Laundry is not really so exciting, until you try to do it in a foreign land. Then it can get interesting and culturally relevant. If expat life differs from traveling by the mundane details of life rather than the sights then this is really about that life. Join a look at the German laundry culture.
I came to Germany with a bag loaded with clothing. I knew I was going to a game convention for a week, then it was wide open. Wide open, as in no bleeding clue where I was headed, also meant that I didn’t know when or where I was going to clean my clothes. After the convention I had no leads on jobs and ended up coming down to Freiburg. I knew and liked the area so I figured it was a good place to lay up for planning. A few days later I had to get laundry done. The hotel receptionist now knew me well and pointed toward the laundromat. So I trucked up with my backpack full of clothing to get it cleaned. I did this a few times while at the hotel. It was a 15 minute walk in the middle of November so not really a warm time.
I did learn that laundromats are pretty much the same the world over. This one had a machine (that made no change, so I started hoarding 50cent pieces in my daily life.) that activated the washer on one side or gave you time in a dryer on the other and gave you soap below. Wash your stuff dry it (several cycles) then fold and head home. Remember German operating hours don’t include Sunday or really that late night either, even for a completely unmanned automatic place. I found a similar setup in Greece, though there it was next to (and run partly by) a small Australian pub. (Really an Irish pub, but I remember it being full of Aussies.) I sat with a pizza and a beer as my clothes washed and dried, running over every 5 minutes to check on them.
Dryers are evil
Yup, “Trockner sind umweltfeindlich” is the German phrase. It means that dryers are an enemy to the environment. The prevailing attitude here is that dryers use way too much energy for what they provide. When I first moved into an apartment they had a coin op washer in the basement but no dryer. So for that few months the laundromat was still my Friday night hangout spot. Once I moved into a shared place, we had our own washer and I got introduced to the German drying rack. Imagine a cross between a TV antenna and a ironing board.It is a foldable frame with string stretched across at 3 inch intervals. The idea is to hang all of the clothes on that for a period of time until they are dry. Which ranges from days in the winter to hours in the summer. The ubiquitous drying racks can be seen on every balcony in a street on sunny days. No problems airing your clean and washed laundry for the world to see, you are saving energy.
This isn’t just a habit for housewives. I lived 2 years with two other guys in that apartment. We had a nice washer, yet the conflict came over how long clothes had been on the rack. Remember the German mentality is about planning. If you want to wear your favorite shirt for a date on Friday in the winter, you better plan ahead and have it washed by Monday. With three guys, trying to coordinate the washing and drying schedules was interesting to say the least. Almost no one that I know has a dryer, just one expat family. Add the lack of space in a European apartment to the desire to not pay for the power or damage the environment, it is almost understandable.
Drying as a Cultural Act
Apparently one of the worse things to happen inside of an apartment is moisture according to Germanic lore. I have heard this several times from many different angles. From the idea to keep even unused rooms heated in the winter to prevent moisture from condensing on the walls to the prevention of using aforementioned drying racks inside an apartment. This even extends to suggesting to open windows in the bathroom in the winter to keep the shower steam from settling. Some places do not have balconies for drying or are too small for the racks. So in the common space of an apartment building is often a room that is designated for drying. My building has 2. People take their clothing and rack to this room and lay out their washing. In looking for apartments, I asked one guy about this and he came up with the reason that too much moisture causes the floor boards to warp (if it drips that is even worse) and others talk about mold (Schimmel). How about add this to the culture idea. When I went to get house insurance (which isn’t required here like in the US, which is another story) there is a provision to protect against washing line theft. I could claim for the loss of my favorite sweatshirt.
I remember reading an article last year about subdivisions in the US that fined residents for using a clothesline outdoors because it made the area look cheap. Compare that to here where it is unusual on a sunny day to NOT see clothing outside, dryers are demonized and there are common required drying rooms (and insurance to protect your stuff there).
>Even more than the specially designed drying racks the laundry technology here is different as well. Start with washers built to fit in smaller apartments and for smaller loads of wash. This idea of having clean and dry clothes must not affect the environment is quite strong so they are advertised based on how little water and energy they use. I have always been instructed to use far less soap here than in the US. To be fair though, I imagine the instructions for soap usage in the US could be the same, but no one follows it. They just dump a whole cup full in, maybe based out of ignorance or some desire to get the clothes REALLY clean. Too many chemicals is damaging to the environment and not recommended here. Sensing a trend yet?
Stuff is rarely washed in overly hot water and the spin cycle is fast enough to squeeze out almost all of the water. I remember from the US having clothes that were clean, but still dripping a little bit. Nope, here they are damp, but have all the dripping moisture squished out. The upshot of all of this seems based on the dryers are evil thing. Clothes are being prepared for outside rack drying. Even the dryers that I have seen store the extracted water and do not have as much lint. This is all a big investment of time and energy (and sometimes annoyance “why is my favorite shirt not dry yet”) yet also saves clothes. I do notice that the colors do not fade or the cloth wear out as fast in Germany.
6 month Course on Laundry for Beginners
When I first moved here, I went to the laundromat a number of times. I really had no patience for things to dry in the air, nor did I own the proper rack. I have lived in apartments where the washing machines are all together in the basement but share one water hose that needs to be switched back and forth each time. Now my apartment does not have a washing machine, so I go to the laundromat again. So what if I pay to have my stuff washed and dried? As a foreigner, I think I am allowed that until I get a washer of my own. It also makes me plan ahead and get the washing done from 9am-7pm and not on Sundays. Planning is a German trait, so that is ok right?