Back to a New Normality

Hans-Peter Pökel

Frankfurt Airport June 16 – On the Way to Beirut

On March 18 2020, together with some colleagues I returned from Beirut to Germany due to the unexpected circumstances that reminded us of the importance of the smallest and even invisible things: the Corona virus had become a pandemic. Our departure took place with high safety measures in preparation of a national lockdown just a couple of hours before the only international airport in Lebanon closed. I was convinced that I would return soon. But I ended up spending more than three months in Berlin, where lockdown measures were just beginning when we arrived.

After several attempts to get a seat on one of the repatriation flights to Lebanon, I finally succeeded to come back to Beirut in June 2020 with the support of the German Embassy in Beirut. As expected, the travel experience was exceptional and surreal. Since my flight was scheduled for Tuesday late night from Frankfurt, I had to arrange for the mandatory Corona-test valid only 72 hours before my arrival in Beirut. Waiting in hope and uncertainty for 24 hours to get the negative result was nerve-wrecking, and I only got the confirmation one and a half hour before my flight was scheduled.

I then rushed to the airport with a mixed feeling of expectation and uncertainty. The Tegel-Airport had changed a lot and looked very different: The entrance was permitted only to a particular terminal that was quite crowded. Wearing a face mask was mandatory in the whole airport and even on the whole flight, which was fully booked, but of course with empty seats to ensure social distancing. Nevertheless, I felt happy because after a long period of self-isolation I found myself surrounded by others who probably had similar experiences.

The airport in Frankfurt gave me a completely different image. Although several terminals were open I walked with some disorientation over long distances without seeing anybody in a place that is normally crowded. After boarding the plane I felt relaxed, and although I was not sure what to expect at my arrival I was looking forward to be back in Lebanon.

We landed in Beirut late at night and I was directly asked at the plane exit to show my negative PCR test. A well-structured procedure of contact details recording by representatives of the Lebanese Ministry of Health followed. Then a young physician surrounded by officials from the Ministry of Health took my temperature before I was finally allowed to head to the regular passport control. We exited the airport through the empty arrival hall that is normally crowded with friends, families and relatives waiting for their loved ones. I had called my trusted taxi driver in advance who picked me up outside and drove through Beirut without any problems during a night curfew. I was incredibly relieved after having finally arrived on June 17 at my final destination to return to the familiarity of my neighborhood. I am spending the time since my return in mandatory self-quarantine for two weeks, which is controlled by the Lebanese Ministry of Health by random telephone calls and personal visits, and I am eager to return to something we now call normality.


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