Storm Herwart kills three, brings chaos to German rail system

Rail services were cancelled in seven German states on Sunday, as a fierce storm ripped up trees and cost at least three people their lives. Train delays are also expected Monday.

Storm Herwart kills three, brings chaos to German rail system
The fish market in Hamburg on Sunday. Photo: DPA

Deutsche Bahn was struggling on Monday morning to bring the incapacitated rail services in the north and east of Germany back onto the grid, after a fierce storm forced them to close down some of the busiest routes in the country.

The area around Hamburg is set to be hit hardest by delays and cancellations on Monday. The key route between the port city and Berlin is only likely to resume normal service later in the day. Services from Hamburg to Dortmund, Bremen, Kiel and Rostock will also face interruptions.

There was good news though for commuters travelling to and from the capital. Services between Berlin and Leipzig, and between Berlin and Erfurt should resume later on Monday. The same goes for the Dortmund – Hanover service, and the service between Kassel and Hamburg.

By Monday morning, normal services between Berlin and Hanover should have already resumed, likewise services between Hanover and Magdeburg.

Deutsche Bahn completely cancelled rail services in seven German states on Sunday after storm Herwart blasted across much of the country, tearing down trees and killing several people.

A 63-year-old camper in Lower Saxony was the first casualty of the storm when she was caught out by flooding near the North Sea coast and drowned.

In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, a motorboat with three holidaymakers inside capsized on rough seas. Two of the passengers later died in hospital, a third is still missing and rescue operations are continuing.

Meanwhile, a freight ship ran aground on the north sea island of Langeoog with several rescue attempts failing. The 225-metre long Glory Amsterdam was ripped from its moorings by high winds. The 22 crew members still on board are unharmed, life boat services have said.

On Germany's road system, work has also begun to clear the streets of trees that were blown over by the strong winds. The north and east of the country were particularly badly hit.

On Fichtelberg, a 1,215 metre mountain near the Czech border, wind speeds of 176 km/h were recorded.

For members


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?