‘You can’t build igloos’: German children on growing up without snow

All the snow is gone... at least in some parts of Germany. This means that many children, especially younger ones, have probably never even seen it.

'You can't build igloos': German children on growing up without snow
A girl named Clara sleds down a hillside in the Harz mountain range, one of the few snowy spots Germany saw this winter. Photo: DPA

Has Rolf Zuckowski unknowingly deceived children all over Germany?

The children's songwriter once wrote: “Winter’s children search impatiently for hours out the window, winter’s children in the mountains or at the sea, all around the globe, everyone is waiting for the first snow.”

In short: ​​there is no snow in large parts of Germany. It’s rare even at high altitudes – and even the Alps are by no means reliably “snow-covered” everywhere. Winter only makes a short guest appearance in the Harz, the tallest mountain range in northern Germany.

READ ALSO: Fact check: Did it really used to snow more often in December in Germany?

Snow has been falling less and less in the winter for years. Many children, and not just in northern Germany, may only know it from films or illustrated books: it doesn't trickle, it dazzles.

A three-year-old from Hanover has almost never seen winter landscapes except for in children's books. Since his birth there has hardly been any full snow cover in the region. It barely snowed this mild winter, and some flakes fell in spring 2019. That was enough for a mini snowman.

“We'll be going to the Harz soon so that he can get to know real snow,” his mother said. But even there, the white splendor is now few and far between.

'Better than nothing'

Sledding, snowball fights – or just throwing yourself in the snow – 10-year-old Mikael from Hanover misses all of it. “I would be really happy if there were three centimeters of snow – that's better than nothing,” he said.

After all, he can vaguely remember what it was like. He found it really nice when it came up to his knees: the only difference was that he was only four- or five-years-old at the time.

Eight-year-old Lukas from Münster waits for snow every year – he has already played in the snow, but was only 3 and a half at the time. He says winter without snow is “stupid, because you can’t build snowmen and igloos.” He said he sees snow in the movies. 

“You want to feel it sometimes, but you can't,” he complained. He also knew one reason the snow is so rare, and quoted it quite professionally: “Too much CO2 is being shot into the sky, so it is getting warmer and warmer.” His older brother Nicolas, 11, said he also missed the snow very much. 

“I am very sorry. I find it sad for the children,” the boys’ mother said. 

Passers-by in Saxony stand by a sledge at the bottom of a sledding hill. Photo: DPA

Teaching climate change

And the reduced snowfall is not just anecdotal. According to the German Weather Service (DWD), Germany as a whole had, on average, 47 snow-covered days between 1961 and 1990 and averaged over Germany.

In the past 30 years, the number of days with snow cover has dropped significantly – sometimes to only about 20 days. The “whiteout year” of 2010 is still an extreme outlier.

The winter world is still very much alive in Hollywood. Elsa and Anna from the Disney animated film “Frozen” are very familiar with meter-thick snow. But: “It takes place in another world,” Mikael said.

In any case, most of the smaller children are more impressed by Elsa's pink dresses. The snow often takes a back seat, a spokeswoman for the German Daycare Association said.

Will picture books or textbooks be altered in the future if their commonly-depicted snowy landscapes no longer exist in large parts of the country? Publishers are still preparing for the topic.

But the idea of ​​making a book where Christmas comes in a snow-free winter already exists, a spokeswoman for the Carlsen publishing house, Katrin Hogrebe, said in Hamburg. It’s unclear when this idea will turn into reality. 

According to the Cornelsen-Schulbuch-Verlag (Cornelson Textbook Publishing House), snow in elementary school is just a type of precipitation, not more. There are, as of yet, no lessons on climate change. 

READ ALSO: Climate change: Germany's ice wine harvest fails for the first time

Germany’s federal states have not specified the rules about explaining climate change at primary schools. The topic is also very complex, a spokesman in Berlin said. For elementary school students, weather is still about basic knowledge – what is the climate anyway?

According to Waltraud Weegmann, the managing director of the Konzept-e daycare and school network in Stuttgart, children are curious and want to discover the world. Questions about snow are bound to crop up.

At the daycare in the Leibniz Family Center in Hanover, caretakers follow a simple rule: “We discuss whatever the children are interested in,” director Andrea Weisz explained. Snow was actually not a big topic in the daycare, nor did anyone put a sled on their Christmas wish list.

City children may have “gotten used to the fact that there is no snow,” Weisz said. She also added that “intercultural influences” played a role.

The 105 children in the daycare came from 13 nations, and children from southern countries usually didn't ask about snow.

Mikael asked his family to go skiing in the snow together. He thought children should feel snow, at least during winter vacations.

On the other hand, ten-year-old Carla from Hanover and her friend didn’t seem too attached to snowy ideals. A little dewy frost on the lawn was enough – the two of them pulled a sled out of the basement and slid down the dirt, completely unbothered.


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What temperatures can we expect in Germany this week?

Parts of Germany will see another heatwave this week as temperatures soar.

What temperatures can we expect in Germany this week?

The German Weather Service (DWD) has predicted that the mercury will climb in some regions of to around 34C this week. 

“After low pressure ‘Karin’ gave parts of Germany rain, sometimes in large quantities, high pressure ‘Piet’ is now back in pole position,” said meteorologist Lars Kirchhübel of the DWD.

This high pressure zone will dominate the weather in large parts of western and central Europe over the coming days, the weather expert said, adding that it will reach Germany too. 

On Monday temperatures remained fairly cool across the country after a weekend of showers, but they are set to climb over the course of the week, particularly on Wednesday and Thursday. Forecasters predict it could reach 32C in Stuttgart and 33C in Cologne on Thursday. Locally, temperatures could reach 34C. 

However, from the Oder and Neisse rivers to the Erzgebirge mountains and southeast Bavaria, denser clouds and some showers are to be expected. This is due to a high-level low pressure system over the Balkan region, according to forecasters. Short showers are also possible in the Black Forest.

“In most of the rest of the country, high ‘Piet’ will be able to hold its ground,” said Kirchhübel.

READ ALSO: Heavy rain in Bavaria swells rivers, but flooding avoided

At the end of the week, thunderstorms are forecast but temperatures are expected to remain high. 

August in Germany ‘too dry’

According to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, August as a whole – apart from a few areas in eastern Germany – will be too dry compared to the multi-year average.

The Black Forest, the High Rhine and the Allgäu to the Bavarian Forest, however, are not expected to have any major problems due to the high rainfall of the past few days.

“Looking at Rhineland-Palatinate, the southern half of Hesse, the western half of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Franconia shows a different picture,” said Kirchhübel. In the last 30 days, only about 10 percent of the usual level of precipitation fell in some places.

“At some stations, no precipitation at all has been measured in August,” added Kirchhübel, referencing Würzburg as an example.

Rainfall at the weekend caused the water in the Rhine river to rise slightly. In Emmerich, the water level reached a positive value again after the historic low of the past few days: in the morning, it showed three centimetres – an increase of six centimetres compared to the previous day.

The water level also rose by several centimetres at the other measuring points in North Rhine-Westphalia: in Cologne, the level rose to 80cm and in Düsseldorf to 38cm.

READ ALSO: Damaged freighter blocks traffic at drought-hit Rhine

Despite this encouraging trend, the Waterways and Shipping Authority said it did not expect a huge improvement in water levels in the foreseeable future due to more hot weather coming.