Snow cripples transport, causes blackouts

Wintry weather hammered Germany on Thursday, as ice and snow snarled rail and road traffic, cancelled flights, and caused power outages in eastern parts of the country.

Snow cripples transport, causes blackouts
Passengers sleeping at the Frankfurt airport on Wednesday night. Photo: DPA

Thousands of people in the counties of Saale-Orla and Saalfeld-Rudolstadt in Thuringia have been without electricity for past 12 hours, according to the energy company EON.

Trees toppling from heavy snow and ice rain ripped down power lines. “We can hardly make it to the areas needing repairs,” said a utility spokesman.

Snowfall and black ice caused transport chaos across much of the country, with the Frankfurt Airport – Germany’s most important hub – closed for several hours overnight.

Click here for photos of Germany’s winter weather.

The worst winter conditions were reported in the states of Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate, Bavarian, Thuringia and Saxony, with closures, delays and accidents reported for roads, trains and air traffic.

Treacherous runways at the Frankfurt Airport forced officials to close it down due to poor visibility and fears that landing planes would be unable to brake properly.

Over 400 flights were cancelled by midday Thursday. “We expect further cancellations and delays,” said Gunnar Schneunemann, spokesman for airport operator Fraport.

Over 3,000 passengers were stranded in the airport’s terminals on Wednesday night, sleeping on piles of their clothing, newspapers and luggage carousels.

“What’s going on here?” asked one stranded businesswoman from Canada. “There’s a little snow on the ground and suddenly everything breaks down.”

Even the sultry heat of Latina superstar Shakira fell prey to winter’s icy grip on Europe – her concert in Frankfurt on Wednesday night had to be cancelled after the singer was trapped in Paris.

Around 700 people had to spend the night at Munich Airport after their flights to Frankfurt were rerouted to the Bavarian capital. An airport spokesman said several flights were cancelled on Thursday morning due to the weather.

More than 200 flights were also cancelled in snowy Berlin on Thursday. The city’s Schönefeld Airport had to shut down completely after it ran out of deicing fluid for the planes. A truck with fresh supplies was reportedly caught in a traffic jam caused by the snow.

Meanwhile felled trees and chunks of ice blocked tracks forced national rail provider Deutsche Bahn to reroute and cancel several routes. Travel between Nuremberg and Leipzig was particularly hard hit.

Two high-speed ICE trains between Berlin and Munich were rerouted because too much snow had gathered on tracks, a spokesperson said.

Deutsche Bahn also issued a general warning of cancellations and delays in the states of Thuringia and Saxony “due to the weather conditions.” In some cases the company has been unable to find enough buses to replace their cancelled services. And road conditions in Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate were so dangerous that bus service was also suspended.

Roads are likely to remain treacherous with up to 20 centimetres of new snow expected in parts of the country on Thursday. Particularly the regions near the Alps and the central mountain ranges will be blanketed. Making matters worse, there will be strong winds at higher altitudes and along the North Sea coast.

Click here for The Local’s weather forecast.


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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?