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Dachlawinenwarnstangen and the Dangers of Viennese Winter


Now that winter is well and truly here, as you walk around town you may have noticed the appearance of red-and-white sticks attached to buildings and jutting out into sidewalks. They appear every year when it snows, and they have a name that only the German language could produce: Dachlawinenwarnstangen. This messy pile of nouns- within-nouns breaks down into slightly more chewable pieces, namely Dachlawinen Warn Stangen – or Roof Avalanche Warning Sticks. And, in German’s delightfully direct way, that is exactly what they are. They are placed on the sidewalk under buildings with steep roofs, as a warning to pedestrians that there is a danger of snow and ice sliding off the roof and plummeting to the ground in what the Austrians aptly call a ‘roof avalanche’ (Dachlawine).

There has been some discussion recently about a better system as these sticks can be a rather dangerous obstacle for the vision impaired, who may have difficulty detecting them, leading to injuries and falls. Nonetheless, despite these concerns, for the moment these warning sticks are here to stay – and that’s because anyone who is injured from falling snow or ice cannot claim any compensation from the building owner as long as the owner has warned pedestrians about the potential danger; and that is the exact purpose the warning sticks serve. So keep an eye out for them if you can, and give them a wide berth! (C.G.)

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