advice, coronavirus, Germany, Health

How Americans can get COVID-19 legit in Germany via the COVPass app…

Every once in awhile, I try to write blog posts that are genuinely helpful. Today’s post is meant as a service to Americans in Germany, or possibly elsewhere in Europe, who are confounded by the new COVPass app and COVID-19 vaccine certificates. I know a lot of us are in helpful Facebook groups where this information is already available, but for those who aren’t… here’s my story about getting pandemic “legit”.

The COVPass app is compatible with Germany’s EU Digital COVID Certificate, which will make it valid in participating EU countries. Since many countries will require proof of vaccination, proven recovery from COVID-19, or a negative PCR test before you can visit, I highly recommend getting the certificates and the app if you can– especially if you plan to travel.

Edited to add on June 26th: The Corona Warn app is also acceptable for uploading the certificates. I just downloaded that app using my new German iTunes account, and I think I actually like it better than COVPass. It offers more functionality, such as warning of high infection rates, creating QR codes for events, and uploading tests. But for the purpose of uploading certificates, both apps work fine.

Edited to add October 7, 2021: I understand that the COVPass app is now available in the US Apple Store. I haven’t tried to download it, since I already have the app from the German store. This development should make things much easier for Americans, though.

A couple of weeks ago, I read an interesting article on The Local: Germany about 50 year old John Camp, an American guy in Cologne who had gotten a COVID vaccine in the United States. When he got back to Germany with his white CDC vaccine card, he found that 8 out of 10 of German officials didn’t want to recognize it. Camp was significantly inconvenienced, because when he’d show the white CDC card– say when he wanted to eat at a restaurant or visit a gym– the locals would balk at accepting it because the CDC card is in English and lacks official stamps.

A screenshot of a trusty German Impfbuch (vaccination book). You can get one of these at a doctor’s office, pharmacy, or Amazon.de, among other places.

If you were to get your vaccine locally, you would get a yellow booklet (Impfbuch) that can be stamped. I got a very similar yellow booklet years ago, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. I probably still have it somewhere in storage. It’s an internationally recognized document put out by the World Health Organization. Why the US isn’t also using the yellow booklet, I don’t know. In any case, if you’re American and you get your shot(s) on a military installation or at home in the States, you’ll get a white card instead of a yellow booklet. That can be problematic in some areas of Germany or other parts of Europe, especially where there aren’t a lot of Americans.

German officials at the Robert Koch Institut have introduced the COVPass app, which allows users to upload their vaccine info into smartphones. That makes it easier to prove vaccination status without having to carry a paper around everywhere. The problem is, the German app is only available in the German iTunes store or on Google Play (for Android users). Additionally, it can be accessed from the HUAWEI app gallery.

As an American, I have a US iTunes account. I don’t have an Android phone, and the HUAWEI app gallery proved to be utterly useless. Nevertheless, I managed to get the app loaded and functional last night. So here’s the step by step process on how I went about getting COVID-19 legit. This could work for you, too.

Step 1. I found a pharmacist to issue the official certificates with the QR code by searching the My Pharmacy Manager database for participating pharmacies.

According to the article in The Local: Germany, not all pharmacies are participating in issuing the COV-Pass QR codes at this time. Some pharmacies don’t have the system working yet, and others are apparently opting out (per the article dated June 14th– that may have since changed). So I used the pharmacy manager database to locate a participating pharmacy near me.

Step 2. Bill sent an email in German to a local pharmacist.

This is probably an unnecessary step for anyone living in an area where there are a lot of Americans. We only did it because in the article about John Camp, the American in Cologne, it mentioned that he went to six different pharmacies before he found one that could help him get certified with his American credentials. Now, this was a few weeks ago, and he’s in Cologne, which isn’t loaded with American residents. Things might have changed significantly since that article was written. But we didn’t have the time or inclination to go hunting for a pharmacy that could help us, so we pre-emptively asked the pharmacist if our American CDC cards would be a problem before we visited.

Bill only asked the pharmacist if she would recognize the CDC card because of the article I read. John Camp had explained that one of the SIX pharmacists he visited could make certificates, but would not recognize his Pfizer vaccine. This was because the US vaccine name “Pfizer” wasn’t listed in the drop down menu of available vaccines on the program the pharmacists are using. Even when Camp tried to tell the German pharmacist that the Pfizer shot is the same product as the locally named BioNTech vaccine, it was still a “no go”. So our pre-emptive email to the local pharmacist was simply to save us time and aggravation. This probably wouldn’t be an issue with the Moderna shots, which are named the same in Europe as they are in the States.

We went to Heidelberg last weekend, and knew we’d need our certificates for our trip. So, after we found a participating pharmacist in nearby Wallau, Bill sent her an email in German, which also wasn’t necessary since she was fluent in English. Bill explained that we’re U.S. citizens who live in Wiesbaden and we got our Moderna vaccines on post. He asked the pharmacist if she would recognize the CDC card. The pharmacist responded that it was no problem.

Step 3. Bill dropped off our paperwork at the participating pharmacy.

In our case, it took a couple of days to get the certificates made. That’s because on the day we requested them, the system crashed, as a whole lot of people were trying to access it at the same time. You probably won’t have to drop off your paperwork like we did. You’ll likely get same day service. However, I recommend bringing copies of the CDC card, in case you do get snagged by a system crash or some other unforeseen issue.

Don’t leave the actual card with the pharmacist; treat it like you would treat any other important document. The pharmacist we had was willing to make copies for us, but your mileage may vary. It’s probably best to be prepared with your own copies.

I didn’t have to be present when Bill dropped off the copies of our CDC cards. We also didn’t need our passports, although some people have said they’ve needed them. I suggest making a copy of the front page, just in case you run into a more anal retentive pharmacist than we did. You also might want to arrange to get the certificates a few days before a scheduled trip to allow for any extra time needed due to system crashes, logistical hassles, uptight officials, or other SNAFUs.

Step 4. Bill picked up our certificates with the QR codes.

Again, I didn’t have to be present. You may want to plan for a wait. When we got our certificates, there was a line of people standing outside of the pharmacy, either to get the certificates or pick up medications.

The pharmacist gave us each two certificates— one for each vaccine. If you don’t manage to get the app, you can also show the paper certificates.

Step 5. I made a new Apple ID basing my location in Germany.

Right now, the German COVPass app isn’t available in the US iTunes store. I couldn’t easily switch my account to Germany, because I have unfinished subscriptions on Apple TV. If you don’t have unfinished Apple TV subscriptions, you can just change your account to Germany without making a new ID.

I couldn’t use Google Play because that only works for Android phones. So, what I did was make a new Apple ID. There are lots of articles on how to accomplish this technological feat. Here’s a link to instructions directly from Apple Support, although these aren’t the instructions I used.

It did take awhile to set up the new ID, and it was a bit of a pain in the ass to do it, mainly because the new ID wanted my billing information. Since I am an American in Germany, I have US credit cards and a US billing address, even though I have a German physical address. Not all Americans have this problem, because some have wisely set up German bank accounts. Alas, Bill didn’t listen to me when I suggested that he do that in 2014, so I frequently run into the address discrepancy issue.

Usually, using PayPal solves the address discrepancy problem, but that wasn’t the case last night. Apple recognized my APO address through PayPal, and would not let me input my German phone number with the American address. Eventually, I just made the account without the payment info and used an old US phone number. It still let me keep my German location. Since this app doesn’t cost anything, it doesn’t matter. I probably wouldn’t want to buy anything from German iTunes anyway.

You may want to be near your other computer devices as you’re making a German iTunes account. I had to use my iPad to get codes and confirm my identity on the phone. That’s another reason it took time. Yes, it was a pain in the ass– all in the name of security.

Step 6. Once I had the German iTunes account, I downloaded the COVPass app.

This was super easy.

It’s finally on my phone!

Step 7. I aimed the QR reader through the COVPass app at the QR code on each of the certificates made by the local pharmacist.

Again… super easy! My phone immediately recognized the codes and I was gratified to see all of my info loaded into the phone. This will make traveling a whole lot easier! Hopefully, as Americans start coming back to Europe, the white CDC cards will be less of an issue. But, until then, the official app is a huge help.

Success! On the next page is the special QR code generated just for me.

Now that I have this app on my phone, I won’t need to carry the certificates with me, although I probably will. I have a tendency to dump stuff in my purse where it stays until I buy a new one. Since my current handbag is an expensive Harris Tweed number I bought in Scotland, I probably won’t be cleaning out my purse anytime soon. But this app will certainly make things easier for those who prefer to travel light.

One other note— once I got the app and uploaded my certificates through the QR reader, I didn’t need to keep my iTunes account set to Germany. I switched back to my US account and the app is still accessible and works as expected. How convenient!

Hopefully, this process will become even more streamlined in the weeks to come and you won’t need to follow as many steps as I did. In the meantime, I hope this guide is helpful! Wishing you happy, plentiful, and safe COVID-19 travels!

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coronavirus, dogs, Health

First Moderna shot down…

We had truly weird weather yesterday. It’s early May, but yesterday, it was downright cold and windy, with scattered showers and even a brief hailstorm. In the United States, hailstorms are kind of unusual; or, at least they were unusual in the areas where I lived. Here in Germany, we seem to get them a lot, especially in the spring, when the weather gets really bipolar. As you can see from the featured photo, we had some ominous skies yesterday. It made for some dramatic landscapes, though none as dramatic as down near Stuttgart. I do miss it down there sometimes, but mainly because parts of it really are stunningly beautiful. I could probably get some of the same views by heading west.

When I was a child, I remember the temperatures were noticeably cooler for most of the year. Hell… even when we were in Germany the first time, from 07-09, I remember the winters were longer and snowier. But the weather is different now… I couldn’t complain about global warming yesterday, though, as I stood in line for my first Moderna shot. As you can see from the photos, people were bundled up. I think the post in Wiesbaden is windier and chillier anyway, since it’s on a hill. It’s weird wearing a jacket in May when you come from the southern United States.

Bill thought my appointment was at 1:30pm, but it was actually at 1:45. I got a reminder email yesterday, but I must have missed the time on it, which figures, since Bill is the one who booked them. No matter… things were moving along pretty well when we got there. I checked in, stood in line at what used to be the “strip mall” on post in Wiesbaden before the latest PX was built, and through a very well orchestrated system, got my injection. It was surprisingly easy. The shot didn’t hurt at all. In fact, I barely felt it. After I got the shot, I easily made an appointment for the the next one by using my phone. Today, there’s a very mild soreness, minor swelling, and an oval of redness around my injection site, but so far, other than that, I have had no ill effects.

I have an appointment to get the second shot on June 9th, which is just before my next birthday. I won’t be quite at two weeks post inoculation on the day itself, but a few days after I turn 49, I should be considered fully vaccinated. Maybe that means a big trip down to Stuttgart, so we can finally see the dentist again. While I’d rather go somewhere more interesting and exciting, we do need to do a quick trip so Noyzi can get acquainted with the lady who takes care of the boys when we travel. I don’t think Noyzi will have any problems. He spent most of his first two years in boarding down in Kosovo. Still, it’s good to do a quick test run, just to make sure there won’t be any serious issues. We need to get him a European Pet Passport, too. We have one for him, but it’s from Kosovo, and Kosovo is not in the European Union. I don’t think we’ll be traveling much with him, since he’s so big, but it’s always good to have the passports. It makes things easier for the Tierpensions, too.

I feel kind of privileged to have my first shot. The vaccines are still kind of slowly rolling out here, and a lot of Germans are languishing without access to the shots. I’ve read that a lot of what is available is the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is worrisome for some people due to its association with blood clots. But the risk is probably minimal in the grand scheme of things.

Anyway… I’m glad to finally be on the road to being vaccinated against COVID-19. The shot may not prevent me from getting sick, but it will probably help make things safer and more normal. I have really had my fill of being locked down, even if I have gotten pretty good at playing “Redemption Song” on my guitar. It’s time to enjoy living again, and the more people who get the vaccine, the sooner that can happen.

Of course… for now, I get to sit here alone and ponder things. Bill is on yet another long ass TDY and will be gone for most of May. He left yesterday, after we got my first shot, and will not be home until May 22nd. A few days after that, he’ll get his second shot. Hopefully, the TDY schedule will ease up… because he hasn’t had a break in ages and is a bit burned out. And both of us could use a change of scenery that doesn’t involve work. It’s bad enough that seriously, I would welcome a visit to Stuttgart so we can see Dr. Blair. We’ll go stay at our favorite Stuttgart area hotel… or maybe we’ll try another property. At least it will be a break from the neighborhood! I never thought I’d wish for a dental cleaning for my birthday!

Edited to add: A couple of days ago, I saw something very German while I was walking the dogs. A guy who looked like Barry Manilow circa 1978 was roller blading down the main drag of our village while pushing a baby carriage. He was really moving out, too. I was impressed by his blading AND parenting skills, getting his kid out for some fresh air. It reminded me of when we lived in Pfäffingen, during our first Germany experience. There was a guy there who I would see every day in a reclining bike/wheelchair, using his arms to haul ass down the street. It was a most inspirational sight, because I don’t think the guy had use of his legs, yet I could tell he was very fit. I wish I were as active as some of my German neighbors are.

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coronavirus, weather

It’s May… and so far, it might as well be March.

Here’s a quick post to update the travel blog. Right now, things are still pretty much locked down in Germany. Our local Rewe has a new policy to limit people in the store to 40 at a time. They enforce this by only putting out forty shopping carts. Since shoppers have to use a cart to purchase anything, that’s supposedly how they’re going to keep the number of patrons low.

I’m scheduled to get my first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine tomorrow. It’s supposed to be the Moderna shot, which means that in 28 days, I have to go back and get the other one. Bill gets his second shot the day before the Memorial Day weekend starts. Ordinarily, we would be going somewhere fun for Memorial Day weekend, but I suspect he’ll be on his back, recovering.

There’s still a lot of news about Europe reopening to vaccinated travelers, or those who can show a negative PCR test. I still think it’s crazy for people to want to visit Europe right now, since so few locals have been vaccinated. I don’t know how they’re going to make a visit here worthwhile. Will museums, shops, and restaurants be open? Maybe, if the infection numbers decrease… but people will probably have to make appointments and wear masks. I know a lot of people don’t mind wearing a mask, but personally, I hate them. I find them uncomfortable and inconvenient, and seeing a bunch of people walking around in them gives me the creeps. Sorry… I know that’s not the politically correct attitude to have, but it’s how I feel. As long as I comply with the rules, I think I should be able to state out loud that I think the rules suck and I hope they change at some point.

Anyway… it’ll be interesting to see what summer brings for us. I look forward to getting the vaccine, although I hope it doesn’t make me feel too icky. After I get my shot, Bill will be off to Bavaria again for about 17 days, like he did in March. Once again, it will suck for me, but at least the weather might be better. Or will it?

Today is May 4th. We’re well into springtime. But it’s cold and rainy outside, and as of about 9:00am, it’s a nice toasty 53 degrees. I think after I’m done blogging, I might just go back to bed and finish my latest book so I can review it and move on to the next one. Today is a good day for reading… and maybe making homemade soup!

Seriously… I would love to be traveling right now, but I miss it the way it was a couple of years ago. Right now, things are still just too weird. But I’m going to do my part and get the shots. I’ve got no problem with it. And hopefully, the weather will improve and maybe I’ll want to go sit in the garden… or walk the dogs… or daydream about our next adventure. I really feel glad that we were here for a few years before COVID-19 struck. I feel sorry for people who moved to Germany as the virus was hitting us. I remember it took us months to travel when Bill and I lived in Germany the first time. I later kicked myself for not getting out more, and made a point of seeing Europe when we moved back. Now, I’m back to sitting on my ass.

Ah well… hopefully, more people will get their shots and we can have some fun again soon. I would settle for a trip to the Kaiser-Friedrich Theme, our local mineraltherme (nude), so I can get some relief for my aching joints.

Today’s featured photo is of something I hope to see again soon… road signs!

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