‘Without the air-conditioner, it is hell’: Irish in Europe on the heatwave

Red warnings issued in France as temperatures set to soar to 45 degrees

Europe is sweltering under one of the most extreme heatwaves in decades, with record-breaking temperatures exceeding 45 degrees Celsius expected in France this weekend. "Hell is coming," one forecaster tweeted earlier this week.

Irish readers living and holidaying in Europe have been sharing what it is like where they live with Irish Times Abroad.

Linda Ferguson, Geneva, Switzerland: ‘Hats and bottles of water are our strongest defense’

The first time I experienced such extreme weather was while living in Paris in 2003. The heatwave then came as a shock, we were stunned and unprepared, but living in a spacious house it was bearable. Unfortunately that was not the case for many others, as 15,000 lives were lost during the few days of that heatwave.

We’ve lived in Geneva since 2006, it’s only in the last three years that we become used to having temperatures in the mid to high 30 ºC. But that was happening generally in August, never in June. This year it’s a first. It is 35 degrees today (Thursday). We have to live indoors with the shutters closed all day. Air conditioning is not common for residential properties here, meaning people are happier than usual to get to work to enjoy the AC.


Unless you are close to the lake for a swim, it’s tough to take advantage of any outdoor activities. Building sites are vacant. The shady side of the streets is lined with people waiting on buses, unable to wait at the stop in the sun. Hats and bottles of water are our strongest defense. We had no spring, we went straight from a mild winter, to flash storms and rain to a five-day heatwave. We cannot ignore something is wrong with current erratic weather patterns here.

Brian O’Driscoll, Berlin, Germany: ‘Last summer lasted six months and winter was mild’

Here in Berlin, temperatures reached 38 degrees on Wednesday and are set to top that next Sunday. Germans are ultra-prepared for winter. If there is snow and ice and -15 degree temperatures, the local councils grit the footpaths and roads with stereotypical efficiency. But the Germans are about as prepared for extreme summer weather as they are for a group stage exit at a Fifa World Cup. Watermelons, grapes, cherries, and strawberries do a roaring trade in the supermarkets - not to mention Berliner Weisse, the local summer sweet beer - but none of these delicious diversions can really compensate for the lack of air conditioning in old Berlin office buildings.

Yet, for all the heat, one thing I have noticed in Germany is that it takes the sun a little bit longer to burn pale Irish skin than it does an Atlantic breeze on a dull Irish summer’s day. 20 degrees on the Cliffs of Moher is likely to do me far more harm than 30 in Prenzlauer Berg. The moisture in the air just isn’t there - meaning 37 is hot but not stinging.

Last summer lasted six months (from April to October). Winter was mild. Snow, which was common, has been almost non-existent over the last three years here. Make of that what you will. Still, it’s hard to complain about hot summers and cold beers when the alternative just might be oppressively low slate grey skies, drizzle, and the constant forlorn hope of a summer that never arrives.

Robbie Kelly, Switzerland: ‘The summers are great here but this is over the top’

“Switzerland,” people from home would say to me when I tell they where I’m living, “isn’t it a bit cold over there?” Not this week it isn’t. The summers are great here but this is over the top. All you can do is close the shutters all day, stay in the shade, put the fans on ‘til they drive you crazy with the whirring, and drink beaucoup d’eau. Lucky there’s a big pond beside us called Lake Geneva!

Paul Hughes, Darmstadt, Germany: ‘It’s summer, it’s hot, what’s there to say?’

It was 41° yesterday and we don’t have air conditioning in the office. Tough cookies here. Today it should be a moderate 32° but heading back to the 40s for the weekend. The difference to Ireland? Nobody in the office is talking about the weather. It’s summer, it’s hot, what’s there to say? Sleeping takes effort though. It was 24.5° when I woke up and from the look of the bed it was anything but a peaceful sleep.

John Richardson, Bremen, Germany: ‘The last four years have seen three or four weeks of temperatures exceeding 40 degrees’

Bremen’s at the same latitude as Dublin, but the mean temperatures in summer are much higher averaging around 25-30 degrees. The last four years have seen three or four weeks of temperatures exceeding 40 degrees, however. Luckily, my office has AC and my apartment has good airflow keeping the place much cooler indoors. Apart from that we just avoid going out during the hotter hours during the day and keep lots of liquids in the fridge, and save all activities until the evening.

John Underhill, San Sebastian, Spain: ‘We arrived to what could only be described as a furnace’

Started yesterday on the Camino Primitivo at Irun having crossed over the French Spanish border after flying into Biarritz. This is supposed to be a more arduous Camino, with plenty of hills, but nothing could have prepared us for the heat. We arrived in San Sebastian on Wednesday in what could only be described as a furnace, 34ºC a green florescent sign over a pharmacy said. And that was in the shade. Even the taxi drivers had abandoned their ranks, such was the heat.

We met some Americans from California, who, like ourselves had made the mistake of venturing into San Sebastian, and left in a daze, retreating to their beds having had enough of the heat, crowds, and more heat. “Never saw the likes of it in LA,” said one, shaking her head.

Corey Rigley, Zurich, Switzerland: ‘It is hard to believe it is so cold back home in Ireland’

In the morning I wake up overheated. The window open only helps for a few hours at night - the rest of the time it is better to have it closed. Shutters down, nearly always. I get a warm tram to work, where the office does not have good air conditioning due to regulations, because it is next to the lake. I sweat it out. At least the lake is there, ready to jumped into at lunchtime and in the evening. The evenings are wonderful. There are people everywhere swimming in the rivers and lakes - it is very much a Swiss tradition. Everyone seems to be full of joy - some folk lying out having a picnic discussing the recent Frauenstreik which took place all over the country, others flexing their muscles playing volleyball, out to impress.

It is hard to believe it is so cold back home in Ireland when you see the bright blue skies every day here. A few too many cold beers in the evening never helps, but is always so nice. Cold showers always. Working in an office in this weather is hard, but at least one can cower away from the sun during the day. The lake is always full of boats and life. It is so blue. The sun lights up the Alps in the distance. One can't help but admire the Swiss people's capacity for enjoying their lives. They make the most of it. And I am trying to too.

Seanán Ó Coistín, Luxembourg: ‘Without the air-conditioner, it is hell’

Luckily I work in a building with air-conditioning, but there are other older buildings that are like saunas. Yesterday I attended a training session in one, and with many people in the room, switched-on computers, and no air-con, it was hell. Everyone was sweating profusely. Fans had little effect.

It was up to 38 degrees Celsius yesterday. On Monday, I called a DIY store in Luxembourg to see if they had air-conditioning units. They had sold out. The man I spoke with told me that I would be able to buy them in the company’s shop in Trier. I rang at 1pm and was told there were 15 units left but by the time I reached Trier at 7pm, all 15 had been sold.

It’s difficult to sleep at night in the heat. Without the air-conditioner, it is hell. I sweat a lot during these hot nights so I find my pillow and sheet wet from sweat. I make sure to drink lots of water during the day.

The other problem with the heat is that there are lots of insects around. I have been bitten far too many times. I have many plants and flowers on my balcony behind my apartment, and I fear that some of them won’t survive this week.

Andrew Johnston, Dammbach, Germany: ‘The heatwave is extreme and unusual’

We live in small rural village in the Spessart - a wooded hilly area one hour east of Frankfurt. The heatwave here is acknowledged by locals and work colleagues as extreme and unusual. At work there are “heated” debates about which brand of air fan/tower is the best (pro tip: Brandson) and whether it is better to work from home or avail of the air conditioned office. Those who are working from home are mostly retreating to the cool of their basements.

The hardest thing about this heatwave is the nights, where the temperatures are sticky in mid to high 20s. There were some power outages at the start of week, which we suspect is connected to the excessive heat at night and the energy being used to cool things down with fans. Each evening, families are fleeing to the local freibad (or outdoor swimming pool) which offers temporary reprieve. The advice is not to do any sports or activities, and our children have limited playtime.

Fergus Wallace, Turin, Italy: ‘These are typical August temperatures’

I’ve been living here for 14 years. For the past few days it has been very warm - 36 degrees by day, 32 degrees today at 9pm. On Friday we’ll see temperatures of over 40 degrees by day. Although it’s a little early for that level of heat (these are typical August temperatures) I don’t think it’s far off the mark. If you keep your cool, walk and work a little slower than usual and avoid thinking about it too much, it’s fine. Days like this often end with a delicious cold beer with friends and family after work.

Win Power, Basel, Switzerland

“Don’t die,” my stepson says as I am packing to go out. “I’ll be fine,” I answer. I’m fully equipped. Wide-brimmed straw sun hat? Check. Fifty-factor face cream? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Old-fashioned fan? Check. “Bring a bottle of water too,” Tim says. “And make sure to go by the woods.”

My phone says “34 degrees but feels like 39”. I step out into the heat. My legs burn: darn it, forgot to suncream them. I’ll have a go anyway. The air is hot. The ground is hot. The trees are still. I walk through the woods, experiencing the intensity of it. I make my way into the full sunlight, through the alley behind the village church, and onto the Dorfplatz. I pull my hat down over my neck.

The village shop is glorious. Cool air welcomes me in. I pick up the bag of coffee and loiter by the fridge, looking at yoghurts and milk and drinks. I go and pay, packing my bag slowly. I make my way out into the hot white sunlight. I feel incredibly brave. I am an Irish explorer braving a Swiss heatwave.