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Germany's House Cleaning Culture


Germany and German speaking countries have a well deserved image of being a "clean and tidy" nations, which they combine with a love of organization and order.

In fact a survey made some time ago claimed that about 30 per cent of Germans regularly have a Cleaning Attack, "Putzanfall", 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 is impossible to satisfy 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 in 1907, when German chemists added to their list of inventions the first laundry detergent, which when boiled cleaned quickly, efficiently, and with a minimum of effort.

While during WWII Germany's streets were continually cleared of rubble. Collected in a central area, at wars end the work carried on to become the Truemmerberg, rubble mountains, the grass and tree covered hills found as part of the scenery throughout Germany, from Berlin's "Teufelsberg", Devils Mountain, to Munich's Olympic Park.

Whatever the time of day, 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 gardens are cultivated, grass kept well cut, flower beds in order, and 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 a home is often included.

But all this is done within time restraints.....so not on 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 any scent at all it should only be of bees wax.

Although perfumed cleansers are increasing in popularity, having a "just cleaned" kitchen, bathroom, window or whatever that includes a powerful chemical aroma 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 as an synthetic perfume throughout the home? No, really not.

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 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 among 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: Lavender, clove and tea tree oil for example, 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.

This is a rota that lists 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, which invariably include angry neighbors banging on your door. Sometimes even the landlord.

Known as "Kehrwoche", "care week", 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.

An additional winter plan will be on display somewhere prominent, showing who is responsible for clearing away 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, and now the people of Cologne have to do all their housework themselves.

Do today's Germans still deserve their reputation as an organized nation, following rules and with legendary standards of hygiene?

Well there are those who fall by the wayside, with the obligatory reality TV programs 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 for 'Putzteufel' or the simply curious. Filled with recipes and hints for "green", non-toxic and easy to make natural cleaning products.
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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Content copyright © 2014 by Francine McKenna-Klein. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Francine McKenna-Klein. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Francine McKenna-Klein for details.

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