10 Things Germans do to pinch a penny and save the planet that Canadians will find absolutely awkward (Part 2)

6. The fear of dryers

Germans feel about dryers as North Americans feel about washing their clothes with hot water – we dread it. Funny enough, both have the same motivation: protecting their favorite clothes from deteriorating. However, Germans love washing their clothes hot, so that even the nastiest germ will be knocked on its heals. While heat in hot water is widely accepted though, heat in hot air is a reason to panic for Germans. Rumor has it, that dryers are the enemies in the fight against fabric decay (and waste a lot of energy and therefore money!). Hence, Germans prefer to hang their clothes. They even have a dedicated room for this task – the attic. Clotheslines will be suspended from one wall to the other, and neighbors in apartment buildings come together for chats while hanging up their clothes.

7. The finest windows in the world

“When I think of Germany, I think of solid windows. No other country can build such solid, beautiful windows”, chancellor Angela Merkel once said in an interview1. This might be an odd thing to say, but I agree. In no other country are people as obsessed with windows as in Germany. It’s not that they care about the aesthetics though – it’s all about energy efficiency. According to German energy conservation regulations every building (except heritage buildings) have to meet a certain level of energy efficiency. This effectively banned single glazed windows from the market. Though they are not technically illegal, since they usually cannot meet the energy conservation standards, and violations will be avenged with a penalty up to 50,000 €, chances are low you will see a single glazed window in Germany. Since good insulation also saves money on expensive heating, the trend is now even moving onward to triple glazed windows.

8. The radiator regime

As we just learned, heating is expensive, and Germans usually try to avoid expensive. Germans would not be Germans, if they hadn’t come up with a cleverly thought out system for keeping their heating costs down. Radiators are most commonly used and they are usually mounted right underneath the window. This is how ventilating rooms during winter became a choreography – also painfully acquired from an early age. This is a big deal and it even has its own name: ‘groß Durchlüften’ (english: the grand airing out). When attempting to ventilate the room, your life comes to a stop. You turn off the lights (so no bugs come in and no neighbors spy), you turn off the heat (so the radiator does not continue to heat while all the nice hot air goes out the window) and you open the window all the way (German windows open two ways: vertically, which opens just a crack, and horizontally, which allows you to open the whole window like a door). Then you wait. In the dark and freezing cold. After about 15 minutes or when the room is aired out to your satisfaction, you may close the window, turn up the heat, switch the light back on and continue with your life.

9. The plot with the plug

extension cordIn a lot of German households leaving electrical appliances on ‘stand-by’ is considered an absurdity. Powering that little red light on your TV, DVD-Player or radio, while getting no use out of it, is widely considered a waste of money and energy. In fact, Germans like to feed the habit by visiting one of the many websites that calculate the money you can save by pulling the plug. Even the German Environment Agency has published a study on ‘stand by’, estimating 4 billion Euros are wasted in Germany alone annually by non-stop plugged in appliances. After all, did you know that your stereo system will waste on average 53€ per year if left plugged in between uses? Therefore, extension cords with an on-and-off-switch are extremely popular in Germany, as they allow you to disconnect your whole home entertainment system in no time.

10. The brick in the toilet tank

toilet-paper-2613704_1280By now we know that clean water is expensive in Germany (and priceless for a healthy environment). So why flush it down the toilet? If you happen to live in an old house and your toilet system is more than 25 years old, your toilet most likely flushes much more water than necessary to make your waste disappear. Therefore, it is one of the oldest water saving tricks Germans have up their sleeves, to put a brick in the toilet tank. That this idea is not crazy, but indeed genius, is supported by the ‘Drop a Brick’ initiative – a Californian NGO that advertises dropping a brick in the toilet tank as a way of curbing wasted water in the drought-stricken state.

Yes, what Germans do might seem crazy. And yes, most of them initially do it to save a buck or two. However, the side effect of protecting natural resources and therefore the environment has moved to the foreground in recent years.

While we don’t have a shortage of natural resources in Germany, we certainly do need to conserve. There are more than twice as many people living in Germany than in Canada, on a piece of land that is only 3.5 % of Canada’s landmass. You see, Canada is a land of plenty – plenty of resources to use for just 36 Million people. Now imagine Canada was the size of the State of Washington. Can you see yourself pulling the plug and dropping the brick?

1 René Pfister / Britta Stuff: ‘Im Kartenhaus’. Der Spiegel 12/2017, S. 17.

Pictures: Wikicommons, Pixabay

10 Things Germans do to pinch a penny and save the planet that Canadians will find absolutely awkward – Part 1

German traffic sign
  1. The anti-idling law

It is a beautiful summer day and you are waiting at a railroad crossing (and there is many of them in Germany!) for the barriers to open. It is hot outside, so naturally you idle to keep the air-conditioning going. You are just singing along to your favorite song on the radio, when a policeman approaches and hands you a ticket. You may ask… WHY??? The officer will promptly inform you, that according to the German Traffic Code § 30 it is “prohibited to let vehicle engines run unnecessarily”, for the reasons of avoiding noise, reducing exhaust and saving energy.

  1. The rainwater-collection-installation

gutter in GermanyDrinking water is limited and therefore expensive in Germany, so naturally Germans will go out of their way to conserve it. Next time you visit Germany, have a closer look at a residential house. Follow the gutter system and you’ll see that instead of disappearing into a drain it leads to a barrel, where rainwater is collected. This water is then used to irrigate lawns and gardens. In fact, sprinkler systems fed with tap water were frowned upon until not long ago.

  1. The haunted hallway

Imagine that during your visit in Germany you’re staying in an apartment which you rented on one these famous ‘home away from home’ websites. When coming back late one night you’re startled to find the hallway is pitch black. You’re lucky that one of the neighbors is coming home right after you and explains the situation. Most hallways in German apartment buildings have windows and are well light in the daytime. But for night hours, Germans have come up with yet another strategy to conserve energy. The hallway lights are connected to a timer. So once you hit the switch, you have about 3 minutes to get to your door – or you will be stranded in the dark once again. Although those light switches have some fluorescent quality, it usually wears off during the night. Every German knows how it feels to fumble for the light switch in a pitch black hallway after a long night out – although cell phone flashlights have made that job somewhat easier.German hallway light switch

  1. The haunted children’s room

Talking about not leaving the lights on when no one’s around… if you left the light on in your room as a kid when going somewhere else (even if it was just a little trip to the bathroom) you were in BIG BIG trouble. This is one of the very first energy conservation rules Germans will learn, and they do so at a young age. Never, ever, leave the light on when you are not using it. I don’t know anyone who has not gotten in trouble for doing it as a child. And although I am grown up now and my own boss in respect to matters of illumination, I still find myself running back to a room I just left to turn off the light.

  1. The reverse vending machine

reverse vending machine for bottle depositBottle recycling is serious business in Germany. While there is a deposit on a range of bottles in Canada, not many people care about the couple of cents they could regain. Therefore, lot of bottles will still end up in the garbage, to be collected and returned by the homeless. Not so in Germany. Living by the motto ‘Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves’, bottles will be returned by the dozen. Hence, German supermarkets have come up with a nifty idea to avoid long delays at the cash register due to obsessive bottle returns: the reverse vending machine. I have been asked by foreigners before, if this is actually a real thing. Yes, it is. You stick a bottle in the machine, it reads the barcode and adds the bottle deposit to your credit. Once you have fed all your bottles to the mighty machine, you hit a button and it will print a receipt, which you can cash at the till.

The reverse vending machines are connected to a nation wide system, making it possible to return your bottle at any store. Not long ago, a greedy shop manager in Cologne found a way to manipulate the system and return the same bottle over and over again, snatching over 44,000 Euros. (He got convicted later – so don’t even think about spending a night in front of a reverse vending machine to pay your bills.)

To be continued.

Pictures: Pixabay, Wikicommons

Trudeau vs. Merkel: How much Twitter does Politics need?

Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau

Germany is gearing up for federal election day and chancellor Angela Merkel is fighting to stay in office. However, her overly-professional attitude could be dooming her. The ‘Mother of Germany’ has become too unapproachable, according to Spiegel1 (a highly recognized German magazine). It has “become almost impossible to see the real person behind the chancellor-persona”. She does not appreciate disclosing private matters and friends who gossip will most likely never see her again. Objectivity is her trademark; but, in today’s world, it may no longer be a favourable one. Continue reading “Trudeau vs. Merkel: How much Twitter does Politics need?”

Happy Labour Day! (english)

Protestor gets arrested on Labour Day, Hamburg, Germany.

Today we’re celebrating Labour Day in Canada. Many folks are just returning home from a relaxing long weekend, which is traditionally spend out camping or at the cabin. The only thing stressing people out is the caravan of RV’s jamming up traffic on the way back to the city.

Camping is a Labour-Day-Tradition in Canada

To me as a German this is special. Labour Day in Hamburg is the exact opposite of a tranquil holiday. On May 1st (the German Labour Day) the city is in a state of exemption as residents prepare for police sirens, burning cars, flying bricks, and shut down train stations. Traffic jams are also a familiar sight here, though they’re more likely caused by road closures. Continue reading “Happy Labour Day! (english)”

Canada for Beginners, eh?

Patriotic Blenz Coffee advertisement in Vancouver

The decision to move to Canada was a spontaneous one. Just graduated from uni, no job in sight, head over heels in love with that guy from my last vacation – everything was possible and there was nothing to lose. So, I packed up my things and made my way to a new home. There were few concerns on my mind, since I had lived in the States before and had patches from over 30 countries on my backpack – trophies of a typical millennial life. Canada would be a piece of cake, I was sure of that. Of course, things turned out differently. Continue reading “Canada for Beginners, eh?”

The Common Good – two roads, one goal /English

Street art in Vancouver

Volunteering is very much part of Canadian culture. About half of all Canadians donate their time to charity. In Germany it is just a quarter. Volunteers support nurses in hospitals, practice reading with students, and clean parks. They give advice to lost tourists at the airport, show theater-visitors their seats, organize fundraisers for cancer research, and make sandwiches for the homeless. They sacrifice hundreds of hours of their free-time to turn home into a better place. In many ways, volunteers drive Canadian society. Without them, Canada would be a different place; less art, less social services, fewer inviting public spaces, and more poverty. Continue reading “The Common Good – two roads, one goal /English”

The World needs more Canada / English

Merchandise for Canada 150.

Today is Canada Day and the country is celebrating its 150th birthday. For many Canadians this anniversary is a special one to commemorate. The marketing of the maple leaf is a common sight year round, but these days it has reached a near frenzy. A world famous hamburger joint is carrying a maple leave in its golden arches, a life insurance plan is advertised especially for ‘proud Canadians’ and the tagline of a chain bookstore proclaims ‘The World needs more Canada’. With Canada’s birthday just around the corner it has even published a book of the same title, in which famous Canadians explain why their home-country is the best place in the world. The origin of this tagline is highly official: The government used it in the 1990s as part of its tourism campaign. Today it’s a bestseller. From wall hangings to beach towels, no desire for patriotic products remains unsatisfied.  Continue reading “The World needs more Canada / English”