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HEATWAVE

Ditching AC for ‘Hitzefrei’: Taking on the German summer as a Californian

Hitzefrei is a very German term for what happens at work or school when it gets 'too hot' - and a very strange concept for some foreigners.

A sign at a shop in Geilenkirchen in 2019 says that it is closing due to the heat (hitzefrei).
A sign at a shop in Geilenkirchen in 2019 says that it is closing due to the heat (hitzefrei). Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Caroline SeidSeidel-Dißmannel

The first time I heard the term hitzefrei, I was working – or at least attempting to – in a sunlit German office that magnified the summer warmth.

I first thought of the very literal translation – Heat free – and that my sweltering surroundings were anything but. Yet the term was not used by my colleague as a form of irony, but rather to describe his wish that we all head home, as it was becoming too hot to concentrate, even with the fan on full blast.

Hitzefrei, I would learn over that summer and the ones that followed, is a very German term to describe when it becomes unbearable to go to work or school, and time off (or clocking in time at home) is called for as a result. It’s like a snow day but applied to the heat.

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Students in Dresden rush off as ‘Hitzefrei’ is declared at one school in 2015. Photo: DPA

Culture shock

As a Californian, I was not used to any weather preventing me from going to school or work. Even when there were pleasant sunny temperatures, as was the case 95 percent of the year, the air conditioning would be cranked up to the point that I always carried an extra sweater, even in August. 

Working in an office on the humid East Coast of the US later on, I often felt like I was typing inside a refrigerator, even as temperatures outside simmered and mosquitoes conspired against their next victim. 

This made hitzefrei a distinctly German phenomenon for me, only possible in a place where there is no air conditioning – and a lack of desire to have it. 

Many of my German friends and acquaintances also prefer it that way, happy to avoid unnatural air currents – and the potential illness they bring – in favour of a fan or just an open window. 

SEE ALSO: Durchzug is not harmful!: Red Cross tells Germans to leave fans on and windows open

A heated reminder

The temperature limit for declaring hitzefrei for most German states tends to vary between 25 and 27C. While productivity declines, business booms at open-air pools and ice cream shops, with many advertisements capitalizing on the word ‘hitzefrei’ next to images of sun-soaked young people cheerily chugging an ice-cold beverage whilst floating in a pool. 

Some businesses, such as cafes, might use the term themselves as a reason to close shop for the day, especially factoring in the added heat of a baking oven.

It used to be a rare phenomenon that temperatures in Germany would climb to high levels. But as the Bundesrepublik will likely see more extreme weather events due to climate change, it could become more common. 

But unlike parts of the world where air conditioning is the norm, I find it harder to be shielded from the uncomfortable truth about the changing climate.

Students at a Fridays for Future demo in Magdeburg in March, one with a sign reading “No desire to have ‘Hitzefrei’ a January.” Photo: DPA

Hitzefrei reminds us of the consequences of the heat and that it’s time to take action.

Examples:

Wir sollten heute Hitzefrei haben.

We should take time off work because of the heat.

Wann gibt es Hitzefrei in Schulen? 

When will schools be closed because of the heat?

Member comments

  1. I’m also from California and grew up where it is regularly 35 plus degrees every day for 3-4 months. Of course living without air-conditioning would be unthinkable. I am dumbstruck that people think sitting in a boiling restaurant is acceptable in anyway, or other businesses. It shocks me there is no air conditioning here. It’s awful. My poor kids come hope every day from school sick from the heat with headaches. It’s bordering on child abuse that they don’t cancel class or put in A/C. Likewise I was shocked to learn my own rental has no air conditioning. It’s been a nightmare these last few weeks. It’s not enjoyable at all. As soon as my contract expires, I’m headed home. This place is awful.

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WEATHER

Snowfall due at the weekend as winter arrives in Germany

After a cold blast at the end of November, winter in Germany is set to begin with yet more snow, making it the perfect time to dig out a puffer coat and get out to Christmas market.

Snowfall due at the weekend as winter arrives in Germany

German punctuality has struck once again as winter looks set to arrive right on cue this year, with a flurry of snowfall, ice and frosty conditions in several regions of the country.

According to the German Weather Service (DWD), Saxony-Anhalt could see the mercury drop as low as -6C on Friday as snow continues to fall until the afternoon. The Harz mountains will also get a festive dusting of snow, with temperatures ranging from -1 to -3C in the coming days.   

Saturday is set to be overcast in the region with up to 5cm of snowfall, but things could dry up on Sunday as temperatures rise to a nippy 1-3C. The eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia can also expect icy conditions and snow over the weekend.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, snow is also expected at higher altitudes. In eastern Westphalia and in the Sauerland region, there could be light snowfall or sleet, DWD reported on Friday. Drivers and cyclists should exercise caution as roads are likely to become slippery due to fresh snow or freezing rain.

DWD explains that two high-pressure areas are currently causing colder winds to sweep across Germany. The first, which caused snow to fall overnight across central Germany, is gradually heading south towards France – though the second is set to bring another icy spell to the country on Friday evening and into Saturday.

Bavaria will be the first to experience the chill as the high-pressure zone travels across the Alps overnight. 

The southern state is likely to have a soggy start to the weekend, with rain falling at lower altitudes – though more hilly and mountainous areas will see some snow. But as temperatures drop during the night, residents of Bavaria could see as much as 5cm as snow on Saturday morning.

READ ALSO: Surviving winter: 8 tips for enjoying the cold like a true German

The rest of the weekend will likely be marked by uniform grey skies, frost and drizzle, though those lucky enough to live in an Alpine region could see a few precious rays of sunshine too.

The weather will also take a distinctly wintry turn in Berlin and Brandenburg over the weekend, as the cold front sweeps across northeastern Germany on Saturday and towards the Baltic Sea. 

Friday is likely to be mostly chilly and overcast, with occasional rain or sleet and maximum temperatures of 2C. 

In the night, however, southern Brandenburg will start to see some fresh snowfall, which will move up across Berlin and to the north of Brandenburg over the course of Saturday.

Snow falls outside the Reichstag in Berlin

Snow falls outside the Reichstag in Berlin on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

Berliners should be sure to wrap up if they’re heading out to enjoy the festive scenes, since the mercury is likely to hover between zero and -2C. 

Will the snow settle? 

Unfortunately the dusting of white is unlikely to stick around long in most places – so make your snow angels while you can. 

Misty or overcast skies will return on Advent Sunday, while occasional drizzle could well turn Saturday’s snow into slush. Hilly and mountainous regions will be the only ones treated to an extra helping of snow.

Meanwhile, Monday is set to get off to a soggy and wet start, with rainfall in most regions and temperatures between 1C and 5C. 

READ ALSO: Will Germany see more snow this winter?

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