12 Sep Living with a German builds character
The little eccentricities of living with Germans in a German apartment
A few weeks before I ever set foot in Berlin, or Germany for that matter, I found myself in a Scandinavian festival in a small town on the Oregon coast. As I strolled around the vats of lutefisk and tables piled with lakritz my eyes fell on a T-shirt stand. While most of them had something to do with trolls a few branched out to Germany with my favorite simply stating, ‘living with a German builds character.”
I have since lived in five different apartments in Berlin and Münster with new roommates each time, and I fully understand what was meant by that, and it’s both good and, well … a lesson learned.
When you’re living in Germany you’re confronted with many new experiences, but it’s the small things that seem to stick in your mind the most, and for me, much of it has come with the apartments and roommates. Outside of my very first one, which was quite unpleasant, all of my experiences living in Germany with Germans has been either great or ok. I’ve made great friends, learned a lot of German, and while at times difficult, it has definitely helped me adapt to a Berlin lifestyle and a German mentality. So whether you’re moving to Berlin and looking for an apartment or buying an apartment in Berlin and looking to rent out to roommates, here are some interesting tidbits about what’s in store.
The First Night
You will be offered beer and a long introductory chat. If you’re moving into an apartment as the new roommate, the roommates there will most definitely invite you to a beer in the kitchen or out on the balcony, without fail. It’s actually quite great, albeit slightly contrived, because it’s a chill way to actually meet and get an idea of everyone and how the whole living system is going to operate. You get all the silly small talk stuff out of the way, and you get a quick sense of if the apartment and roommates are right for you for the long haul. I like the semi-tradition of congeniality and an honest attempt to make someone feel welcome. I think it’s indicative to the value that Germany puts on social well-being.
German passive aggressive notes
Germans really love to leave notes around the house, and they’re usually not nice like “I just bought toilet paper, coffee, new towels, and a projector. This apartment is fabulous now,” or “That beer in the fridge … that’s yours. All yours. I bought it, and I just thought you’d enjoy it more.” No, the one’s I’ve seen go like this “Somebody ate my leftovers. I expect there will be lunch made for me when I get home.” One placed inside the oven on a baking sheet saying, “You know, it’d be really great if these could be washed.” And my favorite was one taped to the toilet seat saying, “We have some of Germany’s best toilet bowl cleaning liquid. We should really start using it once a week.” I found it ironic that the toilet was only dirty when the roommate’s boyfriend was around.
Because as direct as Germans often are, they also have a passive-aggressive streak to them. I’ve always lived in an apartment with three to four people, so it seems like a bit of a public airing of grievances, too. The guilty party gets told off, but quietly in front of the whole apartment. This also extends to the entire apartment building. Neighbors are not safe from passive aggressive notes either.
Huge Rooms, Tiny Kitchens and Bathrooms
A difference that I have found between living in Berlin apartments and living in Münster apartments is the apartment layout itself. Münster seems to be more balanced in terms of the size of the rooms, but Berlin always loves to do things a bit differently. The Berlin apartments that I’ve lived in and visited tend to have rather cramped, very cramped at times, bathrooms, kitchens and hallways. The social space isn’t really the high priority, perhaps because everyone is always out and socializing in parks, clubs, or cafes. The Berlin bedrooms are where the space goes.
I don’t tend to fall into that category of people that enjoy talking about excrement, but this is truly a unique German thing that often gets brought up among those who have recently moved to Berlin, and among the long-termers as well. The poop shelf is Germany’s strange toilet design, created to offer a somewhat grotesque view of the end product of your meal. Instead of the classic design of a seat placed over a bowl of water, the German toilet has a little shelf inside with a small hole of water at the end.
In theory you go, you flush, it all moves to the waterhole and down out the pipes, unfortunately it doesn’t always happen so perfectly. It’s my theory this is some sort of enforced biological, personal health check/ lesson, but I don’t really know. It’s a good thing to know, an annoying thing to experience, and the reason why absolutely every German bathroom has a toilet brush and cleaner directly to the side.
The Putzplan (the cleaning schedule)
The cleaning plan will be strictly enforced and pasted, taped, or nailed somewhere in the kitchen. It will be color-coded, it will be detailed, and it will be acknowledged. Again, this is one of those things that don’t happen in every home, but it’s definitely something that you will come by again and again when searching for apartments in Berlin. Honestly, I only lived in one apartment with a putzplan, but I’ve been around many others.
The putzplan might be annoyingly strict, but Germans, in general, are tidier than most people I’ve seen. While I’ll never be pingelich (intensely clean) or the type to clean as a stress relief, living with Germans has made me much tidier and far more respectful in the social spaces than I was in my younger years. If you deal with a problem quickly, it’s less work and less likely to cause discomfort later.
Coffee will bring you and your roommates together. You’ll make coffee for each other, chat while it’s brewing, and plan out what kind of coffee you’re getting. Every kitchen has two things: the wooden coffee bean grinder and the percolator. The German breakfast is an art, and coffee sits at the center of it all. Good, fresh, and strong. I’ve been in love with the wooden grinder since I saw it in the East German film Die Legende von Paul und Paula (which is absolutely fabulous). I know they exist in the US, but they are extremely rare and more used for decorative purposes. Certain places love to pretend that they’re idiosyncratic with vintage appliances, Germany actually does it. What’s absolutely pivotal is the percolator. There will be at least one, most likely two in every kitchen, and it is everyone’s most beloved object in the apartment. It will be very well taken care of, so be sure not to disturb that system.
Note: If you’re moving into an apartment with new roommates and they don’t own a percolator, don’t go. That’s weird and unsettling, possibly even socially inept.
By Alice Bauer