Most of the recent European summer heat waves have been preceded by a pronounced spring precipitation deficit. The lack of precipitation and the associated depletion of soil moisture result in reduced latent cooling and thereby amplify the summer temperature extremes. In order to quantify the contribution of land-atmosphere interactions, we conduct regional climate simulations with and without land-atmosphere coupling for four selected major summer heat waves in 1976, 1994, 2003, and 2005. The coupled simulation uses a fully coupled land-surface model, while in the uncoupled simulation the mean seasonal cycle of soil moisture is prescribed. The experiments reveal that land-atmosphere coupling plays an important role for the evolution of the investigated heat waves both through local and remote effects. During all simulated events soil moisture-temperature interactions increase the heat wave duration and account for typically 50–80% of the number of hot summer days. The largest impact is found for daily maximum temperatures during heat wave episodes.