Germany's House Cleaning Culture
Combined with a love of organization and order, it explains the results of a survey made some time ago, that around 30 percent of Germans regularly have "Cleaning Attacks" (Putzanfallen). Instead of putting off housework "until another day", and no matter how inconvenient it might be at the time, they begin to clean everything in sight. Thoroughly enjoy themselves while doing it, and are almost euphoric when admiring the result of their labors.
Many, according to the survey, become anxious and tense if for whatever reason the mood for a "sparkling" home, car or bicycle etc. strikes, but is impossible to satisfy.
This passion for cleanliness, housework, and taking care of possessions, has been evident for 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 the first laundry detergent to their list of inventions. When boiled this cleaned quickly, thoroughly, and with a minimum of effort.
During WWII Germany's streets were continually cleared of rubble. Collected in a central area, at war's end the work continued to become the Trümmerberg, 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 immaculate, with everything just where it should be.
This also applies to outside the home.
Unwritten rules ensure gardens are cultivated, grass well cut, flower beds in order, and public sidewalks running along the house perimeter kept clear come rain, shine, snow, ice or leaf fall. Removing any 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 3 pm.
Cleaning products are preferred if they smell "clean", with no fragrance or just 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 the powerful artificial aroma of Apples, Grapefruit, Lilac, Lavender, Sea Breeze, for example is really not welcome.
Everything 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.
So 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. Reality TV shows 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, make a spontaneous visit to virtually any German home and you will almost certainly say "Yes", the image 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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