Fact check: Did it really use to snow more often in December in Germany?

For most people, a white Christmas is the ideal. However, snow is quite rare during the holidays in most of Germany. Some say it used to snow more often, but is that really true?

Fact check: Did it really use to snow more often in December in Germany?
A decorated Christmas tree stands on a farmer's land in Unterjoch, Bavaria. This sight may become rarer in the future due to climate change. Photo: DPA

Presents piled under the Christmas tree, piping-hot holiday treats, plus a snow-covered landscape: that's how many imagine the perfect Christmas holidays.

But this combination is relatively rare for Germans. Was a white Christmas more common in the past? Let's look at the facts.

CLAIM: Snow during Christmas was more common in previous years. 

FACT: Not true.The German Weather Service, or Der Deutsche Wetterdienst (DWD), has strict requirements for a “White Christmas”: there must be at least one centimeter of snow on the ground at 7 am on all festive days (Christmas Eve as well as December 25th and 26th).

READ ALSO: Why Germany is among top three countries affected by climate change

“The event was always relatively rare,” explains DWD meteorologist Andreas Friedrich. Comprehensive weather data has been collected in all of Germany since 1961, but certain regions have data stretching back to 1881, according to DWD.

In 2010 there was a blanket of snow covering almost all of Germany, and in the 1960s, there were several years in a row where many places in Germany had a white Christmas. However, no general trend can be derived from these individual years, Friedrich says.

Nonetheless, the winters definitely used to be colder. According to DWD data, Germany’s December has warmed by 1.7C since 1881. In December 2018, the average temperature throughout Germany was 3.9C.

READ ALSO: Snow, ice and fog hit Germany as winter arrives

“Every children’s book and every advertisement depicts a white Christmas rather than a ‘green Christmas,’ which would be much more realistic in Germany,” says Professor Joachim Curtius from the Institute for Atmospheric and Environmental Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main.

People tend to idealize the rare white Christmas rather than celebrations in bad weather and rain.

A Christmas tree is reflected in a puddle at a Christmas Market in Frankfurt am Main. This may be a sight Germans see more often than snow-covered roofs. Photo: DPA

CLAIM: White Christmases vary depending on the German region.

FACT: That's true. There are several factors that play into the likelihood of this phenomenon. Altitude, for example, and for some regions, the distance to the ocean also plays a role. On the Heligoland islands the probability for snowy holidays is two percent, according to DWD.

And in Berlin and Brandenburg, the probability of a white Christmas is higher than in Lower Saxony.

CLAIM: There are places in Germany where snow is guaranteed on Christmas

FACT: That's right. “There has been a white Christmas on the Zugspitze since the beginning of the weather record there in 1880,” says Friedrich. At lower altitudes, the probability sinks.

CLAIM: The snow probability is highest in December.

FACT: Not true. The coldest times of the year are usually from late January to early February, says DWD expert Friedrich. “If you could push Christmas to these months, it would be easier to experience a white Christmas.”

According to DWD figures, it sometimes snows in mid-December, but shortly before Christmas mild Atlantic air often flows from the west to Germany.

“The notorious Christmas Thaw is coming,” writes the DWD. The warm air typically lifts any snow cover.

According to Professor Curtius, the dream of white Christmas will continue to be rare: “In the course of climate change, at least for the next decades, the likelihood of a white Christmas will continue to decline because temperatures will fall below zero less and less often.”


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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.