My Berlin-Istanbul Business Trip During The Covid-19 Pandemic

“There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path”.

Before the pandemic it was quite easy to fly from Berlin to Istanbul. I booked a flight and a hotel and go. But now? There were many things to think about.

The post-lockdown era in Berlin

After a few months of the “tissue soft lockdown” in Berlin, lots of homework and an amazing caveman life, I had to realize that I couldn’t solve all my business problems through the phone or email or zoom anymore. For some of my problems I needed to stand up and leave my cave.

“Decision Taken And Go?”

No, never too many things to think about before

Covid-19 and me

I mean, we have a pandemic and like many people, I too, was scared to get an infection. And the more I read about it, the more I was scared. For example, one of the last findings, why blood type A is a risk group and not B?!!!

I even prepared my own individual covid-19 risk factors list which I used from time to time desperately to convince my daughter that I am in “danger”. I asked her to mark the factors which she might have, and I might have. Obviously, she had none  and I had all of them.

What the media is saying

But at the end nothing helped, I had to fly, so I started my research. First I researched a lot in the German, international and Turkish media. But the more I read the more I became insecure. All is ok or all is not ok. So, I called my friends.

What my friends are saying

What the German Department of Foreign Affairs is saying

Turkey was and still is among 130 countries for which the German Department of Foreign Affairs has issued a travel warning.

Which means the following:If I made it to Istanbul and came back, I had to stay two weeks at home in a quarantine.

But there was an exception. If I wanted to avoid this, I had to bring:

  • A negative covid-19 Test, not older than 48 hours from a certified WHO laboratory* wtf?
  • And an attest from a doctor that I am free of any covid-19 symptoms (this I learned later)

*Well try to find this information on the WHO website. I spend hours in the internet and official websites but couldn’t find anything. At the end I gave it up and assumed that all laboratories which perform covid-19 Tests in Turkey are certified.

Health Insurance?!?

If anything happened during my trip, my health insurance wouldn’t cover the costs. And I saw myself already lying weeks in a hospital at breathing machines and later getting a big bill to be paid.

Most important question ever: Where can I get tested for covid-19 in Istanbul?

This took a longer research. And I relied again on my Friend Hasan “Akin, don’t worry, we will manage this for you, we are making regular tests in our company!”. But then I found a few articles in the news saying “Passengers at the New Istanbul Airport can get tested for  covid-19 directly at the airport for around 15 Euros (In Berlin it would cost me 127 Euros). The test results can be sent via email or you can get a printout in English and Turkish after two hours!”. Just wow! I was so impressed by this, that I thought “I have now enough options where I can get tested before I fly back. Problem solved!”. But what if my test result would be positive, shit  – what then? I faded this out.

Booking a flight and hotel was much harder than expected

After my research I mustered the courage and booked finally my flight with Turkish Airlines. Ok let me confess, I took the business class. Because I couldn’t get the pictures out of my head showing planes with every row fully seated with people wearing masks and impatiently waiting to get out. That was a horror scenario for me. And you know, Business Class people even think, that they would survive a plane crash.

But the hotel became a problem. The Soho House hotel, where I used to stay normally was in contradiction to my friend’s statement . It was closed and would open again in August. The Airbnb I used to stay had warm water problems and so on. Well, finally I found this Pera Palace Hotel which had accommodated famous people like Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Mata Hari, Ernest Hemingway and many more. Now it would accommodate me 😉

The Airport In Berlin

Terminal halls full of SARS-CoV-2 viruses

Oh my god! Aerosols

After reading about the “aerosols” it was always an oppressive feeling to spend longer time with people inside. So, I avoided this and met only people outside. But, at the airport I wouldn’t be able to avoid this for many hours. Don’t underestimate this situation, Einstein is right, time is relative.

The German Police, your friend and helper

Germany is known for its discipline, order and perfect execution of the rules (ha ha). So, I thought the policeman at the passport control will give me all the information I needed for my return.

  • Me: “After I have got tested for covid-19, do you want to see it when I come back?”
  • Policeman: “No, we don`t check this!”
  • Me: “So, who is checking this then?”
  • Policeman: Hhmm, we give you the information from the public health office and you have to call them.”
  • Me: “That’s it? What if I don’t call them?”
  • Policeman: “Well honestly, I don’t think that we can check it if you really stay in your apartment for the two weeks quarantine. “

I thanked the policeman for his honesty and was shocked about the poor execution of what was written so strictly on the website of German Department of Foreign Affairs

Up In The Air

A big tube with many people, potential serial killer viruses and me

The magic with the air in a plane

Well, I read a lifesaving article how the air is circulated in a plane. At each row the air is vacuumed directly up and then goes magically out of the plane or through some super filters and/or the new air is taken from outside and so on. Something like that.  So, basically what I breath out will never reach another person and vice versa. And we always have fresh air. If it’s true, it’s cool. If not, eh fade out.

Everyone has his own covid survival strategies

A friend of mine and his family were also flying to Turkey for holidays (brave guys). And, guess what we were starting to talk about? Of course, covid and safety in a plane. Well everyone knows something 🙂

After we got our “covid packs” (masks and disinfectant tissues) from the cabin crew my friend immediately started to clean the seats. Good idea, I thought, and did the same. When the cabin crew told us “it was already done by the cleaning team” he stopped. Well, I didn`t, just to be sure you know.  Then he told me that a person he knows is a frequent flyer, even nowadays, and that he opens always the air condition above him in the plane. So, he started to open all of them and told his wife and kid to do the same. Of course, I did the same, too. After we all felt safe, I fell asleep till the plane landed. And yes, we were all wearing masks.

Info: you need to fill out a small covid-19 form and hand it to the police when you are at the passport control.

In Istanbul

My Friend Hasan is a liar, but Turkey is taking it damned serious

Arriving at the Istanbul Airport

The halls are SOOO huge and there were SOOO few people at the airport that even the sars-cov-2 viruses will get lost there. No chance that even one of them could get into my nose. And I had a mask. So, no chance.

While I was walking to the passport control, I thought about the economic damages of this pandemic. For example, the New Istanbul Airport was built to become the biggest hub in the world. Now, no one was “hubbing” from here to somewhere. Most of the passengers were Turkish People from Europe, brave enough to come to holiday. But what about after this time? Horrible scenarios came to my mind, but the rumbling of my stomach stopped me from thinking further and I started to look where I could get a sandwich, but besides one duty free shop everything was closed. Maybe it was Sunday or because there were not enough clients.

Hasan, my “come to Istanbul, no problem here” friend was picking me up

Well the man who told me that everything is “super cool” was much more scared than I was. Cleaning his hands every two minutes with disinfectants, wearing a mask in the car and everywhere. Everyone in his company, who wanted to have a meeting with him needed a covid-19 negative test result, and so on.  I realized he tricked me a little bit, so that I came to Istanbul. Which at the end was not the worst idea by the way.

Stephen King would have loved my hotel

The Pera Palace Hotel was built in 1892. The famous Orient Express used to stop here. Many famous people had stayed here. Some rooms are named after them. But I was nearly the only guest in the hotel and at night it felt a bit like in the Shining movie. But it was definitely cool and worth staying there.

Get a driver and a car, you won`t regret it

Well, normally I use a cab in Istanbul, the metro or I walk. But this time I didn’t want to risk anything. So, I booked a car with a driver. It cost me half of the price of what I normally pay for cabs in Istanbul.

Having open-air meetings

Most of the people are doing their work from home. But they also have a few working days in their companies. So, basically 80 % of the staff is not there. I made most of my meetings outside the buildings and managed to have around 15 appointments in five working days.

Hands up before you enter somewhere

Any restaurant, bar or other place you want to enter they are checking your temperature. There are also masks and disinfectants at the entrances. In many places waiters are wearing masks and also face shields, too.

But my question was: what would happen if they measured that I had fever?

I asked the doorman at my hotel:

  • Me: “What happens if I have fever now?”.
  • Doorman: “If it’s high, like 38 degrees, we have to call the ambulance and they will take you to the hospital”.
  • Me: “And then?”
  • Doorman:” You will get checked and they will test you for covid-19.”
  • Me: “And if my result is positive?”
  • Doorman: “Then you can’t come back to the hotel”.
  • Me: “Shit!”

I saw myself desperately calling my friends in Istanbul “Eh, sorry I have a covid-19 infection, can I stay two weeks in your house?”. Even if Turkish people are known for their eternal hospitality, I guess I wouldn’t be very successful. So, don’t get infected.

Not wearing a mask is getting fined

It costs you 900 Lira (120 Euro) if they catch you without wearing a mask on the streets. And there are policemen in civil clothes who are checking this. So, don’t risk this even if you see many people trying to do so.

Allover it felt quite ok in Istanbul and I would come back. Just seeing so many empty streets, closed shops, restaurants and hotels in this huge 15 Million people’s town felt a bit weird. Compared to Istanbul, Berlin felt and looked totally normal.

Flying Back

Where Reality And Theory Go In Opposite Ways

Back at the airport in Istanbul

I came a few hours earlier because of the covid-19 test I wanted to have. And I calculated my stay inside the airport: three hours in the terminal plus around three hours in the plane and plus maybe one hour at the arrival in Berlin. Makes in total 6-7 hours wearing a mask. I became nervous.

Check-in or not to check-in, this is here the question. 

The first surprise started with the check-in:

  • The lady at the counter said: “I can`t take your luggage, you first have to have a covid-19 test.”
  • Me: “Well it wasn’t written anywhere”.
  • Lady:” Well, it’s the rule”.
    While we were talking another employee approached us and told the lady,
  • Man: “For Berlin, you don’t need it”.
  • Lady: “But yesterday it was required”.
  • Man: “Today not anymore”.

Ok good for me, so she took my luggage and I went to have the test.

But isn’t this confusing? I mean yesterday yes, today no. So many different things and changing constantly. Later I asked this my friend in Berlin, who has been working for nearly twenty years for THY. He denied that there is any rule like that.

 

The covid-19 test at the New Istanbul Airport

But now to the most crucial part of my journey. When I arrived at the test point, which is quite easy to find thanks to the many signs showing you the way, there was a short waiting queue.

So, here is the procedure:

  • Step 1: Buy a barcode and get registered. Turkish citizens pay 110 YTL (15 Euro), foreign citizens pay 210 YTL (28 Euro).
  • Step 2: then get tested.
  • Step 3: If you want or need a printed result you have to wait many hours. On my day it was around five hours, but I didn’t need one. Some people had the test a day before and came back, to pick up the result.

This sounds ok, right? If there weren’t a big BUT. And that is Step 1. The registration and payment procedure takes too long. For around 30 people they needed around 1 ½ hour! And they only take cash (also bank transfer, but forget that). So, have enough cash in your pocket when you enter the queue. My personal recommendation is, get tested in a hospital downtown and also get your attest from a doctor.

The smear-test or giving something from my brain fluid

Here is the short version: It takes only 10 seconds.

The longer story comes now, skip it if you don’t watch horror movies. Well, when I am waiting a longer time in a queue, I like chatting with others. So, I made some acquaintances while waiting. After we finally got our barcodes, we went to the nurses who would take the smear. The waiting time is really short there because they do their job very quickly and are quite efficient, maybe a bit too much so. Every time when people completed their tests, they were in pain holding their hands on their noses and sometimes we heard painful sounds like “ahh, oohh” … We got scared, damn it’s like waiting to be slaughtered. There were two nurses, one older man and an older woman. In our fantasies the man turned into a butcher and the woman into a witch. Finally, it was my turn and the “witch” would be my torturer. First in the mouth and throat and then really deep in the nose, so deep that I felt she took samples of my brain fluid. “Arggg!” After 10 seconds she said “geçmiş olsun” and the witch turned back into a nice caring old woman.

Back In Berlin

I am 100 % sure that the second wave will come, read why

The first shock started with the passport control

I remembered what the policeman said to me when I was leaving Berlin, that they will give me a paper or inform me about our civil obligation because we are coming back from a country with a travel warning. Nothing happened. I even could pass through the electronic passport control. And half of the passengers, too. I thought, they will at least stop us, when we are through, but no, that was it. I was in. And nobody told me anything.

That shouldn’t have been so easy

I mean, why did they create and write all those rules on their website? Why it was all in the news? And now this! I was so shocked that I started to talk with others who were waiting for their luggage, too. Also, nothing. I asked them if they would call the Health Department (Gesundheitsamt). Most of them denied this “I am not sick, why should I? I don’t want to get registered or stay two weeks at home for nothing. I have work”.

WOW! There are hundred thousands of people now on holiday somewhere in Europe. And they all will come back. And with this poor control there will be definitely people coming back with an infection.

Epilogue

When you lose your faith

Taking it seriously and calling my local Public Health Office (Gesundheitsamt)

After a few rings a woman answered the phone. Wow! very quick, I thought. After a registration process of my personal data here is the summary:

  • Woman at the Phone: “Did you have a quick test or a normal?”
  • Me Thinking: Well what is quick, what is normal? Nobody told me anything and there is nothing about it on any official site. So, I thought, I had a normal one.
  • Woman at the Phone: “Keep your test with you and show it if you are asked about it!”
  • Me Thinking: Funny, I can’t imagine that the police in Berlin is running around and asking random people “eh sorry, did you come back from Turkey a few days ago, can I see your covid-19 test?” (lol).
  • Woman at the Phone: “Do you have an attest from a doctor that you are free of any covid-19 symptoms?”
  • Me Thinking: Ok I had to confess I had no attest, but I also had no symptoms.
  • Woman at the Phone: “Please go and get the attest and then send all of it to us via email”.

So, I did the next day and now I am carrying the attest and the covid-19 test result with me. Who is doing that, too?

After I told the woman that the German police at the passport control didn’t inform half of the passengers because they used the electric passport gates and that in my opinion most of the people wouldn’t call the health offices, she was angry and desperate at the same time.

I am finishing this article with her words “But it’s a pandemic, it’s very serious, it’s their civil obligation, they are a risk for others, they will harm others and they will get fined!”

PS: I was in Istanbul from 13.07 to 19.07.2020