23 January, 2014

My Biggest Pet Peeve

I think my readers will agree that most of what I've written here is positive. I like Germany, I like Karlsruhe, and I like my life here. However, as would happen to anyone living in a new place, there are several things about Germany and German habits that get under my skin. The particular one I would like to rant about today, and which has been particular irksome the past week or so, is:

Germans are obsessed with fresh air!

At a first glance this seems like a good thing. I myself like to enjoy the great outdoors and the fresh air (or frische Luft) that it has to offer. However, there is a difference between enjoying the great outdoors in its rightful location (you know, outside) and having the great outdoors invade your entire house.

Every single German I know has absolutely no problem with opening all the windows and doors in a room/apartment in the middle of winter for extended periods of time, for the sake of fresh air. This is done casually and as a matter of course, with not a thought given for people who are enjoying the nicely heated room (i.e., me). Immediately following the exit of all the carefully (and expensively) produced heat, the windows are closed and the heat once again turned on, until the room is warm again, usually not until some point the following day. Then the whole process is repeated, to my endless annoyance. I know that the goal is to luxuriate in the freshest possible air, but to me it feels more like this:


Now there are certain times when opening a window for fresh air is greatly welcomed, even by me. If the house is uncomfortably warm or there are lots of people in one room, then by all means go ahead and open a window. If there is something baking in the oven and the kitchen is hot, then I'm all for cracking a window. During the nice weather in spring and fall, I'll be the first one to leave windows open and enjoy the comfortable flow of warm air. But I am not, I repeat NOT, a fan of this daily procedure of chilling and then reheating the house that is carried out during the entire winter. (And this winter is a mild one. I don't even want to imagine this going on when the temperature gets down below zero.)

I know the Germans reading this are probably already scrambling to the comments section to tell me that there are good, practical reasons to be doing this. The house needs fresh air, German houses are more insulated than American ones and therefore need to be aired out, drier air is easier to heat, etc., etc... I've heard it all, and it's all well and good. But that doesn't stop all my instincts from shrieking with alarm when a window is left wide open in the middle of winter. Why you would pay for heat to warm your house (let me repeat, you've PAID for the heat!) and then let it all literally fly out the window? As far as I've heard, heating fuel/electricity is expensive here, so why would you waste it? When I was growing up I always knew to keep the windows closed in winter, to close the front door when I came inside to keep the heat in, and never to leave a window open when I wasn't in a room. Even if these lessons weren't explicitly stated, they were things that were simply assumed and no one did otherwise. If we were hot, we turned the heat down. If we were really hot, we turned the heat down and opened one window a crack for a minute or two. I would never dream of purposely filling the house with freezing cold air from outside. It would simply be (and still is) inconceivable.

(As a note of comparison, in Spain the houses are similarly built and my host families did not share this fixation with fresh air in all manner of cold weather [yes, it gets cold in Spain too]. The houses were not moldy, the air wasn't stifling or stale, and everyone survived.)

Unfortunately for me, one of the tasks I am expected to perform as an au pair is this very thing. I have to open the kitchen window, the door to the backyard, and the door in the upstairs bedroom and let cold air invade my nice warm living space. I was instructed to do this and leave them open for TEN MINUTES! I never make it to ten minutes, I always get too cold. If I wanted to be cold, I would go stand outside. I'm inside for a reason, aka, TO BE WARM and to NOT BE OUTSIDE! There seems to be confusion about this point among the German population.

This and the Incredible Hulk-style window blinds (which I wrote about here) are my two biggest conflicts with Germany. I guess I should be thankful that those are the biggest issues I have.


  1. I laughed when I was reading this, because my problem seems to be the exact opposite! What kind of heating system does your host family use? Here we have a system that pumps hot water through pipes in the floor, and a large ceramic oven (its HUGE) on the first floor. This creates "radiant heat" that keeps the entire house warm, and keeps your feet especially toasty (no cold tile when you leave the shower!). However, in my opinion, it also makes the air in the house SO STALE. If my family would let me I would open every. single. window. Everyday. Sadly, my family seems to agree with you--that opening the windows wastes the heat and energy used to produce it.

    1. Oooops, that was me, btw!

    2. My family also has radiant floor heating, but no ceramic oven. It's a somewhat tragic coincidence that we each have what the other wants. I say if you're alone in the house, indulge yourself and open a window or two. At least at my house I have control over what happens with the windows, even though I am strongly encouraged to do the opposite of what I want. I would be fine airing out the house briefly every few days, don't get me wrong, but this everyday thing gets a bit much.

    3. I forgot to mention: the radiant heating is only on the first floor, as far as I'm aware. I know at least my bedroom and the younger girl's bedroom, both on the third floor, aka European second floor, have radiators. I rarely need to use mine, though.

    4. I air out our bedroom and bathroom as much as possible, since they are underground partially (basement floor) and get even more musty than the rest of the place. Sadly they lock all the windows in the upper floors, so I couldn't even open them if I wanted! When I really need fresh air I just go for a walk, which is good I guess. Gets me out of the house!