Germany gets dark in the winter

Please note that some posts contain links that earn me a small commission to help keep the site running.

Freiburg is on the 48th parallel. The long straight border between the US and Canada is on the 49th. So we currently live a fair ways further north than I ever thought I would, and we are still in the extreme southern end of Germany. For comparison, where I grew up in the southern US is the same latitude as Athens, Greece. Why does this matter? It gets dark here in the winter. A lot! And early.

Germany: the Darkening

From early November to roughly March on the other side, it will be dark by at least 5:00pm. This means I come home from work in the dark. In fact, I look out now even in late November at 4:45 when it is getting dark already and realize I still have to work a few hours. Around Christmas it will be fully dark by 4:30. This is insanely early for me and really can take a toll on the psyche. And we are in the south of the country, travel 500 miles north to Hamburg and knock another hour of daylight off.

The balance to all of this dark is that in summer it stay light for a long time. Life in general is often about balance, so we enjoy our long summer days by enduring long winter nights.


I am very attuned to the weather and sunlight. My mood rises and falls pretty closely with the amount of sunlight and good weather we have. A few days of rain, especially in the winter with all the darkness, gets to me pretty quickly.

I don’t really remember being like this in the US. Maybe this is part of my cultural adaptation. Germans love the sun and will sit in a small patch of it at a cafe in the depths of winter like a cat, just basking in the light. On the other hand, maybe this is an effect of being an expat. No matter how adapted I am to living here, it still takes more energy than living in the US. And when the light isn’t there I dip in energy a bit more.

Beyond the mental effects, I notice that I definitely want to sleep more. I also have the urge to eat more to counteract the lack of sun energy. I am sure this is all in my head, but it does seem to match up.

Either way, the lack of sunlight is quite pronounced living here over in the southern US. And I know we don’t have that bad. I have had friends in Scandinavia tell stories of the darkness there in the winter to curl your toes. And even I saw a bit of on my week bus tour through Scotland at Christmas a few years ago. I know now why they go to the pub so much. The pub is warm and lit. Add the German weather pattern that includes a lot of rain and cloudy days and there is a good reason why Italy and Spain are such popular travel destinations.

At least in December there are plenty of Christmas things going on. Christmas markets and parties provide a good reason to get together with friends. In January though it can be hard.

What to do?

My choice would be to hibernate, but meh there still needs to be things accomplished. I still have to head to the office, blogs still need to be written.

Here is my list:

  • Spend time out with friends or just among other people.
  • Spend time in well lit places.
  • Go out and enjoy any sun that happens to occur.
  • Set yourself a goal for the winter months. NaNoWriMo is November and could be a good thing to work on in the winter.

I try to make sure I get out to well lit places more. I don’t notice the dark outside if I am in a nicely lit cafe even at night. This meshes with making sure to see friends as well. There is an urge to hibernate at home that will increase the feelings of isolation as well as reduce the urge to put out energy to plan things. I need to fight against these urges and await the coming of spring.

29 thoughts on “Germany gets dark in the winter

  1. Pingback: Struggling to Get Back Into Traveling - Grounded Traveler

  2. Pingback: Announcing Beyond Vacation 2013 - Grounded Traveler

  3. I remember my last visit in Berlin in December 2012. It got dark at 4pm but the Christmas markets make the whole city look so bright 🙂

    • Christmas markets do help. Though January can be pretty gray and no festivals. February often has Carnevale/Fasching, which helps though it is only a few days.

  4. London is similarly dark and grey. Great for Christmas markets and gluehwein but once Christmas is over, time to hone those indoor hobbies in Jan/Feb 🙂 Yoga here I come.

  5. Pingback: A Travellers Christmas: Andy From Grounded Traveler | One Giant StepOne Giant Step

  6. Hey Andrew, what are some points of interest or ‘must-dos’ for a visit in Freiburg? Thinking of going for a weekend maybe early next year, it’s not too far from Karlsruhe after all, and have a young baby in tow – would appreciate any suggestions you may have for places to go/restaurants to visit etc!

  7. Pingback: Until Further Notice, You Can Assume I'm Freezing | Ali's Adventures

  8. Ah unfortunately there is nothign to combat it in January. I cannot stand it, because by the time I am off work it has already been dark for two hours and my inner clock is beyond confused. The good thing is, it’s sunny so much later in the summer and that ALMOST makes up for it 😉

    • Yup. To see it get dark and realize you still have to sit there is hard. Summer festivals are good and I just need to remember them during this time. Though they are so far away timewise now.

  9. Christmas markets and Gluhwein are the only way forward! I always used to find January and February the hardest in terms of the seeming never ending darkness. Have to say I’m not a huge fan of the dark nights either – one of the main reasons we’ve escaped to Thailand this Winter!

  10. I am with Debbie. I grew up in the southern part of the US but am not spoiled by California weather. We are having a huge storm here right now but it’s so rare to have days and days or rain that you just deal with it. Like you, it can get dark here early as well. That part I don’t like. However, summers are great – for longer days and lots of sunshine.

    If I lived in Germany, I would have to consume myself with football during the winter 🙂

  11. Experiencing this for thee first time here in Amsterdam the last month housesitting and it sure does affect you. When that one sunny day comes, it feels like summer even though you are still cold! I think the January-Feb-Mar would be the worst to handle for sure. It is funny how you just tend to think Europe is just straight across fro the US, but in reality is further north, I blame bad maps.

    • Yes, bad maps and climate similarities despite the latitude. We were just talking tonight to some Germans explaining that were Ali and I grew up was south of Portugal latitude wise.

  12. Brrr.. just reading this post is making me cold. I like your idea of hanging out in well lit cafes. I should try that when I get down about the darkness in winter.

  13. I grew up on the 50th parallel in Canada and am currently on the 53rd. It really is dark and cold. I like it in the summer though when it says light until 11 or later. I get quite discombobulated in tropical climes where it is light at 6 and dark at 6 all year round; I find that it is warm and so I am naturally wanting it to be light until late! I think pubs are a perfect solution to the winter darkness! Cheers!

    • So you are on the same level as Scott in Hamburg. I definitely love the summer light, but the winter does make it harder. The balance is made out of extremes as opposed to a real balance.
      The idea of being weirded out because it is warm and still dark early is an interesting one. We will see once we get going on our travels.

  14. My hometown in Minnesota was on the 45th parallel. Halfway between heaven and hell, so to speak. Now in Germany we are at 53 degrees North, as far north as Hudson’s Bay. By all rights we should have polar bears in our back yard! 🙂

    After having lived in Minnesota and Arizona, neither of which have normal seasons, I’ve come to appreciate having 4 distinct seasons. And like Chauncey Gardiner says in Being There, you can’t have spring and summer without having fall and winter.

    • I fear the polar bears would be unable to work in the German order and be fined heavily.

      I definitely like Spring and Fall, Summer is ok and Winter can be reduced to the 4 week Christmas Market season for all I care. I remember going to school up in the mountains and having all 4 seasons in the same day.

Comments are closed.