World Cup fever to packed-out parks: Why Germany’s scorching summer is one to remember

When it comes to big issues, like world politics or climate change, it's safe to say things aren't that great at the moment. So in all the doom and gloom, sometimes you’ve just got to make the most of what you’re given...and this year that was a long, hot and, at times, simply unbearable summer.

World Cup fever to packed-out parks: Why Germany's scorching summer is one to remember
Youngsters swimming at Markkleeberger See, south of Leipzig. Photo: DPA

Setting aside for a moment the worrying reasons that Germany, and many other countries, are experiencing extreme weather such as heat waves, let’s consider some of the positive things it brought.

I, for one, am going to miss all the Eis. Of course, you can have ice cream at any time or any day of the year if that’s your thing.

But was there anything better than scoffing a zwei Kugeln (two scoops) cone or a shop-bought fruity ice lolly, or indeed anything else that was full of sugar and freezing cold in these soaring temperatures? I think not. 

During the height of the hot weather, when the temperature had already crept up to 32C before midday, it became the norm to eat an ice cream for lunch then have another later on.

To be honest, I can’t think of another time when it’s socially acceptable to eat a Magnum at 10am.A woman buying an ice cream in Niedersachsen in the north of Germany this summer. Photo: DPA

Yes, it made sleeping virtually impossible at times, such as when Berlin experienced its hottest night ever at the end of July.

But when faced with these god-awful temperatures, Germans made the most of it.

There was never an excuse to stay in: parks were packed out, barbecues were made, light nights were enjoyed.

Trying to buy a cooling fan became a national sport, as did the quest to find air-conditioned spots. I found the best relief from the heat, short of moving into my fridge permanently, was to wrap a tea towel round a pack of frozen peas and keep it beside me at all times.

I’ll always look back fondly to the night that the blood moon made a rare appearance to the world. That evening I was in Tempelhof, the former airfield in Berlin. It felt like the whole city was there, gathered on picnic blankets or fold-up chairs, with a Radler and snacks in hand.

Similarly, at the lakes there were almost no spots as beach-goers clambered for a swim when Feierabend arrived. 

Here’s another reason why I think summer 2018 was particularly great: the World Cup. Aha, I hear you say, Germany crashed out of the competition, what’s so good about that?

Well, maybe it’s because I’m Scottish and I can’t even remember the last time we managed to get a team into the competition, but I thought it was great to cheer on Deutschland even if it was only for a short time.

To watch a country pull together; flying flags from their cars or organizing parties to watch the matches, was amazing to experience. 

Towns and cities across Germany became public living rooms. I couldn’t believe it when I saw TVs taped onto lamp posts outside Spätis, takeaways and restaurants as guests watched the games.

People flooded into “public viewing” areas guzzling down beer and singing: “‘Schland, ‘Schland!” It softened everyone and made people feel part of something.

I think – whisper it – I even witnessed some banter between people in shops and on public transport. Germans aren’t so into small talk compared to, say, the Brits or Americans, but the sporting competition brought out a side that made people want to engage and have a laugh with each other more.

So it was inevitable that Germany’s World Cup failure would be a hard pill to swallow. However, the German media seemed to be overly dramatic, viewing it as some kind of symbol for how bad things were. “Germany in Crisis: once upon a time there was a strong country,” said a headline in Der Spiegel. The story went on to analyze the precarious position of the team and the nation it represented.

I mean, calm down! Things aren’t that bad! Even if the tournament didn’t see a German victory, it was still a special moment.

Disappointed fans in Berlin

Although the Germany flags were swiftly packed away, I was delighted to find the country still enjoyed the rest of the World Cup, showing all the games on the same TVs and fostering the same welcoming atmosphere. 

What can’t be ignored is the effect the hot weather had on the country. It caused a record drought that wreaked havoc on crops, sparking a national crisis for farmers.

What is encouraging to see during extreme weather, though, is that people seem to be a bit more connected. I think I spoke to my neighbours more this summer than I had the whole previous year. It's good to check in on each other when you're dealing with schreckliche Hitze – the terrible heat.

It’s only my second summer in Germany after last year's complete washout. So perhaps you can understand why I have rose-tinted spectacles on as I look back on this year's sunny days.

But with the deluge of bad news around, maybe it's not such a bad thing to make the most of the summer while it's here. And the ice cream, too.

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8 of the coolest places in Germany to visit on hot summer days

If you've had enough of the hot weather in Germany, here are a few places you can go to cool down (and discover more of the country).

8 of the coolest places in Germany to visit on hot summer days

Let’s face it: some of us are just not built for the heat. So when temperatures in Germany climb to the late 20s, above 30 – or even just under 40C – there is only one place we want to be: the fridge. 

But there are a few other spots where you can seek shelter from the sweltering heat. With temperatures this week set to climb above 30C in some parts of the country, here’s a look at the areas you can stay cool in and see the sights of Germany. 

READ ALSO: Weather – Germany sees record temperatures

Swim in the sea

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that temperatures are usually cooler by the coast thanks to the sea breeze. 

So we’d recommend heading to a coastal resort in Germany to cool down. At the popular Baltic Sea islands like Rügen, temperatures rarely climb above 25C which is more manageable than the extreme heat that often hits the inland regions. 

READ ALSO: Which regions in Germany have the best (and worst) weather?

Best of all, the Ostsee water temperature is around 17-18C in June, July and August, and it even drops below 15C from September. Perfect for those who like a refreshing dip.

Alternatively you could head to the North Sea coast or islands like Sylt or Juist. The water there is usually a few degrees cooler than at the Baltic Sea. 

A swimmer bathes in the Baltic Sea near Timmendorfer Strand in Schleswig-Holstein.

A swimmer bathes in the Baltic Sea near Timmendorfer Strand in Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

Get lost in the Oppenheim cellar maze (Kellerlabrynth)

One way to escape the heat is to explore what Germany has to offer below street level. Oppenheim in Rhineland-Palatinate has an amazing network of cellars that people can check out with guided tours. Also known as the ‘city under the city’, visitors can descend several storeys down to a depth of 500 metres, and learn all about the history of the cellar system which dates back hundreds of years.

The temperature is a constant and cool 17C so there’s no chance of overheating. 

The cellar labyrinth in Oppenheim (Rhineland-Palatinate) under the old town

The cellar labyrinth in Oppenheim (Rhineland-Palatinate) under the old town is a great place to cool down and get a history lesson. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Fredrik von Erichsen

Head to the Dechen Cave (Dechenhöhle) in the Sauerland

One of the most beautiful caves on display in Germany, the Dechenhöle in the Sauerland’s Iserlohn in North Rhine-Westphalia is well worth a visit. 

Around 360 metres of the 870 metre long cave have been arranged for visitors to explore, and the light shows look mesmerising. The cave was discovered by two rail workers in 1868 who dropped a hammer into a rock crevice. When they were searching for the tool, they discovered the entrance to the dripstone cave. 

The temperature of the caves is around 10C all year round so it’s ideal for cooling down. In fact, you’ll probably need a jacket.

The illuminated The Dechen Caves in March 2022.

The illuminated Dechenhöle in March 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Thissen

Visit a salt mine (Salzbergwerk)

The Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden is the oldest active salt mine in Germany dating back to 1517, but it’s also a unique experience for tourists deep in the Bavarian Alps.

Hop on a miners’ train and travel 650 meters into the mountain, where you’ll find a large salt cathedral and a miner’s slide. The experience includes 3D animations depicting the mining of salt, as well as a boat trip across the underground salt lake. 

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

Explore Berlin underground

If you want to cool down, and learn all about the German capital’s history, dive into Berlin’s underworld and walk through the tunnels and vaults, as part of tours by Berliner Untervelten E.V.

A jackets or a cosy jumper is recommended: the temperature is usually between 8 and 12C.

Explore the Berlin U-Bahn out of the heat.

Explore hidden parts of the Berlin U-Bahn and underground system of tunnels out of the heat. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Monika Skolimowska

Drop into the ice cellar (Eiskellar) in Altenberge

This museum is the former ice-storage and fermentation cellar of the old Beuing Brewery in Altenberge. It showcases the history of the small town in the Münsterland region, and has an eerily beautiful setting. It was once one of the largest underground refrigerators in Europe with temperatures of around 8-10C.

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

Take a dip in a very cold lake

Getting into any water is a great way to cool down during the hot summer months. But you could take it a step further and head to a very cold lake. 

Funtensee is a karst lake (which means it formed after caves collapsed) on the Steinernes Meer plateau in the stunning Berchtesgaden National Park, and the area is known for low temperatures. In fact, the coldest temperature ever recorded in Germany was on December 24th, 2001, when the mercury dropped to -45,9C at the Funtensee measuring station.

Luckily, it’s not that cold all year round but the water is still pretty chilly in the summer months at around 17 to 18C.

A view of the cold Funtensee.

A view of the cold Funtensee. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | Florian Sanktjohanser

Meanwhile, the water temperature at Frillensee, also in Bavaria, doesn’t rise above 10C even in summer. Just dipping your big toe in very cold lakes is enough to cool off.

Climb (or take a cable car) up Germany’s highest mountain

Playing in snow and ice while others sweat? Yes, it’s possible, way up on the Zugspitze glacier, which is part of Germany’s highest mountain, standing at around 2,962 metres above sea level. We recommend taking a tour, which runs from the Sonnalpin glacier restaurant to the edge of the ice on the Northern Schneeferner. The tours are a free service from the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn.

People enjoy stunning weather on the glacier at the Zugspitze in May 2021.

People enjoy stunning weather on the glacier at the Zugspitze in May 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Visitors can take a train from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, or the station at Eibsee lake, which runs through the 4.5-km-long Zugspitze Tunnel before hopping on a cable car. If the mood takes you, you could also check out Germany’s highest church on the Zugspitz Plateau. The Maria Heimsuchung Chapel is a great place to reflect after a day of climbing and exploring the mountain.