Schöner Wohnen (living more beautifully) is a popular German house and garden magazine. Like Americans, most Germans dream of living in their own house with a beautiful lawn and garden. Schaffe, schaffe, Häusle baue, (Work, work, build your little house.) goes the old Swabian saying. However, Germans find this dream more difficult to fulfill than Americans. A house in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland is a very expensive dream. The average cost of land and construction is double or triple that in the United States. Add to this a much larger down payment of between 30 and 50 percent, and you can see why most Germans live in apartments or condominiums. Only 39 percent of Germans own their own home, compared to 64 percent in the U.S. and 68 percent in the U.K. Those Germans who do finally realize the dream of their own house are often in their forties or fifties when it happens.
In or around almost any German city, you will see the rows of Wohnsilos (residential towers), the tall and usually Spartan-looking apartment towers that dominate the cityscape, and were mostly constructed in the last ten years to provide the higher quality housing that Germans expect today. Lacking the charm of traditional European architecture, these utilitarian living units most often resemble the unexciting condos and apartments that can be found all over Europe and the world. Built in response to a chronic lack of housing, these towers are usually located in what are termed satellite towns at the edges of the city.
Even renting can be expensive unless you are lucky enough to live in an apartment complex subject to rent control. In the private sector, rents can be sky high, especially as the process of yuppie gentrification, which began about ten or fifteen years ago, continues all over German-speaking Europe. This gentrification includes the process of tearing down older housing or of renovating older buildings to make way for more prosperous residents. Sleepy, small towns on the outskirts of cities are becoming up-scale bedroom communities that are just a short drive from the residents’ place of work. In reaction to this phenomenon, which makes less low-cost housing available for low-income people and drives original residents out of the area, there have been a growing number of protests of various kinds. These protests have ranged from signs in apartment windows (Wir bleiben hier!We’re staying here!) to demonstrations in the streets. The protests, in whatever form, are directed at real estate speculators and at government officials who, in the eyes of the protesters, are driving up the cost of housing...
German Bettzeug (BET-tsoyk) or bedding is also a bit different from what Anglo-Americans are used to. Instead of sheets and blankets, Germans sleep under a Federbett, or down comforter that lies atop a mattress covered with a fabric that is often more like terry cloth than a linen sheet. On cold nights, the German Federbett is ideal—very cozy and snug. But in the summer, on warm nights, the down comforter is too warm, and your choice is either to sleep without any cover or to sweat under the Federbett. If you want a top sheet or light blanket, you usually have to get your own. Fortunately, the German climate is generally on the cool side, so most of the time the Federbett is a good idea. Traditionally, the down comforter was hung out over a windowsill or a balcony rail each morning to air. You will still often see white Bettzeug hanging from German apartment windows in the morning hours.
Although some newer homes have built-in closets, it is more common to see a Kleiderschrank (KLY-der-schrahnk), a free-standing wood cabinet with doors that serves as a closet. A Kleiderschrank may be sleekly modern or rustically traditional in design, depending on its owner’s tastes.
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Book excerpt ©1999 McGraw-Hill
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