06 September 2009

window on Germany

so I just spent some of the hottest weeks of the year in Germany, where I learned the value of summer dresses, cold radler, and shade.

I already knew that Germans aren't as interested in air conditioning as we Americans are, which is fine when you're in a castle that breathes ancient cool from its stones, or a marvel of carefully engineered efficiency. The rest of the time, things can be a bit stuffy, and I had to wonder why I never saw a single fan anywhere. When I was a kid, summertime meant sleeping to the lullaby of the box window fan. The size of half the window, these babies went on the windowsill and sucked that marvellously cool night air into the bedroom. Cheaper than air conditioning and much more comfortable than going without breezes. Why haven't the Germans figured this one out?

The second and much more distressing absence was that of window screens, which I only saw on a single window in a single guesthouse during the entire trip. Unlike Iceland, Germany breeds plenty of mosquitoes who do the exact same nocturnal ballet as they do in Massachusetts. They're also just as attracted by the light, so apparently, the proper way to handle this is to diligently and carefully close all open windows at dusk and keep them closed until you go to bed. Once it's dark, they're safe to open.

We failed to do this one night, and the result was mosquito air raids all night. Since it was stuffy in the room (see the first point here) and since Europeans don't believe in sheets, just duvets (see previous conversations here), staying totally covered up in a mini-tent of blanket protection was a non-option. The next morning, fat mosquitoes, hungover from their blood-fest, festooned the walls. Weeks later I'm still finding battle scars on my legs from where I was munched on.

This is the country that has made a name for itself by coming up with the best and brightest in modern engineering, and they can't figure out a window screen? Is there nobody that finds it annoying to sit in a stuffily closed room as they eat dinner or read before bed, or dislikes the threat of being an insect supper should they wish for some fresh air?

In almost every other respect, I've been impressed by what I've seen in Germany. They've got a spectacular train and motorway system and clever features abound in their cities and homes, so I hope someday I will understand how these two simple, yet essential features of summer comfort seem to have gone missing there.


Food, she thought. said...

That is the stuff of nightmares.

Michelle said...

The reason why Germans don't have fans is because most are extremely afraid of "the Draft". One wrong cross wind, and they'll catch their death.

I know this, because I have a mother in law here who rather drive in a 50 degree car with no air or opened windows than take that risk.

Nice to stumble across your blog. :) Mind an extra reader?

SOe said...

I know some examples of window screens in Germany :-) Our house has them on each single window :-) ... Air condition - energy saving and probably some building codes which do not allow to make your house ugly from the outside ;-) In some areas it ist not allowed to install a satellite dish on the house front. Mobile fans are quite popular during summer.

ECS said...

food: I am thinking maybe it's just something to do with Germans liking routines and systems. The windowscreen removes the need for the routine of window opening and closing.

Michelle: welcome! More visitors are always welcome, especially ones that can shed some possible light on the mysteries. The draft thing may be part of the answer- I've at least never been in such tightly constructed draft-free houses as in Germany (all the more reason to want a fan, no?)

SOe: I'm actually pretty fine with the lack of AC, compared to the disaster that is mosquitoes at night, and am familiar with such rules (Boston loves those too). As for the windowscreens, there were a few solitary examples in some of the guesthouses, but it would be only one of the several windows, never all of them. Given that there never were fans, how are we supposed to create a cross-breeze with only one window open?

Joy said...

Michelle beat me to it, but I was also going to suggest The Draft. Russia is quite similar in its terror of drafts and excessive love of heavy duvets even in the summer. Lack of screens is tricky to deal with, but you can solve the sheet/duvet problem by removing the blanket from the duvet and treating the duvet cover like an American-style top sheet.

Your description of castles, wine, and accidental delights was gorgeous.