Covid-19 testing in Berlin has come a long way. As of March 31, all citizens can get one free rapid antigen test per day as part of a nationwide effort to break infection chains and improve contact tracing. Over 150 test centres across the city administer the cost-free Bürgertest, including many pharmacies.
Beyond free testing services and those offered by GP surgeries and designated screening centres, many other places – nightclubs, art galleries, theatres, commercial pop ups – have become established Covid-19 testing hubs where prices range depending on the type of test. But what’s the difference between a PCR test at Berlin’s new airport and an antigen swab at Kitkat? How long does it take, how much does it cost and what do you need to visit Oma or travel to Greece? Here’s what you need to know about the many options available.
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WHAT ARE THE TESTS OUT THERE?
RELIABLE: The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is the gold standard: it’s what countries use to calculate their official coronavirus case numbers. The test involves taking a sample from the nose and throat of a patient, which is then sent to a laboratory to be checked for genetic material of the virus. The PCR is the most accurate test, but laboratory and therefore testing capacity is limited, so you may have to wait several days for the results.
SCHNELL: The antigen – or rapid – test involves taking a sample of a person’s blood or saliva. Instead of being sent to a laboratory, the swab is checked on-site, so results are available in minutes. These tests are plentiful and much cheaper than PCR swabs, but are less accurate. There are particular concerns with how well the antigen test detects infections in their early stages, meaning there is a danger of false negatives.
RETROSPECTIVE: the antibody test identifies if you previously have had Covid. The test involves taking a blood sample which is then tested for antibodies, normally in a lab. Unlike the PCR and antigen tests, this swab doesn’t tell you if you have the virus now. Rather, it tells you if you have had it in the past and recovered. Contrary to some claims, the test is not a reliable indicator of Covid immunity and its usefulness is hotly debated.
WHERE CAN I GET TESTED?
Free weekly rapid tests for all citizens
As of March 8 2021, Berliners are entitled to one free rapid antigen test per week. The aim is to break infection chains and improve contact tracing even in asymptomatic cases, with results usually available in 20 minutes. Anyone with a positive result will be obliged to take a PCR test for confirmation, also free of charge.
You can register for a Bürgertest at over 150 test centres, as listed here by the Berlin Senat.
Most test centres currently require an appointment (as of March 29, 2021).
Private test pop ups
In recent months, dozens of for-profit test centres have popped up across the city, with art galleries and even nightclubs like KitKatClub being repurposed as medical facilities.
Unlike official government centres intended for people with symptoms, anyone can book a paid test at one of these clinics. The swabs they offer are usually rapid antigen tests, with results sent by email or text within minutes. Centres include:
Schnelltest Berlin on Auguststraße in Mitte, Richardstraße in Neukölln, Uhlandstraße in Charlottenburg, Schloßstraße in Steglitz (by appointment or walk-in; €49 for an antigen test, €99 for PCR)
KitKatClub in Mitte (registration required; €24.90 for antigen test)
Kdp Biomed on Moritzplatz in Kreuzberg (by appointment; €39.90 for an antigen test, €79,90 for PCR)
Corona Testzentrum Süd in Lichterfelde (open at weekends for walk-ins; €39.95 for antibody test, €83.20 for antigen test)
Covidtest Berlin at Wellenwerk in Lichtenberg (by appointment; €29.90 for an antigen test)
Berlin-Coronatest.de at Admiralspalast in Mitte (by appointment or walk-in; €40 for an antigen test)
COVID-Testzentrum on Torstraße in Mitte (by appointment; €34.90 for an antigen test, €84.90 for PCR)
Corona-Testzentrum at Westhafen (by appointment; antigen test €39 for the first 100 tested)
Corona-Schnelltest at RiLANA in Mariendorf (by appointment; antigen test €49.90)
Corona-Testzentrum at Café Die Lilie in Kreuzberg (by appointment, antigen test €30)
Coronatest.de at Zoologischer Garten in Charlottenburg, Friedrichstraße in Mitte, Hermannplatz in Neukölln, RAW Gelände in Friedrichshain, Möckernbrücke in Kreuzberg (registration required, antigen test €24.99, PCR €49.99)
Testzentrum Westend in Charlottenburg, (no appointment necessary; free weekly antigen tests for citizens, PCR test €87,48)
Mein Corona Schnelltest at Wriezener Karree in Friedrichshain (by appointment; antigen test €35.90)
Note that, unless otherwise stated, these test centres are intended for people without Covid symptoms (for advice here see “You have symptoms of Covid” below). Legally, Covid tests should only be given by certified medical staff (such as doctors, nurses or paramedics) so you should check that this is the case before booking.
For: people without symptoms who want to be extra safe (e.g. if you are planning to visit vulnerable relatives), contact people without symptoms, travellers who require a test to enter certain countries.
Test type: typically rapid antigen though some offer PCR tests for a premium. A small number of centres offer antibody tests.
Costs: between €25 and €200, depending on test type. Your state health insurance will not reimburse you for the cost of these private tests, though some private insurers might.
Your GP may offer you a test under certain circumstances – the only way to find out is to call your doctor and explain your situation. Do not just turn up at the practice! If you don’t have a GP, Berlin’s Kassenärztliche Vereinigung (medical association) has lists of GPs who offer tests for people with symptoms (free) and people who are returning from a risk country (paid).
For: people with symptoms, people who have had contact with someone with the virus, travellers returning to Germany, people who need a negative test to travel.
Test type: PCR or antigen depending on the GP and circumstance.
Costs: varies depending on test type. If you have symptoms and your GP approves the test, your state health insurer will foot the bill. Otherwise you will have to pay yourself, though some private insurers might reimburse the cost.
BER test centre
The test centre at BER airport offers a PCR test to return travellers and anyone else without symptoms. You can book a slot online and you get your results within 24 hours. And at €69, it’s probably the cheapest PCR test you will find. Note: if you have just landed at the airport it makes little sense to get tested straight away since you are still required to self-isolate for 10 days even if the test is negative (see “I am returning to Germany from a high-risk country”).
For: travellers entering Germany from a risk country, people who need a negative test to travel, other people without symptoms.
Test type: PCR.
Costs: the test costs €69. Your state health insurance will not reimburse you for the cost of this private test; check with private insurers.
State-run screening centres
During the first Corona wave, Berlin’s government set up a network of five screening centres to test people with symptoms of the virus. These centres are not open to the general public: you first have to go through the official channels and be given an appointment (see “You have symptoms of Covid”).
For: people with symptoms who have been referred by the health authority.
Test type: PCR.
Costs: free of charge (covered by state health insurance).
WHAT TO DO WHEN:
You have symptoms of Covid
If you exhibit Covid-19 symptoms, you should go into self-isolation and seek advice over the phone. A private test should not be your first port of call. Instead you should contact:
- Your own GP
- One of the designated Covid GP practices if you don’t have a GP
- The helpline at your local Gesundheitsamt (Health Authority)
- The citywide Corona hotline on 030 90 28 28 28 (8am–8pm)
The latter two services are intended to be multilingual so you should be able to get help in English. Some of the Covid GP practices also let you book a test directly online.
Based on your symptoms and your contact history, the doctor or healthcare worker will decide if you need a test. The procedure varies from case to case, but may mean getting a rapid antigen test first and, if the result is positive, having a PCR test to confirm. These tests are free of charge.
You have had contact with someone who tested positive
If you have had close contact with someone who has tested positive you should self-isolate immediately and follow the same procedure as above. Given limited testing capacity and surging case numbers, you will only be given a free test if you have symptoms. The same applies if you have received a red warning on your Corona-Warn-App.
What counts as close contact? It’s complicated, and ultimately decided by individual Gesundheitsämter. The Robert Koch Institute has come up with three categories of contact as an indication:
Category I: this means having face-to-face contact, such as a conversation or sharing a car with an infected person without a mask for at least 15 minutes with less than 1.5 metres spacing, or spending more than half an hour with the person in a poorly ventilated indoor space. If this applies you have to go into self-isolation and inform the Gesundheitsamt, who may offer you a test.
Category II: this applies if you have had face-to-face contact with an infected person for less than 15 minutes with both of you wearing masks and have not spent more than half an hour together in a poorly ventilated room. If this applies you should “reduce your contact” with other people but there is no explicit self-isolation requirement.
Category III: applies to medical staff who have had contact with an infected person but were wearing personal protective equipment or had contact but at a distance of more than 1.5 metres.
If you have only had indirect contact with an infected person (ie. via another person), you are classified as a “contact person of a contact person” and don’t need to take any immediate action.
Can I go to a private test centre as a contact person? Yes, but only if you do not have symptoms.
You are returning to Germany from a high-risk country
If you are returning to Germany from a high-risk country (see here for a list), you are required to self-isolate for 10 days, even if you don’t have symptoms. Rules on testing have changed: you are no longer explicitly required to get a test as soon as you enter the country, and free testing for passengers arriving at German airports stopped in December 2020.
It is possible to reduce the 10-day quarantine period if you take a test at least five days following your arrival and your result is negative. You can get this test either at the BER test centre or your GP. Alternatively the Kassenärztliche Vereinigung has a list of GPs who offer tests for return travellers. These tests are chargeable.
You are visiting elderly relatives and want to be safe
If you want a test out of caution you can go to a private test centre or certain GPs for a paid test. But beware: a negative test result is no guarantee that you don’t have the virus – particularly in the case of the antigen test. The best way to protect vulnerable people is to minimise contacts in the days before your visit. If you do want to get a test you should book it as close to your visit as possible and isolate afterwards.
You need a negative test for travel or immigration purposes
You can get a test at one of the privately run test centres, at the airport test centre or at some GP practices. If your destination country, transit airport or airline requires you to show a negative result, you should check the requirements before arranging this, since some countries only accept more accurate PCR tests.
Information correct as of March 29, 2021