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ANGELA MERKEL

Merkel pledges ‘full support’ to flood victims during White House visit

Merkel's final trip to Washington D.C. was overshadowed by disastrous flooding in western Germany that saw more than 90 people lose their lives on Thursday. The Chancellor promised aid to those affected.

Merkel pledges 'full support' to flood victims during White House visit
Chancellor Merkel speaks at a conference with U.S. President Joe Biden on July 15th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Susan Walsh

“I grieve for those who’ve lost their lives, we don’t know the number but it will be many, some in the basements of their houses, and some who were working as firefighters trying to bring others to safety,” Merkel said in a press conference on Thursday. 

Describing the aid efforts, the German Chancellor promised that the government would help “in any way we can”.

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“These are horrific days for the people in the floodplains,” she said. “My thoughts are with you. And you can trust that every part of our state – from the federal, state and local governments – will do everything possible to save lives, avert dangers and alleviate hardship, even under the most difficult of conditions.”

“We will not leave them alone in this difficult, terrible hour and we will also help when it comes to rebuilding,” she said. 

Biden expressed his condolences in view of the many fatalities in the flood disaster.

United States and Germany remain ‘close friends’

The trip is likely to be Merkel’s last visit to the White House before she steps down in September at the end of a 16-year term as German Chancellor.

After a turbulent few years for German-American relations during Donald Trump’s presidency, the visit was partly an attempt to open a new chapter and reaffirm both countries’ commitment to the transatlantic partnership.

“We are not just allies and partners, but also close friends,” said Merkel on Thursday in Washington after a detailed conversation with Biden.

READ ALSO: ‘History’: Merkel visits White House for last time as Chancellor

Biden thanked Merkel for her “strong leadership role” over the past decade and a half.

“I know that the partnership between Germany and the United States will grow even stronger on the foundation that you helped to build,” he told her. 


Merkel and Biden discussed Nord Stream 2 and  the easing of Covid-19 travel restrictions for people travelling from Germany to the United States. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Evan Vucci

In a ‘Washington Declaration’, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to “close bilateral cooperation in promoting peace, security and prosperity around the world”.

However, they continued to disagree over the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, which Biden believes is being weaponised by Vladimir Putin. 

Covid travel restrictions could be eased

Biden announced that he will probably comment on the corona-related entry restrictions for people from Germany and other European Schengen countries in the coming days, after Merkel raised the issue.

Discussions are currently being held on how the travel restrictions could be lifted soon. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about travel between the US and Germany

“I’m waiting to hear from our people in our Covid team when that should happen,” Biden said. 

Before Merkel’s return to Berlin, the U.S. President and First Lady Jill Biden held a dinner in honour of the Chancellor, which Merkel’s husband, Joachim Sauer, also attended.

Biden wrote on Twitter on Thursday evening: “It was an honour to have my dear friend, Chancellor Merkel, in the White House.”

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READER QUESTIONS

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?

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