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Spain braces for German Easter influx as flights boom

The Spanish island of Mallorca was on Tuesday bracing for an Easter influx of sun-starved German tourists, as demand for Mediterranean holidays soared despite virus curbs and warnings from Berlin against foreign travel.

Spain braces for German Easter influx as flights boom
Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute disease control agency removed the Balearic islands from its list of risk areas last weekend, prompting numerous airlines to schedule extra Easter flights to Mallorca — a popular holiday destination among Germans sometimes jokingly called the country’s “17th state”.

“The desire to spend the Easter holidays on the Mediterranean is significantly bigger than expected,” said German tourism giant TUI in a statement Tuesday.

The package holiday provider said that it had received more bookings for Mallorca in recent days than in the same period in 2019, and would be doubling the number of its flights plying the route to the island to 300.

German flag carrier Lufthansa also said Friday it would double flights to Spain during Easter to meet a surge in demand, with three times more connecting Frankfurt and Palma, the capital of Mallorca.

Similar announcements have followed in recent days, with Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings announcing 300 extra flights from Germany to the Balearics and Ryanair adding an additional 200 flights between Germany and Spain over Easter.

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Rising infections

The surge in flights comes as Germany is bracing for a third Covid-19 wave, with authorities saying infections could reach an all-time high by mid-April due to the British variant of the virus.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Germans to refrain from “non-essential” travel but bookings to sunshine destinations have soared.

Easter is traditionally a peak travel period in Spain but the government has imposed a ban on travel between regions to prevent people from heading to their holiday homes on the coast or visit family.

READ ALSO: Will it be possible to go on holiday in Germany over Easter?

The prospect of a boom in German tourism was met with irritation on social media by Balearics residents who will themselves be subject to restrictions on gatherings over Easter.

Yet the regional government’s health councillor Marga Frontera insisted that all tourists will also have to abide by the islands’ coronavirus rules.

“I see that many people are saying that tourists will be able to do things residents can’t. This is not true. Visitors to the Balearic islands are obliged to respect the same rules as residents,” Frontera tweeted.

Spain saw a huge spike in coronavirus infections in January after travel restrictions were eased over Christmas to allow families to get together, but this third wave of infections has since receded.

Foreign tourists can nevertheless continue to arrive at Spanish airports, as long as they provide proof of a negative PCR test for coronavirus carried out within 72 hours of their arrival.

On Tuesday Bavarian state premier Markus Söder also spoke in favour of a coronavirus test requirement for all Mallorca-returnees to Germany.

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IN IMAGES: Spain’s ‘scrap cathedral’ lives on after creator’s death

For over 60 years, former monk Justo Gallego almost single-handedly built a cathedral out of scrap materials on the outskirts of Madrid. Here is a picture-based ode to his remarkable labour of love.

IN IMAGES: Spain's 'scrap cathedral' lives on after creator's death
File photo taken on August 3, 1999 shows Justo Gallego Martinez, then 73, posing in front of his cathedral. Photo: ERIC CABANIS / AFP

The 96-year-old died over the weekend, but left the unfinished complex in Mejorada del Campo to a charity run by a priest that has vowed to complete his labour of love.

Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.

Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” features a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square metres (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still does not have a cover.

He used bricks, wood and other material scavenged from old building sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became better known.

A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A woman prays at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil drums while windows have been cobbled and glued together from shards of coloured glass.

“Recycling is fashionable now, but he used it 60 years ago when nobody talked about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, an engineer and architect with engineering firm Calter.

Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid.
Men work at the Cathedral of Justo on November 26, 2021 in Mejorada del Campo, 20km east of Madrid. Photo: (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the firm to assess the structural soundness of the building, which lacks a permit.

No blueprint

“The structure has withstood significant weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo told AFP, predicting it will only need some “small surgical interventions”.

Renowned British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 — when he came to Spain to collect a prize — telling Gallego that he should be the one getting the award, Arroyo added.

Religious murals on a walls of Justo's cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Religious murals on a walls of Justo’s cathedral. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The sturdiness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder, and he worked without a blueprint.

In interviews, he repeatedly said that the details for the cathedral were “in his head” and “it all comes from above”.

Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Builders work on the dome of the Cathedral of Justo on November 26th. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

The complex stands in a street called Avenida Antoni Gaudi, named after the architect behind Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica which has been under construction since 1883.

But unlike the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral of Justo Gallego as it is known is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship.

Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral's completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
Visit gaze at the stained glass and busts in of the cathedral’s completed sections. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

‘Worth visiting’

Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads Messengers of Peace, wants to turn Gallego’s building into an inclusive space for all faiths and one that is used to help the poor.

“There are already too many cathedrals and too many churches, that sometimes lack people,” he said.

“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social centre where people can come to pray or if they are facing difficulties,” he added.

A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
A photo of Justo Gallego Martinez on display at his cathedral following his passing. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

Father Angel is famous in Spain for running a restaurant offering meals to the homeless and for running a church in central Madrid where pets are welcome and the faithful can confess via iPad.

Inside the Cathedral of Justo, volunteers continued working on the structure while a steady stream of visitors walked around the grounds admiring the building in the nondescript suburb.

“If the means are put in, especially materials and money, to finish it, then it will be a very beautiful place of worship,” said Ramon Calvo, 74, who was visiting the grounds with friends.

FIND OUT MORE: How to get to Justo’s Cathedral and more amazing images

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