Germany grapples with temperatures as low as -26.7C

Bitter cold with extreme lows - the winter weather continues to have Germany in its grip. But road conditions improved Wednesday morning amid lighter snowfall.

Germany grapples with temperatures as low as -26.7C
Snow in Jena, Thuringia on Wednesday morning. Photo: DPA

On early Wednesday morning, the eastern state of Thuringia recorded the coldest temperatures in all of Germany, according to the German Weather Service (DWD).

Mühlhausen clocked in the coldest temperature with -26.7C, followed by Olbersleben with -26C and Dachwig with -25.7C.

According to the DWD, however, these temperatures are still a long way from the coldest temperatures ever measured in Germany.

The record is held by Hüll, Bavaria, which recorded a temperature of -37.8C in 1929.

The following graph from DWD shows the 'cold spots' in Thuringia.

How is the weather affecting train and car traffic?

As of Wednesday morning, there were still problems with train traffic in Germany. 

“Today and in the next few days travellers in many parts of the country must expect significant restrictions in local and long-distance traffic due to the weather,” said a spokeswoman for Deutsche Bahn.

However, while Monday and Tuesday brought traffic chaos to German Autobahns, the situation appeared to have calmed down slightly around the country on Wednesday morning.

Cars on snowy roads in Stuttgart on Wednesday morning. Photo: DPA

According to a police spokesman, traffic on the A2 near Bielefeld – which was hit particularly hard by the storms – was moving on Wednesday morning. 

At present, however, there was still a “latent danger situation” due to trucks parked on the hard shoulder because the drivers had to observe their rest periods – and were asleep.

READ ALSO: Hundreds of drivers spend night on Autobahn as snow chaos continues

In other states, police stations reported isolated accidents due to slippery black ice on the roads.

In Schleswig-Holstein, the A7 in the Rendsburg-Eckernförde district was temporarily completely closed in the direction of Hamburg after a snowplow caught fire. 

In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the police did not have any accident reports for the coastal regions. In Thuringia, a police spokesman also expressed relief that the situation had improved.

“We are happy that it has not snowed again,” he said.

Slightly warmer temperatures

Although there is slated to be less snowfall for the remainder of the week around Germany, temperatures will remain icy cold.

“The weather front ‘Gisela’ means that northern and northeastern Germany will experience widespread frosty temperatures during the day and at night for severe frosts around -20 degrees,” explained DWD meteorologist Jens Bonewitz. 

In Berlin daytime temperatures from Thursday through the weekend, will hover around -1C or -2C – an improvement from earlier this week when they dropped to as low as -10C.

READ ALSO: Why Germany is facing extreme winter weather this month

From Thursday onwards – unlike earlier this week – the cold air will also drift to the south of Germany. Between Thursday and Saturday, daytime temperatures in Munich will range between -6C and -3C.

They reached a high of 12C last week as the south of Germany enjoyed mild Mercury readings. 

Traffic in Bielefeld, where temperatures were -10C, on Wednesday morning. Photo: DPA

‘Calming down’

German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CDU) said he expected more disruptions due to the extreme winter weather. 

“In many regions of Germany, the situation is gradually beginning to calm down. However, it may take some time before everything returns to its normal course,” he said. “Impairments remain in some stretches and areas.”

Inland shipping is also affected by the winter weather: From Wednesday evening, the Mittelland Canal – the largest in artificial waterway in Germany, and the Elbe-Seitenkanal are slated to remain closed.

Meanwhile, aid organisations stepped up their efforts to help the homeless, providing them in many places with warm food, drinks, clothing, sleeping clothes and hygiene items. 

The coronavirus pandemic is further exacerbating the situation for those in need, according to Diakonie, the welfare organization of the Protestant churches.

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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?