Monday, October 28, 2013


The war is a generally a topic that is best avoided in Germany. Brits love to brag about their win and crack jokes about the 'Jerrys' at every opportunity, but the Germans are still very much schtum on the subject. The thing is though, there is a war that is still present in daily German life. Battles are continually fought and lost – the Germans triumphant, the expats cowering (or rather, sweating) in a corner. I am of course talking about a very specific WW3: Window Wars.

Brits have superstitions about not putting shoes on the table and avoiding the cracks in the street – all harmless activities that don't affect anyone outside of the individual's space. The Germans? They have a genuine phobia of window opening. I know, right now you are sitting there thinking "Seriously? How bad can a window phobia and superstition be?" But really, it's a serious subject. Germans have to be warm. It doesn't matter if is 25 degrees outside, you can still witness 100 denier tights and thick jeans in your midst. More than that though, they insist on the windows being closed...AT ALL TIMES. Germans believe that if you open the window and have beautiful fresh (almost mountain-like) air streaming in through the windows, then you are going to get ill. It doesn't matter if the air temperature is 25 degrees, oh no, you WILL get ill. Oh, and don't forget the obligatory scarf. If James Bond had been German he wouldn't have had any of those crazy gadgets, oh no, Q would have given him a scarf – to ensure he doesn't catch a cold when running after the enemy in blizzard-like weather. In the UK, scarves are generally decorative pieces that only serve a real purpose when it's in the midst of winter, we are outside and absolutely need to keep toasty. The only time I would wear a scarf in the office is if the heating wasn't working, or I wanted to look particularly swish that day. The Germans? Well, you'd be lucky to find them at their desk under the mound of wool wrapped around the top half of their body.

But, back to the windows. The odd thing is, that Germany has more window opening opportunities than most other countries: windows can be opened on the U bahn and even on regional trains because they don't go super fast. Here are my most recent window opening attempts on public transport:

Attempt 1: 8:00am, the doors to the U bahn swing open and a warm wave smelling of mouldy cheese mixed with Leberkäse hits me. Why hasn't anyone opened a window? Madness. So, I sit down and casually open one of the many windows that it is perfectly allowed to open. I sit back, pleased with myself and shut my eyes for a little pre-work nap. My eyelids haven't even closed before: BAM! The window is slammed shut by the previously innocent-looking businessman sitting opposite me. Why on earth didn't he ask if he could close it and at least feign trying to appease my wishes? It's obviously important to remember that when it comes to windows and overhead locker space in aeroplanes, business men always win, no exceptions.

Result of attempt 1: thwarted

Attempt 2: German regional trains are amazing. They are clean, have wide corridors, plenty of space and best of all, they are double-decker – so if you snag a spot on the top-deck you can take in the wonderful views as you speed through the countryside. As I hopped into my seat on yet another overly heated form of public transport (they love to have the heating on full blast at all times of year) I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was possible to open the window next to me. Joy radiated through my soul. After being open a mere 5 minutes, a middle-aged German man actually walked from the back of the carriage, pushed in front of my seat and slammed the window closed! I was paralysed with shock at the act, and failed to retaliate. Hashtag window fail.

Result of attempt 2: thwarted

Attempt 3: Back on the train again, this time a lovely old-style one where you can pull the big windows half way down and pretend like you are acting in the "Railway Children" (I may or may not have been imagining that I was Bobbie). The carriage was empty so opening windows didn't entail any hit-man-style risks – bliss. Trundling through the mountains was amazing and breathing in the mountain air was magic. We then pause at a station and people enter my carriage, where I was previously sitting alone. In England if you entered a room with someone in and the window was open or the light was on, you wouldn't dare change a thing unless it was a life and death scenario, and even then you would sidle over apologetically and begin the sentence with "I'm awfully sorry" and then proceed to beg for them to close the window if they "wouldn't mind". Germans don't have time for such considerate theatre. Another middle-aged man, my favourite kind, storms up to my part of the carriage and closes the window. Then, after it is closed, asks me if I mind if he closes it (in a way that suggests he couldn't care less what my answer is). I wasn't going to take it lying down anymore. This was my moment to act. To reclaim a British victory. I replied (in Deutsch of course): "Actually I do mind, why do you have to shut the window?” To which he replied "Weil es schimpft!" (translation: "Its blustering/roaring!” note: this is also the same verb for “to offend”) Oh please, and I thought the British were the dramatic ones. Believe me, a tickling breeze of loveliness is probably exactly what you need, moaning middle aged German man.

Result of attempt 3: thwarted

Conclusion: it seems I will forever be destined to exist in stuffy-filled spaces, at a minimum temperature of 25 degrees despite being in feather and down coat, and of course, donning the obligatory thick, woollen scarf. Sweating. Sexy.

Potential solution: work on gluing all windows in Germany into a permanent 'open' position. (note to self: must look into putting this plan into action).