When it snows in Germany…

…the country does not grind to a halt. Granted life is a lot colder and a good deal more slippery than usual but snow is apparently no excuse to shut schools and businesses. Coming from a land where the mere mention of a snowflakes’ possible arrival is enough to close the entire country down, my first winter in Germany was somewhat of a shock to the system.

Snow was one of the reasons I was excited to live in Germany. I purchased snow boots and a thick ski jacket in anticipation of the day the temperature would drop and that first winter did not disappoint. I’m also aware that some people *shakes head in disbelief* do not enjoy snow in the slightest. It’s a cold, wet inconvenience to an otherwise normal day. The thing is, in Germany, it isn’t really. Here life carries on as normal.

No excuse not to go to German class, Erlangen 2011 – Photo Alie

Public transport may be delayed but no more than usual, Deutsche Bahn I’m talking about you. With winter tyres being compulsory and main roads that are cleared early you have no excuse to take the day off. The fabulous saying ‘Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, nur schlechte Kleidung’ (there is no bad weather, only bad clothing) is oh so true in Winter, if you need to know how dress for cold read Erin’s instructional guide, and there’s even one for your kindergarten kids too!

Please don’t misunderstand me; a lot of work happens to enable life to continue normally, snow ploughs, road gritting and whatever else the council has up their sleeves, but a good deal of that work is done by the individual. This individual could be you. ‘With snow comes great responsibility’ is a direct quote from my German teacher as we approached November. Here the removal of snow from the paths and pavement/sidewalk adjoining your property is your personal responsibility and should someone get injured due to improper removal of snow you will be personally liable (Haftpflichtversicherung, a personal insurance policy is advisable for everyone living in Germany and will cover you in situations like this) and you could even receive a fine.

If you live in one of Germany’s many apartment blocks though it is likely that you will have a Winterdienst (winter service) and/or a Hausmeister (building manager) that is paid for through your Nebenkosten (side costs added to your rent) and shared between all of the residents. If you live in a house the responsibility will lie with you and in smaller shared properties the task may be shared between the residents (or included in your Swabian Kehrwoche), your Mietvertrag (tenancy agreement/lease) should be very clear about what you are responsible for.

If you are responsible for snow clearing :-

  • You must clear snow from the pavement/sidewalk in front of the property
  • If you are not there to, or are unable to do it yourself you must find someone who can (Check under ‘Winterdienst’ online for a local company or sort out a swap with your neighbours)
  • Between the hours of 7am-8pm, though a 9am start is ok at the weekends
  • Snow clearing is advisable 15-30 minutes after the snow stops, though can be done throughout the day to avoid a build-up

If you work a regular job, clearing the snow before you leave in the morning and then again in the evening is generally fine. If you are home during the day you will be able to see just how often your neighbours are out shovelling and if a ninety-year-old out there shifting the snow doesn’t spur (or guilt) you into action nothing will. My neighbours are always out first thing, the local snowplough is a noisy little thing that wakes us all up, but now I think about it maybe that’s the intention?

How to clear snow (yes there is a correct way to do it)

    • Invest in a snow shovel to get rid of the worst of it, usually into the gutter but be careful not to block a drain or a parking space, enough room for a pushchair/stroller to get through
    • Get a broom too to ensure the pathway is completely clear before
    • Applying sand/gravel to the cleared area
    • Repeat when necessary
    • Salt is prohibited in Stuttgart for environmental reasons for all but the most dangerous areas, steps, steep inclines etc

NOTE – If you see a sign that says ‘Kein Winterdienst’ the path will not have been cleared or treated and you walk on it at your own risk.

Effective snow clearing with a little procrastination thrown in – Photo Alie

It isn’t all responsibility and toil though, there is still fun to be had. Look out for local skiing areas, there may be some closer than you think (especially if you are down here in the south) no need to schlepp to Switzerland when the snow is right here. Snowmen and women will pop up everywhere; sledging spots will be loud with screaming children (and adults). Tourist sights are still generally open, though parts may be out of bounds, the path around Neuschwanstein and the route to Triberg Waterfall have both been closed due to ice when I’ve been there in midwinter.

I’ve fallen even more in love with snow since living here but I’m soon going to finally be the one responsible for the snow shovelling, so maybe that will change.

– Alie