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BellaOnline's German Culture Editor


Germany's House Cleaning Culture

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

Indeed 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 whatever reason the mood for a "sparkling" home, car or bicycle etc. strikes, but at the time is impossible to satisfy.

This passion for cleanliness, housework, and taking care of possessions, has shown itself in different ways over the centuries.

Legend has it that the Romans brought the idea of "Therapeutic Baths" to their Germania colony after conquering it, but 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 the first laundry detergent. When boiled this cleaned quickly, efficiently, and with a minimum of effort.

While during WWII Germany's streets were continually cleared of rubble. It was collected in a central area and at war's end the work continued to become the Truemmerberg, rubble mountains. Grass and tree covered hills that are a part of the scenery throughout Germany, from Berlin Teufelsberg, "Devil's Mountain", to Munich Olympic Park.

Whatever the time of day the average German home is kept neat and tidy with everything just where it should be.

This also applies to outside the home.

Unwritten rules ensure 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 weeds from cracks in the sidewalk in front of a home is often included.

But all this is done within time restraints.....so never on Sunday and not between 12 noon and 3pm.

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 welcome.

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 all supermarkets have a huge variety of ecologically friendly, and efficient, natural cleaning products and special "Eco" brands, which cover every eventuality. Including different types of color coded microfiber cloths that clean more efficiently than any normal cloth.

"Tried and true" natural cleaning recipes, passed down through the generations as house cleaning tips, are still popular.

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 an 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 another problem solved.

Living in a German apartment often means that a "Putzplan" is in place.

This is a rota listing the apartment occupant who does what, when and the precise hours it is to be done.

Turns are taken for 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.

It is known as Kehrwoche, "care week" literally translated as "sweep week", and even if you have not looked at the notice board and everything 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 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 or so no one will know anything has taken place.

This even happens 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. Apparently the Heinzelmaennchen were so angry they packed their bags and disappeared, never to be seen again; 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 reality TV shows that showed their homes, complete with the two Putzteufel, cleaning devils, who not only pointed out the error of their ways but gave house cleaning tips and were soon surrounded by sparkling surfaces, and unclogged drains.

Nevertheless, although the traditional "Hausfrau" with nothing more in mind than Kinder, Küche und Kirche, "Children, Kitchen and Church", is no more, if you make a spontaneous visit to virtually any German home you would almost certainly say "Yes", the reputation is still deserved.

Despite the fact the country will probably never be described as "cheerfully chaotic", influences from other European countries have led to a more "laissez-faire" approach to living than in generations past, nevertheless whatever the time of day that home would be "glänzend". Spotless.

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Content copyright © 2015 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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