IN PICTURES: The aftermath of Germany’s catastrophic floods

Towns and villages across Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were left devastated by shocking flash floods that destroyed homes, streets and historical landmarks and took the lives of more than 160 people.

IN PICTURES: The aftermath of Germany's catastrophic floods
Helpers survey the damage in front of a collapsed house in the village of Schuld in Ahrtal. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

As the nation tried to process the horror of the natural disaster, pictures emerged of rubble-filled landscape and deserted village streets piled high with furniture and personal belongings. 

The district of Ahrweiler, in the northern part of Rhineland-Palatinate, was one of the areas to be worst hit by floods. Houses were destroyed and tens of thousands of people were left without electricity or running water. 

On Sunday, the streets of the villages and towns in the district were still waterlogged, while in Bad Neuenahr, the historic Kurshaus, which was built in 1905, was devastated by the floods. 

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

Pictures emerged of the hallways of the Kurhaus covered with mud, water and grime on Sunday afternoon, while entryways were blocked by piles of shattered furniture.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

Broken furniture, electrical equipment and rusty bicycles were cleared to the side of the road to make space for emergency aid vehicles.  

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

In nearby Sinzig, 12 people lost their lives at a care home for the disabled (the Lebenshilfe-Haus) during the floods. 

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

Sinzig’s Barbarossa School was uninhabitable on Monday, as furniture lay in tatters on the floor. 

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

In the historic industrial town of Stolberg, North-Rhine Westphalia, the town archives were completely flooded. 

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marius Becker

In Altenahr, just to the west of Bad Neuenahr, smashed-up camper vans, cars and mobile homes were pictured lying on top of each other. In the worst-hit flooded areas, the force of the tide had swept up numerous vehicles and crushed them against bridges and buildings in seconds.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Chancellor Merkel visited the village of Schuld in Rhineland-Palatinate on Sunday and was pictured holding the hand of state premier Malu Dreyer (SPD), who lives with MS, as they walked through the wreckage. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s Merkel sees ‘surreal’ wreckage as Europe flood death toll tops 180

Photo: picture alliance/dpa/POOL AFP | Christof Stache
While they were there, Merkel and Dreyer spoke to the victims of the floods and surveyed the extent of the damage to homes, infrastructure and the natural landscape.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa/POOL AFP | Christof Stache
They also spoke to volunteers who had been on-call throughout the emergency, and who were helping to clean up the wreckage in the aftermath of the disaster. 

Photo: picture alliance/dpa/POOL AFP | Christof Stache

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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?