As a Brit I was brought up with many cultural stereotypes about Germany and its people. Germans are ‘lederhosen wearing, straight talking, rule following, tidy people’ and since I initially landed in Bavaria, I can definitely agree that stereotypes are born out of truths. As with any country though there are also internal stereotypes, what do the Germans think of each other?
Stuttgart is located Swabia, which is a historic territory which now falls within the states of Bavaria and Baden Wurttemberg, its people, the Swabians, are considered to be the most frugal and fastidious about cleaning of all the Germans. I’ve always been impressed with streets magically cleared of snow and leaves before I’ve even dragged myself out of bed in the morning, windows and steps that are polished and shining constantly. In Swabia cleaning is a serious business. Historically this cleanliness came in the form of a law passed in 1492 to try and keep Stuttgart and its streets clean. In a time before indoor plumbing, this was no mean feat.
The concept of Kehrwoche (sweep week) was born, and is still an important part of life today for Swabia and its residents. Most Germans live in apartments in multi family homes, these homes contain communal areas which are free for everyone to use, but do not come without responsibilities. Tasks like lawn mowing, taking bins out, cleaning entryways and stairs, clearing leaves and snow are left to the tenants to complete. Each tenant takes his/her turn to housekeep the building for a week on a rota basis and the most common joke is ‘this is the week that the other people in the building care (kehr) you exist’.
The rule is strictly enforced, and whilst its natural to Swabians, foreigners like myself can be pretty confused the first time a little sign saying ‘Kehrwoche’ is stuck on your door. Plenty of friends have fallen foul of not paying attention to this sign, being on holiday when it’s their turn (and not finding anyone to cover for them) and not completing their tasks properly. You won’t generally find a handy list of what needs doing gets handed to you, but you get a good chance to introduce yourself to the neighbours when you have to ask.
Things included in Kehrwoche, but not limited to, are :-
– Clearing the leaves, including bagging and binning
– Clearing the snow, the general rule is twice a day, but that all depends on the snowfall
– Sweeping all internal corridors and staircases, including the cellar
– Cleaning all external steps and railings
– Taking the appropriate bin to the kerb on the appropriate day
Part of Kehrwoche is also that you should be seen completing your tasks, most people put aside a few hours on a Saturday to get their jobs completed. A handy hint to anyone new to Swabia, make sure you make plenty of noise so your neighbours know that you are doing your bit. As a Brit this concept of purposefully disturbing people is not part of my nature but friends have been reprimanded for not being seen doing their assigned cleaning. Expect disapproving looks and a knock on your door if you fail to complete your tasks, and a big fat nothing if you do well, besides lovely clean communal areas and the knowledge that you are now part of a long standing tradition of Swabia that is.
If you’re lucky you may just find yourself living in a home that has a Hausmeister (caretaker) who will take care of your cleaning needs, for a fee of course. This service however is not very popular. Like I said, Schwabians are also known for being incredibly frugal, always check your lease for your particular responsibilities. If you do happen to find that sign on your front door one day, don’t ignore it, take it as a ‘welcome to Swabia’ and do your bit.