On 2 February 2023, after three years, the time has come: Masks are no longer mandatory in both long-distance and public transport in Germany. The pandemic is officially over.
I think back. March 2020. For us, my wife and me, the outbreak of the pandemic brought about great changes.
I had been in Saudi Arabia for six months in an executive role for a chemical company and my wife accompanied me. I loved my role in Jubail and also enjoyed the experiences in Saudi-Arabia, many wonderful moments and the opportunity to learn from a new culture.
We lived, as usual with expats, in a compound. It was only about 100 kilometers to Manama in Bahrain and we had a beautiful secondary residence apartment there, which we used regularly on weekends, or rather wanted to use. The photo shows our view into the setting sun in Manama taken from our apartment in Bahrain.
Then, March 7th. The Saturday trip at the end of the weekend across the border back to Saudi Arabia was only possible for me. My wife was turned away and we had to go back to Bahrain. Saudi Arabia had closed the road borders overnight due to the COVID-19 numbers in Bahrain. With the residence permit (IQAMA) I got through, but not my wife with the family visa.
What to do? In the late afternoon, plans were made and it was decided that my wife would fly back to Germany that night, so she would not stay alone in Bahrain.
I myself drove back to Saudi Arabia on Sunday morning and quickly realized that Germany had been put on the list of high-risk areas. The number of reported COVID-19 cases in Germany increased, but was still below the magic limit of a thousand.
My thoughts: what happens if the borders to Germany (and possibly later also Europe and more) are closed? What if the country is no longer served?
I had created myself a small Excel spreadsheet and followed the increase of the numbers. Although they were low, they doubled every three days. That meant from a thousand to a hundred thousand were just 2 1/2 weeks, if you could not stop the trend. A catastrophe was looming, which was not yet recognized in public life. Hence my concern.
On the spur of the moment, I booked a ticket with Lufthansa to Frankfurt for the following evening, Monday, March 9th. I would take a vacation if necessary or just see how the situation develops. The thought of being separated from my family was unbearable.
On Monday afternoon, I actually received the news that Germany had passed the 1000 mark. From Tuesday on, there should be no more flights in Saudi Arabia to and from Germany.
With wise foresight, I booked a “back-up” ticket to London in case my planned flight to Frankfurt was cancelled on Monday, still. The British Airways flight left about an hour after Lufthansa’s and was therefore a real alternative. In the UK, COVID-19 cases have not yet been recorded so meticulously as compared to Germany. It was at this moment a safe travel destination.
Then to the airport to Dammam. Lufthansa was on schedule, check-in, passport control, lounge. I am good. But the receptionist’s hint, “everything is on schedule, yes, – in sha Allah”, was a hint to me.
And indeed, half an hour before take-off, the flight was cancelled. The Lufthansa plane had to turn around in flight and return to Kuwait because no landing permission was granted. How good that I already had the back-up ticket – the BA flight was otherwise already fully booked – and could fly on this way via London to Frankfurt.
Succeeded. Reunited with my family – and that was the most important thing.
The rest of the story is told quickly. From April, months of home office in Frankfurt was announced. Not the worst variant in this situation. My wife’s visa had expired and the Saudi embassy in Germany had closed. Later, I had to return to Saudi Arabia alone and then serve quarantine time there. We had given up the Bahrain apartment in the meantime. And my vacation periods in Germany were constantly overlaid by quarantine regulations.
I agreed with my employer to terminate the employment relationship for family reasons and returned to Germany at the end of 2021 – earlier than planned. Off to new shores and an exciting new time started.
My learning: In a developing crisis with an exponential growth rate of relevant key figures, one must not decide hesitantly, but must act quickly and think in alternative scenarios. The quick decision to leave Saudi Arabia and the back-up ticket were crucial for me to see my family again quickly and avoid being separated from them for months. I am very grateful for that.
Alternatives for the further career path were the medium-term consequences and this was also a deliberately envisaged scenario.
Don`t get me wrong. I loved my role in Jubail and also enjoyed the experiences in Saudi-Arabia, many wonderful moments and the opportunity to learn from a new culture. Priority number one, however, is my family.