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German ambassador dies in car crash

I don’t know why I was so shocked to read in the news this morning that the man found dead in his car in the Norðurá river yesterday was Dr Karl-Ulrich Müller, the German ambassador to Iceland. He had been driving up to the north of the country and apparently his car went off the road and landed in the river.

Perhaps it’s the same phenomenon as when you’re shocked that celebrities die in accidents — as though they weren’t mortal.

Or because it hit slightly close to home. A few years ago I worked for the British Embassy here in Reykjavík, which shares premises with the German Embassy. There was a great deal of interaction with the German staff through a shared kitchen and other facilities. That was before Dr Müller’s time as ambassador – I had never met him – but still, it somehow makes the tragedy slightly more real.

This also highlights, yet again, what a dangerous place Iceland can be. Its formidable nature holds so many dangers and people are not always adequately prepared. Tourists are particularly vulnerable; that is why it is so strongly emphasized that they should never, for example, set off on a hike alone, without telling somewhere where they’re going and what time they expect to return. And of course driving in Iceland holds its own particular set of dangers, with the gravel shoulders, free-roaming sheep, one-lane bridges and two-lane highways, etc.

This is not to imply that Dr Müller didn’t take the proper precautions — I have no idea about the circumstances of his accident, and Icelanders are certainly not exempt when it comes to traffic accidents. No doubt the roads were icy and hence this outcome … in any case, a very sad event.

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  • Joerg January 26, 2010, 12:25 pm

    I do not know about this particular case but I have been in this area a couple of years ago in winter. The most challenging thing, when driving across Öxnadalsheiði at this time, was drifting snow, which caused an almost complete white-out with zero visibility. You couldn’t tell, where the road was. It was really scary. Other dangers in winter are very strong winds and unexpected icy conditions on the road. This is, why I always insist on getting rental cars equipped with spiked tyres in winter – even though they might not be necessary in the city.

  • Paul H January 27, 2010, 3:13 pm

    We had our first experience of winter in Iceland recently.
    The road out to our new home is now something I am very wary of.
    In the summer it was no problem.
    However, this time we had to deal with snow the first day we arrived, which caused us to turn back rather than risk getting stuck.
    And there was a stretch of road which was either prone to icing or water run-off from the nearby mountain.
    I suddenly happened upon a stretch of road where we were either hydroplaning or on black ice.
    As is the norm, the road dropped off sharply either side with no room for error.
    I was very scared by it, but, thankfully, it only served as a warning and did not turn into something more serious.
    I will remember that experience for a long time to come and adjust my driving accordingly.
    I wasn’t speeding, and I will drive well under the speed limit if I feel the road is not providing adequate traction to travel faster (please feel free to pass me, I just want to get there safely and in one piece).

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