Summer Without Air Conditioning

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Very few buildings in Germany have A/C. It rarely gets blazing hot for more than a few days at a time, so really there is no need. Given the questions from friends and colleagues the common wisdom seems to be that AC causes colds (recycled air? a German needs fresh air) and is of course environmentally irresponsible. Having no AC means that even a very warm day can feel much hotter than you might expect.

If you, like Ali and I, come from the southern US, even a day of 80F outside can be quite unpleasant inside. If it gets above 90F, there is little to do than to sit still in the shade. In fact, I gain a new appreciation for the Mediterranean culture of siesta and late evening meals.

Here are six ways to keep cool in Germany without Air Conditioning:

1) Close the Rolladen.

Rolladen are German blinds. Every house I have ever been in in Germany has them. They fit in channels outside the window and roll down to block out all of the light. Modern ones allow you to pull them up a bit to let some light in.

If you have a window which gets sunlight during the day, shut the Rolladen.  The key to keeping the house cool is not letting more heat in than you need. The buildings here usually have very thick walls which resist changes in temperature well. If you can keep the heat out, you will feel cooler.

2) Open the windows in the evening

At least in Freiburg, the air is almost never as humid as in North Carolina at home. This means it gets cool at night. Opening your windows in the evening and morning for a few minutes each (or sleeping with them open if you are so inclined) can let the cool air replace the warm air in the house.

Get cross ventilation as well if you can. This means windows on both sides of the building so the wind comes through.

3) Juice cubes

This was a (partially failed) experiment of mine. It was really hot last weekend, so I got the idea to make orange and pineapple juice popsicles. Though without the plastic forms or toothpicks, I just made ice cubes out of juice. Things I learned from this:

  • Ice cube trays do not want to let such things free. I don’t even think toothpicks would have helped.
  • A quick hot water bath (learned from melting popcorn butter) however does help.
  • Frozen orange juice is still very sticky.
  • Frozen orange juice cubes are cold enough to be awful to put in your mouth whole or really eat with your fingers.
  • It is incredibly funny to Ali and I to attempt aforementioned eating of said cubes with our hands. Laughing however is not conducive to keeping ice cubes in your mouth.

Next time I’m going with beer in my ice cube trays.

4) Leave home

You can decide how extreme you want to go with this. August is an extremely popular time for vacations across Europe as well. Can’t deal with the heat at home, go off to the beach for a few weeks and try to enjoy the sun and water.

If that is a too much for you, try just leaving the house. Hunt out a Strandbad (Beach-Pool in German) to take a dip in the pool. They have open fields and pools open to the public for an entrance fee. Biergartens are nearly always amongst trees. Even a shady cafe with a drink in the open breeze may be cooler than home.

Don’t expect however that going shopping will help. Although some stores do have AC, it will not be as cool as an American might expect and not every place has it. Our local grocery store is ok near the freezer section, but gets sweltering near the checkout counters.

5) Ice Cream

Germans are not known for ice cream, more for beer and schnitzel. Thankfully there are plenty of Italians in Germany. Eis (pronounced like English “ice”) is quite popular in Germany. Warm days mean long lines at the ice cream place.If you are going to leave the house (ala #4 above) think about an ice cream.

Most places have a window or counter that will serve scoops. It is however extremely common for the tables to be service only. Don’t try to sit with your cone unless you see plenty of others doing it. The table service is more expensive, but offers big fancy ice cream concoctions, often with liquor.

6) Buy a fan.

Yup, good old fashion fans can be a last resort. (Ventilator in German). Last year in Spain we had an apartment in Valencia also without AC and ended up having to go out and buy a fan. Thankfully it was small enough that we got it home to Germany. It isn’t much and doesn’t compare to AC, but the moving air is nice.

In Summary

Europe is a really nice place in the summer, but despite the warm temperatures very few places have AC. Take your cues from the locals to deal with the heat.

  • Close the blinds during the day to keep out the heat and let it in in the evenings.
  • Just get out of the house and sit out with locals anyway. Pick a shady spot with a breeze and a beer.
  • Make freezer treats to enjoy on the balcony. I’m trying beer instead of juice next time.

As a last resort, you can always just wait for the rain.

What are your tips? Share them in comments or on the Grounded Traveler Facebook page.

20 thoughts on “Summer Without Air Conditioning

  1. Our apartment only has Rolladen in the kitchen )gasp! I wish all of our windows had them, as they really are good at keeping the heat out.

    We do have a fan but my German husband (as with most Germans) believes that sleeping with the fan makes you sick.

    • Weird. The kitchen is the only window without them here.
      Seriously he thinks that a fan at night makes you sick? All of these little “common sense” things that are so culturally bound. I think I would get sick more if I had to sleep in the heat. Maybe it is related to “es zieht.”

  2. I almost never use the AC and resort to closing blinds that face the sun during the day, keeping windows open and using a fan. I’m a fresh air fanatic. I guess it’s the German in me 🙂

    • Sounds like it. Those are definitely Germanic habits. I do find myself liking it more than I used to. But then again in the US, the air outside wasn’t really fresh.

  3. These are some great tips. Alas, in muggy and humid Korea my only tips are to take a cold shower and leave the fan on constantly, despite the Korean goverment’s warnings of “fan death.”

    As a Brit I have no idea how to deal with heat really anyway, with the hallowed heatwave being such a rare occurrence in my native land. I may well try making juice cubes, though – looks like fun!

    • What is “fan death”? Standing in front of fan when wet?

      The juice cubes are great. Still waiting to try beer cubes, though it has turned rainy and not so warm here.

    • Wow that at least sounds awful. Not sure what Thailand in the winter is like, but Thailand in the summer sounds sweltering from the stories I’ve heard.

  4. It’s been in the 100s in Chicago for the last 5 days.

    All I can think of is how well our apartment in Zurich would stay cool in the summer. So cool that when I was telling my mom that it didn’t have a/c. She replied back that during her visit she though it did. Shades down and windows open at night helped. Fan to keep the air circulating.

    • Woah.. 100s are ugh even with AC.

      The big thick walls help stabilize the temperature and just making sure to keep heat out as possible and let what cool air comes in. I haven’t set up the fans yet, so it hasn’t been so bad.

    • It is expensive and I have no clue if they would even install it in a house here. Add the awful noise it makes, I doubt I would be allowed to run it at night or on Sundays anyway.

        • Not really. Usually there is a box outside somewhere with fans and such which make a racket. I don’t go as far as thinking AC is bad for your health, but I don’t really think it is so great either. At the moment, the heat isn’t so bad and can be dispelled with some wind and a beer.

  5. I doubt the beer will freeze well. Alcohol has a higher freeze point. That’s why people store vodka in the freezer. That said, in college I had a can of beer freeze in my car’s glove compartment one winter when i forgot about it after going to the club. The car stank to high heaven in the spring when it exploded…

    • It depends on the % of alcohol. Vodka won’t freeze because it has nearly 40%, which lowers the freezing point beyond what a normal freezer can manage. According to internet research even wine will “freeze” in a normal freezer. The point seems to be that the alcohol part of the liquid won’t freeze, but the water will, so you get a sort of not-so-solid cube. Beer will definitely freeze. And I had a fig schnapps freeze solid and shatter the bottle in my freezer at one point, so I know wine will too.
      There needs to be more (controlled) experiments.

  6. Yes… sooner or later (and not much later) it will rain in Germany. It is more noted for rain than sun (though I do recall some dry times in Oftersheim).

    • Freiburg is the sunniest end of Germany as well. It doesn’t seem to rain any more or less than Blacksburg, though I do think it has more cloudy days than Tech ever did.

    • I’m glad you liked it. The juice cubes was hilarious. I had high hopes and they just ended up as silly. Will let you know when we try beer.

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