Travel chaos after thunderstorms and rain lash eastern Germany

Commuters faced travel disruption on Wednesday due to torrential rain, giant hailstones and thunderstorms in the east of the country.

Travel chaos after thunderstorms and rain lash eastern Germany
Lightning above the Federal Chancellery in Berlin on Tuesday night. Photo: DPA

The storms resulted in flooded streets, homes and roads as well as fallen trees – and fires caused by lightning strikes, reported broadcaster RBB 24.

Hailstones as big as table tennis balls – around five centimetres in size – were recorded by the German Weather Service (DWD) in Saxony and Brandenburg.

In Berlin and nearby Potstdam alone, emergency services were called out more than 300 times.

Due to flooding, sections of two important motorways had to be closed. The Stadtring (A100) at Kaiserdamm in the direction of Neukölln was still shut on Wednesday morning.

Traffic was being diverted via the Kaiserdamm exit, causing delays.

SEE ALSO: IN PICTURES – Giant hailstones hit Munich as storms continue across Germany

Flooding in the west of Berlin. Photo: DPA

The A115 (known as the AVUS) between Spanischer Allee and Kreuz Zehlendorf was closed in both directions on Wednesday, a police spokesman said. The closure was causing traffic jams.

The Schlichtallee road in Rummelsburg between Haupt and Lückstraße was also closed. Other roads, including the Sachsendamm, became flooded.

Emergency forces had to pull several vehicles out of the water in the night. Traffic lights also failed throughout the city.

SEE ALSO: Thunderstorms and heat wave forecast for Germany

S-Bahn disruption

The Berlin S-Bahn was also affected by the weather. According to operator Deutsche Bahn, a lightning strike in Alt-Reinickendorf was causing delays and possible train cancellations on the S25 line.

Some ticket machines were not working due to power outages.

Passengers at both Berlin airports – Tegel and Schönefeld – faced delays as they were unable to board or disembark aircrafts for several hours between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. However, a spokesperson for the airports said take-offs and landings were possible.

The spokesperson could not say how many passengers were affected.

Cars stuck

The Brandenburg state capital Potsdam was also hit particularly hard by the thunderstorms and torrential rain. Cellars and underground garages filled with water, streets were flooded, trees overturned and cars were damaged.

Rescue workers in Potsdam. Photo: DPA

In the Babelsberg district, a car got stuck in an underpass and had to be pulled out of the water by rescue teams. In the Bornim area, a house caught fire after lightning struck. The residents were able to get out in time and nobody was injured.

Storm chaos

Giant hailstones, similar to the hail showers in Munich on Monday, were reported in Saxony and Brandenburg.

Meanwhile, in Prerow, in the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, an apartment building caught fire after lightning struck. Luckily, nobody was injured.

In Bad Hersfeld in Hesse, thunderstorm warnings had an effect on the festival programme for Hessentag, an annual celebration held in the central German state. To be on the safe side, organizers cancelled Tuesday evening's events.

More rainfall and storms

Forecasters have a warning in place for more storms in the east of the country on Wednesday. The warning is from 1pm until midnight on Thursday.

Lightning in Brandenburg on Tuesday night. Photo: DPA

Thunderstorms, giant hailstones, winds of up to 100km/h and heavy rain could be on the way.

In some places, such as parts of Saxony, huge amounts of rainfall is possible, a DWD spokesperson said.

The map shows the storm warning in eastern Germany on Wednesday, and the heat warning further east.

Temperatures in eastern Germany will remain very warm on Wednesday. According to the DWD, the mercury could climb to 34C, with the Brandenburg city of Frankfurt/Oder becoming particularly hot.

In western Germany it is becoming cooler, and in many places the temperature will remain below 20C.

The thunderstorms are expected to move east towards Poland in the night. The risk of storms in Germany decreases on Thursday and Friday.

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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?