with wine

Finally, we rebook our cancelled Zagreb flight. Still on the same day, just at a later time. Now I begin to book accommodations because my boyfriend must fill out a form listing each Airbnb and hotel that he plans to stay in during his entire trip. This is one of the requirements for travelers from the United States. We agree that the orange-faced Eejit in his country, which suffers from high infection rates due to a total loss of COVID control, complicates matters unnecessarily. As we are looking to see which national parks are open in Croatia, we receive yet another blow. Always right in your face, like the lyrics the German punk group, Die Ärzte, sing so beautifully. Croatia suddenly decides that Americans now need a negative corona test, which must not be older than 48 hours old from the time it is taken until arrival at the border control. How nice that my boyfriend flies out of the USA at 7 AM on Monday, and out of Germany on Tuesday, and there are no tests performed on the weekend. I forget to put the wine bottle back in the fridge and pour myself an exceptionally large, warm glass. Then I want to throw something at the wall for a moment, but I'm too busy swearing and crying.

 

After my brief emotional surge settles down, we find in the fine print that you can also enter the country with a negative test that is older than 48 hours - but then you have to do another test in Croatia for $273 and stay in quarantine until the results come back, usually in about 72 hours. We have no other option. Except, of course, to give up. But I don't know that term. Had to look it up in my Funk and Wagnalls. Didn't even know how to write it.

Corona heart attack: on the verge of nervous breakdown

Crisis, separated from the partner, Corona, borders, binational couples
Why must everything be so nerve-wrecking!?

It's Friday just before sunrise (or some other silly early hour) when my boyfriend sits in his car waiting at the drive-in test center in his State. There are only a limited number of tests available per day for people without symptoms – and then it is first come - first served. In just a few hours, the results are available. Negative. Of course. However, the hospital personnel tell him orally, on the phone. Which is nice if you are actually worried about having contracted the virus, but a verbal answer probably will not go down well on the Croatian border officials. My boyfriend asks that they email an official note to him. They say “Yes.” But it is Friday evening, the pen has fallen to the ground for the weekend, and no one sends him anything before he gets on his first plane on Monday at 7 AM.

 

I get so nervous that I forget to close the wine bottle again. The stale taste hits me just before the nervous breakdown. Because without a corona test, they will put my boyfriend - and me - in a 14-day quarantine. We can do it. We did it once in March. In Canada. It was okay, but it is not our preference. We would prefer to walk down the street together, hand-in-hand, without being treated like felons. I run through my apartment and try to pack, but I just have a stomachache, a headache and I want to die. And when I die, they can say I died of a heart attack. From nervousness and insecurity. Because of Corona. I could vomit.

A fax in the 21st Century

Reunion in Croatia, border closures EU and USA
Corona: How seeing your boyfriend becomes a major drama

At 10 AM, my boyfriend lands in Denver after his first flight. He calls the Test Center again. They tell him that they can fax the results. Fax. In 2020. In the USA. I ask if they can't carve it into a cave and then wait for the next ice age to bring it to us via glacier. But then it turns out that they actually can fax it to the airline counter, where a few nice employees receive it and hand the printed, official paper to my boyfriend in black and white. I'm now throwing a party big enough for a medium-sized Facebook group, but just for myself and I am destroying the entire apartment by running up and down with my phone and keeping the Special Operations Command up to date with voice messages. Then I put the wine glass in the sink and take a sip from the bottle.

 

A few minutes later, my boyfriend texts me that his next plane is overbooked, and he may not be coming along. Overbooked in Corona Times? Is the airline completely nutso? "What else can go wrong?" one of my Command members asks me with a compassionate voice. I reply: "The airport is burning down, my train to Frankfurt is derailing or the plane is broken."

Shortly afterwards, my boyfriend texts again: "The original plane is broken. So now they brought in a smaller one, which is of course overbooked."

Abbot and Costello. The wine bottle is empty, and I put it beside the old glass without comment.

A Prayer to the Universe

The universe puts people together - so it should help!
Sending prayers out at night from my balcony

Somehow, he still makes it into the smaller, unbroken plane. But of course, the new aircraft is now late, which makes the connection in Washington DC very tight. It is 11 PM in Germany as I stare into the colorful lanterns illuminating the darkness of my terrace. It's 77 degrees and I have a lukewarm glass of apple juice in my hand. "Dear moon, dear gods and spirits - help me," I say softly. The Alchemist, a book by Paulo Coelho, says that the universe helps you if you are destined for something and have already done enough preparatory work. "So, do something now," I murmur to the stars.

 

Meanwhile, my boyfriend runs across the airport in Washington, arriving five minutes before the boarding door closes. Until an employee stops him. "To Germany?" she asks, looking at his ticket to Frankfurt. "That's not possible."

"Yes, that's possible. Frankfurt is just for transit," my boyfriend explains. The employee looks clueless and consults with a second person. Together, they calmly look up the current legal situation. Luckily, I'm not there. Heart attack and so on. In the end, my boyfriend makes it into the plane two minutes before the cabin door closes. And he is on its way to Germany. At last.

Reunion with an emotional surge

Reunion of separated couples by the travel ban
The hell with this passport!

Frankfurt. Tuesday, 9 AM. I dance through the security. My boyfriend landed. No one stopped him. He is at the gate waiting for me. I want to shout "Hallelujah!" into the face of the security guy, but I decide that such an action may be somewhat counterproductive. Then I find I still can't shout a “Hallelujah” for a while, because I forgot to take the GPS navigator for our road trip out of my carry-on luggage. The security moppet has sounded an alarm. After unpacking almost all my underwear on the table, we find the satellite navigation device wallowing in the depths of my suitcase and I for a short moment I feel like a pea brain. But it doesn't matter.

 

I spray disinfectant on my hands and run through the lingering scent of a duty-free perfumery to the security checkpoint, where an inspector stares endlessly at my passport. When he nods and gives it back to me, I stumble into a dark aisle and try to figure out where the gates are. I look around rather stupidly and, to top it all off, I note some guy standing in a corner and watching my weird behavior. Suddenly he moves. Towards me. I look up. It is my boyfriend! I drop my suitcase and run. Towards him. I want to hug him and never let go, but I still have my stupid passport in my hand. So, I throw it away. Just like that. It flies across the floor as I jump into the arms of my boyfriend and the happiness rains like wet flakes from the ceiling. For minutes, we just cling to each other as if we cannot believe that it is all real.

Landing in Zagreb with a Happy Ending

Reunion in Croatia, binational couples separated by travel ban, USA, Germany
Finally reunited in Zagreb!

On the flight to Zagreb we sit next to each other. I touch his masked face and grin like a masked Cheshire cat. "I have to do that. I don't think you're real," I whisper. He smiles. With his blue eyes.

In Zagreb, he presents his 2000-year-old corona test. The customs official photocopies it, flies over the passport, stamps it and says, "Welcome to Croatia." No second test. No quarantine. My chin is on the floor. We are free. I hold my boyfriend's hand as we go out of the airport and just walk down the street. Like we were two normal people in a normal world.

 

But we are not. The world is crazy, and we are not far from being crazy ourselves. But if you have some ideas that initially seem a bit crazy, and have a bit of crazy courage, then you can still get quite far, even in this crazy life.

We spend the next four days in Zagreb in a huge Airbnb with a Hawaiian motif on the walls. It seems to be 136 degrees in the shade and we barely go out. That seems to be a bit batty – because now that we can. But after four months without each other, Zagreb's old town can wait a few minutes longer. Because we are now living in the moment. As long as it exists.

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