Snowstorm snarls road and air traffic

Snow and ice in Germany caused hundreds of accidents, lengthy traffic jams and dozens of flight delays on Monday, as meteorologists forecast frigid temperatures and a possible storm surge along the coast.

Snowstorm snarls road and air traffic
Photo: DPA

The storm hit the southern part of the country particularly hard, and some 30 centimetres of snow had already covered parts of the Black Forest in the state of Baden-Württemberg.

The wintry weather created treacherous driving conditions with ice and limited visibility. Several people were injured in auto accidents, and road closures created a 20-kilometre long traffic jam on the A81 motorway.

Traffic was also hindered in Bavaria, where slippery conditions caused cars and trucks to spin off course, blocking lanes and creating pile-ups, police said.

At Munich Airport some 133 flights had been cancelled by midday, with about 100 others delayed by an hour or more. The Frankfurt Airport also saw 60 takeoffs and landings crossed off their schedules, a spokesperson said. Other passengers at airports across the country were told to expect delays of up to 90 minutes as snow continued to fall.

Weather-related problems also snarled traffic in eastern Germany. Several trucks jack-knifed on icy roads in the state of Saxony, creating long traffic jams and a complete standstill on the A72 motorway between Hartenstein and Plauen, officials said. Some 68 accidents and three injuries were reported in the Erzgebirge region alone.

Two highways in the state of Thuringia were also closed due to accidents, and in Saxony-Anhalt 54 accidents were reported in just three hours, a police spokesperson said.

In the Harz Mountains near where the two state borders meet some truck drivers were reportedly forced to abandon their vehicles due to icy conditions, police said.

The region already saw heavy snowfall last week, and on Monday officials measured some 70 centimetres on the Brocken, the highest peak in the range.

Winter has Germany firmly in its icy grips as the first day of meteorological winter December 1 approaches, with temperatures well below zero everywhere except the northern coast and the Upper Rhine region, the German Weather Service (DWD) reported.

But lows are expected to sink to even chillier depths by Friday, when nighttime temperatures could reach a paralysing -20 degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile uncomfortably brisk gale force winds could reach up to 85 kilometres per hour along the northern seacoast, where the DWD also issued a storm flood warning.

On Tuesday sea levels are expected to reach 1.2 metres above normal, the BSH federal maritime office said from its headquarters in Rostock.


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Reader question: Is it ever too hot to work from home in Germany?

Germany has regulations on working during a heatwave - but does that also apply to people who work remotely? We take a look.

Reader question: Is it ever too hot to work from home in Germany?

The number of people working from home shot up during the Covid pandemic, and though employees no longer have the right to work remotely by law, many have chosen to stick with more flexible arrangements and set up a home office at least part of the week.

This is great news for people who enjoy a lie-in more than a long commute, but there are some downsides. One major issue is that it’s not always clear how Germany’s strict employee protection rules actually apply in a home setting. The rules for working during a heatwave are a good example of this.

How does Germany regulate working in extreme heat? 

By law in Germany, employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for their workers. This means that they should try and keep the temperature below 26C at all times and are legally obliged to take action if the temperature goes above 30C. 

That could include putting blinds on the windows to prevent the glare of the sun, installing air conditioning systems or purchasing fans. In some cases – such as outdoor manual labour – it could also involve starting and finishing earlier in the day. 

And in really high temperatures, employers may simply decide to call the whole thing off and give their employees a ‘hitzefrei’ day – basically a heat-induced day off – to go and cool down in a lake. However, business owners are generally given free rein to decide how hot is too hot in this instance (except in the case of vulnerable workers). 

READ ALSO: Hitzefrei: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

Do the heat rules apply to ‘home office?’

Unfortunately not. In most cases in Germany, the company isn’t directly involved in setting up the workspace for an employee that works from home, aside from possibly providing a laptop or phone for remote use. 

“The occupational health and safety regulations regarding room temperature do not apply in this case,” labour law expert Meike Brecklinghaus told German business publication T3N. “This is because the employer does not have direct access to the employee’s workplace and in this respect cannot take remedial action.”

That means that on hot days, it’s the employee’s own responsibility to make sure the environment is suitable for working in. 

woman works from home in Germany

A woman works in her living room at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Naupold

One duty employers do have, however, is to instruct their workers about the best way to set up a healthy work environment at home, for example by giving guidance on how to regulate the temperature. 

“In the end, it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain his or her workplace in a condition in which he or she can perform his or her work without the threat of health impairments,” Brecklinghaus explained.

What can home office workers do in hot weather?

There are plenty of ways to keep flats cooler in the summer months, including purchasing your own fan, keeping curtains or blinds drawn and ventilating the rooms in the evening or early morning when the weather is cooler.

However, if heat is really becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to communicate this to your employer. This is especially important if you have a health condition that makes it more dangerous to work in hot weather. 

In some cases, you might be able to negotiate for the employer to pay for the purchase of a fan or mobile air conditioner as goodwill gesture. If possible, you could also arrange to travel to the office where the temperature should be better regulated.

Another option for early birds or night owls is to arrange more flexible working hours so you can avoid sweltering at your desk in the midday sun, although this of course depends on operational factors. 

READ ASO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?