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Germany's House Cleaning Culture
Germany and Germans have a well deserved image of being a "clean and tidy" nation, which they combine with a love of organization and order.
In fact a survey made some time ago claimed that about 30% of Germans regularly have a Cleaning Attack, "Putzanfall", which is when they clean everything in sight and thoroughly enjoy themselves while doing it. With many, according to the survey, becoming anxious and tense if for what ever reason the mood for a "sparkling" home, car or bicycle etc. strikes, but it is impossible to satisfy it at the time.
This renowned passion for cleanliness, housework, and taking care of possessions, has shown itself in different ways over the centuries.
Legend has it that, although the Romans brought the idea of Theraputic Baths to their Germania colony after conquering it, it was the Germans who introduced their occupiers to soap. Up until then Romans had used oil together with a scraper.
Housewives were saved from excessive rubbing, stirring and beating their laundry when, in 1907, German chemists added to their list of inventions with the first laundry detergent, which when boiled cleaned quickly, efficiently, and with a minimum of effort.
While during WWII the streets were as far as possible continually cleared of rubble. This was collected in a central area and at wars end the work carried on to become the Truemmerberg, rubble mountains, the grass and tree covered hills to be found as part of the scenery throughout Germany, from Berlin's "Teufelsberg", Devils Mountain, to Munich's Olympic Park.
It doesn't really matter what time of day it is, in general German homes are kept neat and tidy, with everything just where it should be.
This will also apply to outside the home. Unwritten rules makes sure any gardens are cultivated, grass kept well mown, flower beds in order, public sidewalks running along the house perimeter clear, come rain, shine, snow, ice or leaf fall. Removing the weeds from cracks in the sidewalk in front of your home could well be included.
But all this will be done within time restraints.....so not on a Sunday and not between 12 noon and 3 pm.
Cleaning products are preferred if they smell "clean", basically with no fragrance or faintly of bleach, and if polish has a smell it should only be of bees wax.
Although there are perfumed cleansers which are increasing in popularity, having a "just cleaned" kitchen, bathroom, window or whatever which includes a powerful chemical smell of apples, grapefruit, lilacs or lavender is really not the aim. It should just look and smell as if it has been cleaned, nothing more.
Lavender or lilacs in a vase, apples and grapefruit in a fruit bowl, but not as an synthetic perfume throughout the home.
And this being "Green Germany" not only organic stores but every supermarket has a huge variety of ecologically friendly, and efficient, all natural cleaning products and special "Eco" brands, which cover every eventuality, and these include different types of color coded microfiber cloths which clean more efficiently than any normal cloth.
While there are a mass of "tried and true" natural cleaning recipes, passed down through the generations as house cleaning tips, which are still popular and in use.
White vinegar: To remove limescale, stains and mold amongst other things. Including cleaning windows when combined with water and liquid detergent or soap. Two cups water, 1/4 cup of vinegar, and no more than 1/2 teaspoon soap or detergent, added to a spray bottle and cleaned off with the aid of old newspaper or a microfiber cloth.
Baking soda: Mixed with lemon juice, vinegar or water, to make a gentle abrasive paste as a all-purpose cleaner and stain remover for everything from cleaning stainless steel to removing tea stains from cups. While it is also a natural deodorizer and air freshener.
Essential oils: Such as lavender, clove and tea tree oil, are natural disinfectants and mold removers. One teaspoon of essential oil to 2 cups of water in a spray bottle and that is a problem solved.
Living in a German apartment often means there is a "Putzplan" in place. A rota with details as to which apartment occupant does what, when and the precise hours it is to be done. Turns are taken as to cleaning the stairs, windows, entrance, steps and communal corridors for example. These, along with rules as to when washing machines can be used etc., are strictly adhered to, otherwise there will be problems and angry neighbors will be banging on your door, sometimes it will even be the landlord.
Known as "Kehrwoche", "care week", and literally translated as "sweep week", even if you have not looked at the notice board, and everything still looks as good as it did when last cleaned, you will know when your turn has arrived because a small sign will be hung on your door.
There will be an additional winter plan on display somewhere prominent, showing who is responsible for clearing away the snow and ice outside the building on any particular day during the winter months.
While in the "outside world" following any festival or event cleaning personnel with their trucks and equipment arrival the minute it closes, and after an hour no one will know anything has taken place.
And this will happen even in Cologne, where there is a legend that "Heinzelmaennchen", little house gnomes, used to do the work for the city's citizens during the night, so they needed to do nothing during the day. That is until the curiosity of a tailor's wife got the better of her and she scattered peas over the floor hoping the gnomes would slip on them. This angered the Heinzelmaennchen who packed their bags and disappeared, never to be seen again. So now also the people of Cologne have to do all their housework themselves.
Do today's Germans still deserve their reputation as an organized nation, which follows rules and has legendary standards of hygiene?
Well there are those who fall by the wayside, with the obligatory reality TV show showing their homes, complete with the two "Putzteufel", cleaning devils, who not only point out the error of their ways but give house cleaning tips and are soon surrounded by sparkling surfaces, and unclogged drains.
Nevertheless, although the traditional "hausfrau" with nothing more in mind than Kinder, Kueche und Kirche, "Children, Kitchen and Church", is no more, if you spontaneously visited virtually any German home you would almost certainly say "Yes", the reputation is still deserved.
The home would be "glaenzend", spotless. And this despite the fact that, although the country will probably never be described as "cheerfully chaotic", influences from other European countries have led to more of a laissez-faire approach to living than in generations past, and with it the realization that there is more to life than just work.
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Here are two great books, filled with recipes and hints for natural cleaning products, which are "green", non-toxic and easy to make and use:
DIY Natural Household Cleaners: How To Make Your Own Cleaners Naturally.
The Naturally Clean Home: 150 Super-Easy Herbal Formulas for Green Cleaning
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