europe quick trips
Coronavirus day pass program draws crowds to Tuebingen
By KARIN ZEITVOGEL | Stars and Stripes | Published: April 8, 2021
It was the laughter that I noticed first.
It rose above the conversations and clinking of dishes being set down on outdoor tables in Tuebingen’s Marktplatz and made me realize that I’d not heard laughter like this — unreserved and outside — for the better part of a year.
But a two-week-old experiment in Tuebingen, in Germany’s Baden-Wuerttemberg state, was changing that.
In exchange for a negative coronavirus test, which the city was doing for free, I was given a day pass that allowed me to eat at restaurants — but only outdoors — browse clothing and other stores without an appointment, get a haircut or tattoo, and do a number of things I used to do without a lot of advance planning before corona.
I stood in line for about 30 minutes at one of three places on the outskirts of Tuebingen’s old town, where out-of-towners can be tested, before reaching the testing and registration tent.
After someone put a Q-tip up both my nostrils, I got in another line, waited about 10 minutes, and picked up my negative result and treasured day pass — a piece of paper that felt like a ticket to better times. My pass was a slip of paper, but other people had hospital-like bracelets. The process took half an hour, but people have waited in line for two hours for a pass.
A quick walk past the Krumme Bruecke, or crooked bridge, built across the Ammer Canal in 1308 out of crooked planks of oak brought me to the Marktplatz, where I arrived just as the glockenspiel started to play at the top of the hour.
By the Rathaus, which has overlooked the square since 1435, I met two Americans who, like me, had stopped at a vegetable stand to buy kale, which can be hard to find in Germany.
Samantha Mueller and her friend Carla Weidner had come from Stuttgart, about 20 miles away, to “take advantage of the day pass,” Weidner said.
They’d had lunch at a restaurant, gone shopping, and wandered through the old town and up to Hohentuebingen Castle, where they took in the view of the Neckar valley.
“Honestly, we needed to get out,” Mueller said.
“We needed to eat somewhere that wasn’t our kitchen table,” Weidner added.
They paid for their kale as I followed the music from a street performer’s guitar to the steps of the Stiftskirche, which dates from 1470. Many of Tuebingen’s centuries-old buildings are still standing because the city, which has no heavy industry, was of no interest to Allied bombers and survived World War II intact.
In five hours, I walked the entire old town, including part of a monastery that was once the biggest revenue earner in the city, and hiked up to the castle and along the river, where dozens of young people sat atop a 20-foot-high wall, their feet dangling above the water below.
Few had masks on or were social-distancing.
People not respecting the coronavirus rules have been a problem since the day pass program was launched in mid-March, particularly when temperatures rose. On Sunday, March 28, among the thousands of out-of-towners who descended on the city were “relatively young people ... who showed no willingness to respect face mask and distancing rules,” city officials said in a weekly report about the project.
The number of infections in the city rose by 105 in the week ending April 1, three times more than the previous week, according to data posted on Tuebingen district’s website. Out of 36,000 tests conducted under the day pass program, 39, or about one in 1,000, were positive for the coronavirus, data from the city show.
The number of passes for out-of-towners has been limited since Easter and could be lowered further “if the city becomes too full,” officials told Stars and Stripes.
But even without a day pass, Tuebingen offers plenty of sights to see. Supermarkets and takeout places, including ice cream parlors, don’t require day passes, and some restaurants will test those who don’t have a day pass for free.
And sitting in the Marktplatz or by the Stiftskirche, listening to people enjoying themselves as a song by The Police wafts from a street performer’s guitar to your ears, will take you back to a time when joy and laughter filled the town square.
Directions: Tuebingen is about 35 minutes from Stuttgart, two hours from the Kaiserslautern area, 2½ hours from Wiesbaden and 3½ from bases in Bavaria. It’s a short walk from the train station to the old town.
Food: Plenty of restaurants are open for outdoor dining. The Mauganeschtle near the castle offers coronavirus quick tests. They prefer that you make a reservation and cancel if you can’t make it. Online: mauganeschtle.de
Information: There are three coronavirus test sites for out-of-towners: At Kelternplatz, near the Altstadt-Koenig parking lot; at Europaplatz, next to the train station; and by the Neckar Bridge at the tourist office.
People walk past long lines that have formed outside two ice cream shops in Tuebingen, Germany, on March 30, 2021. The city was two weeks into a program that allowed appointment-free shopping and outdoor dining to residents and visitors who tested negative for the coronavirus at test stations set up around the city.
KARIN ZEITVOGEL/STARS AND STRIPES