Lüften. The solution for most problems in Germany.

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One of the stereotypical things of German society besides beers and sausages is the tremendous amount of rules in everyday life, and the importance of following them. Otherwise one would cause disruption to German society, and that is just not cool. This is why you will see someone standing in front of a red “Ampel” in freezing temperatures in the middle of a the night, with no cars in sight, waiting obediently for the lights to turn green. I know many who have tried to defy the sacred Ampelman and end up being fined. So it makes sense, for the sake of survival in Germany, to get to know the rules and follow them. Stay off the bike paths when you are walking, or else don’t complain about being run over by a toddler on a wooden tricycle or to be yelled at by a 70-year-old Oma. Don’t eat the Weißwurst after 11 in the morning or face the risk of having ingested unfresh meat. Open Rittersport (the square German chocolates) the right way, according the rules on the package, or be prepared to have strangers come over and take the chocolate out of your hands to show you how it should be done. And NEVER, ever, attempt to drink Hefeweizen from the bottle. It is better to not drink the beer at all rather than to do it without a proper glass. I have seen full-grown, proud, and strong Bavarians shriek, cringe and cover their eyes at the sight of ignorant foreigners drinking Hefeweizen from the bottle. My own relationship was put at risk when I once, just for fun, suggested that we drink Hefeweizen from the bottle to save us from washing the glasses. Do it at your own risk, and don’t complain about not being warned.

And it even comes down to air. There is a set of rules for Lüften (airing/ventilating) rooms. This sheet, as displayed in the picture, was tucked in the contract of our apartment in Regensburg. Frau H, the 83-year-old lady who sealed the contract with my Furry Bavarian, insisted that he go through every single point and follow piously as if they were rules about drinking beer. Here are the golden rules of how to ventilate and heat a room:

  • Renew the air in the room on a regular basis.
  • Let the draft ventilate the room shortly, for 3-5 minutes each time. The colder it is outside, the shorter the airing time should be. By the way, a short transverse ventilation (Querlüftung) would not cool down the walls or the furniture entirely. This is something you will notice yourself.
  • Air your room three to four times per day.

And just when you think, “screw this, I will just leave the windows open so nobody can say I haven’t done it…”

  • When heating up the room, please do NOT ventilate continuously. Please let air in only by tilting the window.
  • Do not trap the heat generated by the heater with furniture or curtains.
  • Let out all redundant quantities of steam (e.g. by cooking) out of the room immediately.
  • Please keep the doors to rooms where lots of steam is generated (such as the kitchen and bathroom) closed, so that the steam will not escape into the living room.
  • Quit all use of humidifiers or any electronic air dampers.
  • Do not place furniture with closed boards directly by the exterior walls. If the space permits, keep furniture 5 cm away from the wall.
  • Keep doors which lead to less heated rooms closed, so that the humid air will not lead to precipitation on the walls.

We received a hygrometer as a house-warming gift from the Frau H’s son. Whenever the humidity hits 70%, we should open up the windows an let the evil moisture out, or else it will transform into a moldy monster and devour our pathetic souls…. But to be good tenants, we nodded in fear of being kicked out. We even developed a new favourite pastime- to check the hygrometer every hour and proceed to open the window when the readings reached 65%. We even walk around with it, as if it were a Tamagotchi, checking to see if the readings changed according to the location.

Considering our place is 19.5 square meters including the shower, we were forced to compromise the distance between wall and furniture to 3 cm. But we compensated our sins by airing the room 5-6 times per day, sometimes doing it in the middle of the night on our pee-pee-breaks, so that the humidity never exceeded 70%. I normally cook all sorts of different cuisines as a hobby, but now the fear of arousing the Moldy-Monster was greater than my interests. The excess steam and smell that could be generated from frying garlic or searing meat should be avoided at all costs. My hobby was limited down to boiling pasta and making soups or steaming potatoes with my rice-cooker, which now earned a special place in the bathroom, since that is where the air fan is. The food that we ate and the ultimate place where it ends up in (i.e. toilet) is often cooked 10 cm apart. Talk about a cradle to grave system!

This is not only a weird fetish from our current landlords. It is more like a national sport, the domestic version of Fußball (soccer for those of you who speak American like I do). As a rule of thumb, one should lüften immediately after waking up and right before going to bed. There is nothing more exciting than to be shocked awake with blasts of cold air in winter. In contrast to the belief in Taiwan, where we avoid inhaling cold air when coming down with a cold, the German moms tend to support the theory of freezing the pathogens to death by making sure the rooms of are always full of fresh, cold air. The kitchen should always be lüftet after cooking so that it doesn’t smell of food. My jackets and sweaters have often been removed after having a meal in a restaurant and hung outside for a few hours.  Try to reason with them about cutting down the frequency of letting freezing air in the house and you will get a report on how the population of all sorts of nasty germs, bacteria and bug begs explode and eat you alive if you forget to lüften. I once had a had two flatmates who couldn’t stand each other and would take turns complaining to me when the other was absent. The reasons why the Canadian couldn’t stand the German ran into a ramble of random things (such as insisting on sharing the expenses of potatoes when he was the only one eating them) which I save myself from repeating,  but the German had only one thing against the Canadian, and that was enough for them to keep the grudge going on for months. The Canadian did not ventilate her room often enough, and the air smelled stuffy. I was lucky enough to be going through the final stage of my thesis, so that I had the perfect excuse to stay out of the stuffy conversations, no matter how well the rooms were “lüftet”.

The Hausmeister (caretaker) at the our student residence also took this rule seriously. My neighbour from Greece had moved in for a week and noticed that the in one corner of the room a bit of mold was working its way down the wall. He talked the the Hausmeister about it and immediately got a lecture on how students (especially international students who had not learned the art of Lüften since they were still in the womb) always had this problem because we just did not know how to air the rooms properly. My neighbour pointed out meekly that he had only moved in for a week and the mold must have been there for months, but the Hausmeister just glared at him and asked him how many times had he lüftet in the past week? Baffled, my neighbour returned to his room and left the windows tilted for the remaining months of his stay. And his only piece of advice to me was, “It doesn’t matter of it makes sense or not. If you want to survive in this country, be sure you know the word lüften.”

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