Monthly Archives: March 2009

Carless Impossible

It might be a mission impossible to live without a car in a lot of countries, but in Germany it is not. Well, it would be if….

Where the English pronounce “Your home is your castle” a German must be saying “Pride is my car”. The car my father drove for twenty years struck a sour note with our neighbours. It was a Mercedes 180 from 1958 and he got rid of it in 1978. In a country that calls a three year old car old, that is suspicious. We were considering putting it in the garden to use it as giant flower pot, so we did not have to give it up when the time came, but we came to our senses and sold it to somebody who was able to fix it up. How I can`t imagine, because my father could see the road through the bottom of the car while driving. The rear bumper had rusted through years before and was pushed in place with a piece of wood, wrapped with tape and spray painted in silver. It must be obvious that this car did not have to go through the German TÜV (car inspection) but went through the US-Military, until even they said “Sorry, but no”.

Although we were sad to see the Mercedes go, we were pleasantly surprised how comfortable a car could be when we got in the new one for the first time.

Say Goodbye to Mercedes @JCKrueger

Say Goodbye to Mercedes @JCKrueger










I remember the days when Germans were allowed to wash their cars in the Street and they did, as regularly as some people go to church, but on Saturdays. We did not do it as often, but it was fun playing with the soapy water on a hot day. But at some point it was decided that all that soapy water (and the Germans being so religious about cleaning their cars there was a lot) was destroying the environment and cleaning was taken over by Car Washes at Petrol Stations or moved to Self-Service Car Washes.

A special feature is the Car Wax of course. My father, you know the one that spray painted his bumpers, became very good at waxing the car and would call us out to inspect his handy work. We would cluck appreciatively and admire how the drops would glide off the hood of the car. A beauty.

So we almost behaved like the Neighbours, except of course we kept this car until it fell apart as well (and didn´t they fall apart very fast in the 80ies – Rust the devil) and my father could just not get himself to see the car as anything else but a means for getting from A to B, while the Neighbours spent an inordinate time discussing, taking care of and driving their car.

When he got rid of his last car due to his age, instead of lamenting, he rejoiced he never had to worry about repairs, taxes and fueling anymore.

Most of my friends had their drivers license at 18 and saved money for buying their first car. I couldn`t understand the rush, because I could get everywhere by bus and streetcar until a friend tried to teach me to drive. It was fun! So I got my licence too and with my first job, I got my first car (yes, a FIAT for me). The first weeks were great. I dashed here and there. Going out late was not a problem. I could miss the last streetcar and did not have to worry about walking down dark roads.

But soon I had the feeling I was on the road all the time, rushing to a shop for a single item, getting stuck in traffic jams, blinded by buckets of rain on the windshield and trying to avoid crazy drivers that believed to own the road. Driving every day became a drag.

And I remember when the Germans tried to live without the car for a day. The 70ies oil crisis saw the first of the “Autofreie Sonntage” (Carfree Sunday) which were met with some scepticism and resistance, but the first time people could experience crossing a road without worrying about being run over or the air being much clearer it caught on as a fun day out.

Nowadays we enjoy car free Sundays along dedicated stretches, such as the Bergstrasse from Darmstadt-Eberstadt to Heppenheim . Every two years, from 10.00 am to 18.00 pm the road belongs to pedestrians and cyclists. Savvy inhabitants and clubs offer Würstchen and Drinks along the 30 km stretch. For those that quickly tire of the unusual exercise there are plenty of “Weinstuben” (not for whining, but restaurants where to enjoy the local Wine) to stop in and probably not move from again while quenching another kind of thirst.

Sometimes footweary pedestrians will opt for the latter option after the new object of prestige in form of the best and smartest bike has nearly run them down several times.

I wonder if I should write about the rush of speed next time?



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Le Car C´est Moi

“I have to sign Untruegerman this time” I told Francesca when we discussed this weeks topic. “We haven´t got a car”.

While the Abwrackpräme, the 2500 Euro the government grants for getting rid of your old and buying a new car, makes the first page  every day, my family is dreaming about getting money for handing in our old bikes. We do have a more than nine year old fridge as well, and how about my 30 year old skis?

By having no car, our family is most untypical German. There are a lot of good reasons for non-ownership: we live in the city, the Underground stops in our cellar, the last time we owned a car we used it an average of 2000 km per year, it is much cheaper to go by train and taxi than to maintain a car, at night we don´t have to circle our block ten times to find a parking spot and we can drink a glass of wine at a party. Those are reasons but no excuses. As Germans, we should own a car. And we should buy it now, to help the ailing industry.

I quite like to buy something to further a good cause. At the annual Kindergarden party, I indulge in selfmade cake and salads to support the playground funds. I eat my Bratwurst with more delight if I know the profit goes to the Good Samaritan. Therefore, when I passed the local Mercedes-Benz dealer on my bike yesterday, I was really tempted to go in. “Save 7500 Euro”, the letters on the showroom said, “we add another 5000 Euro to the government grant.” 

“Oh Lord, won´t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz” Janis Joplin sang and in the seventies, everybody in Germany understood. For decades, the car with the star symbolized success, the German way. It stood for good craftmanship, security, solidity, power. BMW was acceptable, too. Though it signalled a slightly more relaxed lifestyle and more taste for risk than the majority approved of. A Porsche Carrera meant wanting to show off and was only acceptable for showbusiness people and their like. 

In Germany, the make of your car defines who you are. It is more important than the place you live or the schools your children got to. After the Fall of the Wall, the first thing to vanish in the East was the Trabant, the  GDR-version of a Volkswagen: it was small, it was slow, it was made of plastic, and nobody “weint ihm eine Träne nach”, nobody misses it. 

Though, a few years later, the media praised a new type of car: it was small, it was slow, it was made of plastic. As, this time, it was produced by Daimler, this car became quite fashionable with the fashionable people. But it never sold in masses.

Maybe this “Smart” was too smart for people. Everytime I tried to drive a Smart, I ended studying the manual. The first time, I couldn´t figure out how to start. The oldfashioned way of turing the ignition key didn´t work. I tried and tried and tried. Had I been a member of the German Auto drivers association ADAC, I would have called for help immediately. As I´m not, I fished for the manual and learnt that I had to turn the key first to the right for a few seconds and then to the left–or vice versa? This served as a Wegfahrsperre – so nobody could bypass the ignition and drive away. It certainly stopped me to drive away.

Another time I panicked because I was afraid I had broken the key. When I wanted to get the key out of the ignition, the lower half was stuck. Incredoulous,  I stared at  the plastic upper part I held in my hands. Only my trust in “Made in Germany” gave me the idea to fish again for the manual in order to find out what this might serve for. It served to …  I forgot, but at least I know the page number where I can find this vital information. Unfortunately, this didn´t help me when I decided to drive a convertible Smart to some business meeting last summer. I pushed a button, opened the ragtop and enyoed the sun. When clouds started to cover the sky on arrival, I decided to close the top. As I was already 15 minutes late, I jumped out of the door, grabbed my suitcase and pushed the button I had pushed before.  Nothing happened. I pushed again. Nothing. Frantically I looked for another button to push. I didn´t find one. And I didn´t find the manual, either. So I left the top open, hurried to my meeting and spent the afternoon sitting on the edge of my chair, in case it should rain.

Yes, I drive cars, though I don´t own one. In my wallet I carry a “Stadtmobil”-smartcard. This is my magic key to more than a hundred cars in Frankfurt. Whatever I need, a small city car, a sports car, an SUV, I can get it through my car sharing organisation. I book through the internet, pick the car up, and drive. My sole responsibility is to be back on time, and to fill the gas. Once a month, I get a bill.  I´m charged for time and kilometers, but not for minimum time or insurances. 

Unfortunately, I can´t hand in my Stadtmobil-card to get the Abwrackprämie. Therefore, like Janis Joplin, I have to rely on God to get my Mercedes-Benz. And even to her, I learnt at the Rock Museum in Cleveland, he delivered “only” a Porsche.

But this is another story. 

© (Un)Truegerman

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Time is my Money

It took me years to accomplish. It was not easy. It went against all I learned, all my environment impressed on me as a virtue and I was very impressionable, but I finally succeeded – I can arrive late without breaking into a sweat.
It depends of course if it is for work or private. At work on the dot means … on the dot.  I don´t arrive too early, nor too late. If I am late, I call to let my colleague know there is a problem and the excuse better be good (No, being shrivelled after staying in the bath too long, does not count. Oh yes, somebody did try that one and he was not German.)
On the other hand if you have anything to do with music, it is a given that you arrive 15 minutes before rehearsal start for the “klassische Viertelstunde”. Get your chatting done, pull out your instruments, get changed, whatever and the rehearsal can start on the dot. Even if I then proved to be a totally useless ensemble player, I was always on time.
But privately? I used to arrive too early. I just wanted to be on time, but I always worried about something going wrong. What if my train was late, what if I did not get the connection? Better have a margin. This had certain disadvantages, like the day I had to catch a ride with an acquaintance to go to a party of a friend. We had agreed to meet in front of a hotel, where he could easily pass by. I didn´t know what his car looked like, but obviously he would find me, not vice versa. I had dressed for the occasion, heels and all and I was very naive. When a car slowed down and the door opened I assumed this had to be my ride, but I was surprised to see a total stranger beckoning to me to get into his car! What cheek! I decided to wait the remaining time somewhere away from the hotel and only pop up again nearer the appointed time. I was still in shock when my acquaintance turned up on time.
I have not given the habit up entirely of course. If I am meeting new people I make sure to be punctual and if I know somebody is waiting with a meal I won´t let it get cold. But if I know my friend is NOT waiting in front of a hotel and forced to pace up and down trying to stay warm, I don´t make it on the dot anymore. I have a margin for coming late now.
Sometimes it is I that does arrive before my friends, but nowadays this is not like wasted time. I don´t muse on their shortcomings, don´t take it personally, but realize they too have busy lives, children to take to school, calls to make, a call from work that cannot wait – so I wait with a pen in hand or a book to read or simply close my eyes and rest them for a moment. I know my friends do the same when I am “late”. The world still turns even if I am not there to watch it.
I am an imperfect person, but I thought being punctual was one of the few virtues I had mastered, like not missing appointments. Until the day that I missed going to the last Christmas Dinner with the Company I was leaving. I didn´t realize until a few days later. It was embarassing to admit, but on the other hand I didn´t feel guilty at all.
I am not a Bird Brain and I wonder if they care what time it is. @Pat

I am not a Bird Brain and I wonder if they care what time it is. @Pat

I made mistakes, all my own. But it was nothing personal and I had spent my time differently, because that was what was happening in my  life then. Nobody was entitled to my time. I wasn´t being paid for that and I did not agonize, but moved on.
I thought too I was good at adapting in other countries, until I went to England with my school class. They had drummed into our heads to queue whenever getting on the bus and we had nodded and agreed of course we would. Only when we got to our first english bus we rushed in to get seats, as we were used to doing in Germany and only realized our faux-pas when the English passengers looked at us very grimly. We remembered the next time.
I have come to a compromise with myself. I am not so hard on myself when I fail my aspirations to virtue. The pleasant side effect has been that I can live more easily with the failings of others. And recently I realized that I am not the only one living by this philosophy. Last Tuesday I was getting ready to meet my writing group at a friends house for lunch, while my friends were waiting for me to turn up at the Library at our usual time. Instead of calling me after ten minutes they waited two hours to call me. And when they finally did call me, we where laughing on the phone all the time, because I was getting ready for an appointment that is happening in two weeks.
Nothing was lost, an experience was gained, our friendship survives and I am going to get it right next time.


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Time to arrive

“She comes in her own time” an interculturally trained friend said when Francesca came late. Last time, she didn´t come at all, because she had mixed up two dates.

As a German, I should be upset. I still am when I have to wait in a business context. In my private life, by now, I´m regularly 15 minutes late. Which means, I arrive 3 minutes before Francesca. And to find myself on the wrong date at the wrong place is nothing new to me.

Once I even lost a day. My spouse and I were on a camping holiday in the Everglades.  We spent Christmas there, and New Years Eve. On the 4th of January, we had to catch our flight back to Germany. Reluctantly, we packed, drove to the airport and handed in the rented car. Then we wanted to check in:

“You can´t fly today”, the man behind the counter said.

” Why not. Is the airline on strike? ”

“Your flight is on the 4th of January. Today is the 3rd” he replied.

Flabbergasted, we tried to figure out what had happened. We had left our remote campground on what we considered to be New Years Eve to have dinner in the local pub. There even were fireworks  though we wondered why there weren´t many. Spending the real New Years Eve on the campground where fireworks weren´t allowed, our misunderstanding wasn´t corrected. 

Fünf Minuten vor der Zeit ist des Kaisers Höflichkeit- the Emperor is polite by coming five minutes earlier”, my grandfather always said. He had seen the Emperor as he served in the Leibgarde of the last German Emperor Wilhelm II. We children were trained to be on time, always, no exceptions. Only later I realized the arrogance of this saying: Am I the Emperor? And five minutes earlier aren´t good style in doing business, either. Five minutes before the set date, people in the offices realize that somebody is coming and start to get ready: they look for the files, check their material and go to the bathroom. To be five minutes early is considered a nuisance. To be 5 minutes late, too. Those are the minutes lost, when I don´t start a different work because I don´t know how long I can stay with it, when I can´t call somebody, and I become slightly annoyed. Bad luck for my visitor, who has to work hard to make up for his blunder. 

Though I blundered myself badly when I had my first business appointment. I had just started to work as an editor in training at an agricultural magazine, when my boss and I were invited to a press dinner in some faraway castle. We set out on time, but then we got lost out in a wood. Nobody in sight we could ask for directions. In this pre-GPS, pre-mobile phone age, this was it. We just had to keep driving and to hope that by chance we would find the castle. Finally we did, late, and stormed into a hall. We hardly looked at the people, but rushed to the man sitting at the head of the table, thus trying to save some seconds.

“Sorry we are late” my boss said, “but we are happy to join you”. The man looked surprised. After a few seconds, he asked us to sit down and help ourselves. We sat and a waiter brought us a dessert. Now we were surprised: Yes, we were late, but not too late to have missed a complete four course dinner. As we were so ashamed to be late, we didn´t investigate further, but started a small talk with our neighbours.

After the mandatory five minutes of talking about the weather, the nice landscape and the difficulties to find the castle, my boss asked:”What to you think of the new XYZ tractor?” The lady thus adressed looked puzzled: “Sorry, I don´t know anything about a XYZ tractor” “Didn´t they present the information yet? This is a strange press conference” my boss said, annoyed. “This is my uncles bithday party”, the lady replied, equally annoyed.

A friend of mine even missed her own divorce. She arrived on time at the trainstation, but then she took the wrong train. 

 But this will be another story.







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When The Food Calls Your Genes

I have a cookbook from Michigan, America. It contains a selection of recipes collected by parents for their school cookbook. My aunt contributed to it and dutifully bought lots of copies of it herself to give away to all her relatives.

Admittedly I only use it to look up her cookie recipe, but recently while leafing through it, I stopped every time I saw a german dish like “Rouladen”, Stuffed Cabbage (Kohlrouladen), Marble Cake (Marmorkuchen), Torte (well it said Torte, although I think a Germans would call it a Streuselkuchen) and wondered where the contributors got these recipes. Where they family heirlooms and pointed to a german heritage? It is hard to imagine that somebody would use them otherwise. They somehow don´t fit in the trend of “let´s try something different like greek or italian or chinese”. Can you imagine anybody saying “Gee, there is this fantastic German restaurant around the corner. They have Rouladen to dream of. I wish I knew  how to cook those.”

Nah, can´t imagine it.

Yet, when I grew up I loved going to eat at my friends houses. I was used to my mother´s cooking, which was a mix of italian, english and american fare. We had two warm meals per day, while my german friends had a warm lunch, but a “Brotzeit” in the evening, which meant sandwich meat (sausage) on dark bread.

While my friends went wild over my Mum´s Spaghetti al Tonno I wanted to get some of that Lentil soup with a shot of vinegar at their house or enjoy the  “Bienenstich”, a cake coverend in almonds, honey and cream. And I got the chance quite often, as my best friend lived close to school and I did not. In those days school canteens were non-existent, students younger than 15 rarely went to school in the afternoons. All this is changing now, but then I was stuck everytime there was a break before my rare afternoon classes.

I tried bringing soup in a thermos and went alone in an unheated “Aufenthaltsraum” (day room), because the school didn´t realize that there was a student who would actually use the room. When my friend´s mother heard, she wouldn´t have it. I had to spend my breaks at their house from then onwards and I was glad.

Another friend asked me over for a Brotzeit. I love dark german bread, so that was fine by me. What suprised me though was that they did not offer me anything to drink until after dinner. The sandwich meat is quite salty and heavy and together with the dark bread I became very thirsty. It does have the effect that you have to chew longer. Many part-time dieters will recognize this method of reducing the amount you eat. It did not seem to work for the father of my friend then, but that might have something to do with the beer he would consume before Lunch on a Sunday.

Apart from the chewing, german cooking or eating habits seem to be less suitable for dieting purposes. The food is very rich and heavy. The meat dishes of my youth were covered abundantly in sauces, salads swimming in mayonnaise were the norm and if you went to one of the really German restaurants, like the Schnitzel Farm in Eberstadt, you had to bring a LARGE appetite to finish their enormous portions. Anything but meat dishes was hard to find.

Fortunately this has changed. Most times you will find a good offer in salads (just watch out for the sauces!) even in the most traditional places. I don´t know if the Schnitzelfarm still exists and I don´t feel the urge to go there. I would like some of that Lentil soup with vinegar again though. Must be my german heritage showing through.

Mmmmhh. May be time to call on some old friends.


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On Lent, lentils and Maultaschen

“When I hear Lent I always think of lentils” I told Francesca when we discussed Fastenzeit, the 40 days between carneval and Eastern.

In the catholic household of my upbringing, lentil soup was the staple diet for a Friday, the day on which religon demanded not to eat any meat. We ate it with Wiener Würstchen, a kind of Frankfurters, instead, which didn´t count as meat. This lentil soup was served enriched with Spätzle, a special kind of regional pasta, and flavoured with a tablespoon of vinegar. I loved this lentil soup, maybe because it was the only not-homemade dish my mother ever served. In a household reigned by homemade marmelade, self-pressed raspberry juices and handpicked peas, the taste of a pulverized soup with freezedried vegetables and probably an unhealthy amount of glutamat spelled  luxurious pleasure. 

Only when I worked in the kitchen of a Gasthaus in our local ski-ressort, I learnt that lentils are more than a brown mass of powder.  Each night we poured kilos of the brown protein bombs into a 40 liter pot, and covered them with water. The next morning, we  got up early to let them simmer on the stove for two hours.  We added Speck, lard, and cooked it for another hour, to get the smotth texture and the rich taste of lentils and lard combined. Then I would prepare everything for a rush of 200 hungry children. I carried the pot outside into a wooden barrack reserved for the ski classes and heated another big pot of Wiener Würstchen. This was the most delicate part of my task, as their skin tended to burst when overheated, and even then, in the 70ies, children didn´t eat burst sausages. Today, lentil soup still is served in my own family, homemade. I like the idea of a dish that only needs to stand overnight and cooks for hours without me..

Another favorite dish in my family originates in Fastenzeit as well: Maultaschen, literally translated as mouth-bag.

Schwabians invented Maultaschen to cheat on the obligation of fasting. They took a chunk of meat, minced it finely, mixed it with spinach and covered it in pasta dough. Thus, God was cheated twice. If he looked at the dish, he would see only the pasta dough. In case he might be able to look beneath the surface, he would see a green mass and take it for a vegetarian dish. God obviously doesn´t taste. 

For a long time only the Schwabians enjoyed Maultaschen. For me, the pleasure of Maultaschen in der Brühe or Maultaschen geschmälzt made up for the otherwise ascetic lifestyle in Stuttgart, where people enjoy not to enjoy.  “Mir geht es nicht so gut, dass ich klagen könnte – I´m not so well off that I could complain” describes the general attitude in an ironic way.


Surprisingly, this regional dish opened the door to my first intercultural friendship. Once, at university, I tutored an exchange scientist from Inner Mongolia. I was paid to show him Germany, to tell him about our customs and thus to help him  to feel more at home in a foreign country. For a long time I didn´t succeed. He missed his wife, his children, his friends, his status at his home university and we didn´t connect. Then, one day, on a trip to Tübingen, I invited him to Maultaschen in der Brühe. First he declined, as he always declined the food I offered him. This non-acceptance of food always offended me, because in my understanding, offering food means to offer hospitality and to decline it equalls rejection. This time, I insisted. Luckily, our neighbours at the next table were already eating their Maultaschen. “Look”, I said “those are Maultaschen in der Brühe”. He smiled for the first time since I had met him:” Oh, you mean Wan-Tan-soup”.

Das Eis war gebrochen-the ice had cracked. Over Maultaschen and the Wan-tan soup he prepared for me the following week, I learnt about similarities and differences between people and culture. I learnt about  his lactose allergy that made it impossible for him to partake in our students diet of bread, cheese and milk.

Though Lent is part of our religious and cultural tradition, the fasting rules don´t count any more. The only people I know who seriously obey any fasting rules out of religious reasons are islamic neighbours and friends during Rhamadan. Others decide to make Fastenzeit the time of the year when they test if they can live without the daily pleasures of chocolate, coffee, cigarettes or a glass of wine. It´s like a second New Years resolution, though within  a limited time span which makes it much easier to keep. With an chocolate Easter bunny as a reward, even I can deny myself a chocolate bar. 

But this is another story.


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What will it be, me or … the trash!

Germany is ahead on some very important issues, like green energy. I am rather proud of “my Germany” in that respect, and yet I sometimes wish it were not so. Because with being ahead comes responsibility and having to set a good example at all times.

What´s wrong with that? Noooothing…. Except when it is a tiring, boring, time consuming and reiterative exercise, which could be avoided if we spent a little more time thinking about it in the first place. Maybe if those in the position to make decisions for change, spent a little more time dealing with the consequences of their in-actions, change would come very quickly.

Like the rest of my family.

In the meantime:

I sit in front of several bags of clothes, shoes, books and other materials and agonize. I want to move into a new house. I have to lighten the weight, but I can´t just dump it all in the next trash container. I have to act responsible.

There are so many things to consider. Would a charity be happy to have the clothes – clean, but well worn? And I can´t let them ship the stuff to Africa, because I cannot contribute to the downfall of a fragile african textile industry. Why do relatives keep buying new stuff, when I could equip them with an entire wardrobe for their little ones? Do I have the heart to tear it all up and turn it into carpets or paper? Why did I accept many second hand clothes in the first place? Waste not want not, can be: Didn´t waste it, but didn´t want it either!

What about the books? Old computer and software manuals for hardware and software that nobody uses anymore (don´t say have – because I still do of course, even if I don´t use it). Novels I read only the beginning and end of – somebody else might like it. Childrens books hardly scribbled in or with only one torn page, but in various languages.

What about the accounting details, some 10 years old or older? The print is so faded that I can only tell that is was a shopping list from Spain. But it is a shopping list from Spain. What good times we had there, what nice things we bought.

Do you understand now why I feel a bit desperate when my family walks in with a bunch of beautiful leaflets, picked up at the shopping mall. They are all about history, evolution, dinosaurs and the Senckenberg Museum. I can see myself leafing through them in ten years. Ach.

Before paper made from trees came along, it was made entirely out of cloth. Collecting “Hadern” was business, but they were becoming rare during the 18th century as cloth leftovers were needed for other purposes (cheap clothes!), so new technologies were developed to use plants and trees as paper producing sources. And got us stuck with more problems.

And don´t ask about the electronic “trash”. When does it cross the line? When is it replacement pieces and when does it become unusable and when does it transition to museum pieces? I am glad that my attic has a cement flooring, so I don´t have to worry about it buckling under the weight of our precious resources. But my new place does not have an attic, so something will have to give, and I don´t want it to be my mind.

I see a ghostly myself standing next to me, as in one of the notorious german soap ads of years gone by. Instead of telling me that my wash needs to whiter than white, it whispers: “Look at that itsy-bitsy pyjama. Do you remember when your kids wore it? Can you really throw it away and with it the memory?” Arghhhh, of course I cannot!

That is why we should not let our daughters watch TV. The image of the perfect, organized and industrious housewife is burned into the young, malleable minds and resides there to haunt us for the rest of our lives.

Three of the Four @smangane

Three of the Four @smangane

Germans became so good at separating and recycling that heating plants that used trash to provide heat, ran out of trash to burn. Or collected plastic were exported to other countries for separation and often just ended up in somebody else´s incinerator or land dump. Computers still are exported to countries, where they are rid of their precious metals without respect for health issues. Although these beginnings were and are not so smooth, once a German subscribes to an idea, he will stick to the enforcement come what may. So despite these initial hickups the basic idea is not scrapped and here we are thirty years later and with four trashcans to a family.

When it all got too much in the early days I could take a break in England or Italy. Throwing everything into the same bin, became the hidden pleasure and luxury of a holiday. Alas, those days are over. When I arrive in London now, the first leaflet that greets my eye explains how to separate my paper from cardboard (don`t let the Germans read this – they don´t separate the two YET), or telling me that Glass will be picked up every 2nd Monday and my eco-trash (garden cuttings and such) every second Wednesday.

Of course I can´t do anything else than mark the days in my calendar and follow the rules. Because I know that it is for the good of mankind, because I don`t want to leave mountains of junk or trash to my kids, because I will have done my moral duty. Because I think ahead. Because I will start producing less trash from now on.

And because if I don´t who will?



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Trash or treasure?

“I feel like the Queen of Trash”, Francesca sighed when she told me about her struggle to get rid of all the stuff that stuffs her house. “Why are women allways responsible for trash?”

In Germany, they aren´t, at least not completely.  To carry the trashcan to the bin is the one household duty every man has to fulfill. Even my father did it, who never did anything else. Though he never did it  without being asked first.

Schatz, trägst Du mal den Mülleimer runter – Honey, could you just carry the trash to the bin”  is one of those sentence any stand-up comedian gets an easy laugh with.  As in ingenious shortcut, it tells the audience:

– that couple has past the first ardour of love,

– that by now, the pair has lived together for some time,

– that by custom the womans role has become to do the housework

– and that there already are underground battlefields of resentment and resistance.  

After the first laugh, the women sigh,  while the men smile, proud of their genders strategy. No wonder Ghandi was a man.

While women don´t have to carry the trashcan, they have to make sure that the men don´t have to carry it often. To avoid trash still is considered a virtue in Germany. A good housewife will only buy what is abolutely neccessary, and find new uses for old objects. 

As I´m writing this, I´m looking at a box that till yesterday contained my new external hard drive. I should do something about it, but what shall I do? “Was it really abolutely necessary that you bought me?” the box asks me each time I look at it.

“Of course”, I defend myself. “I didn´t have any more storage space on my computer, and my old external hard drive is full, too”.

“Why don´t you get rid of some of your old volumes?”, the box asks me. “Do you really need  the data of projects you finished and invoiced three years ago?”

“You never know”, I mumble. “Vorsicht ist die Mutter der Porzellankiste”

You  should know. Don´t you ever learn form experiences? Nobody ever asked for this data “, the box insists. 

Irgendwann ist immer das erste mal” , I reply angrily and decide to throw the impertinent box out, this minute.

When I grab for the box, an invisible force holds me back. This is a good, strong box. Wouln´t I need a box like this next week, when I have to send my niece a birthday parcel?  And wouldn´t another niece who creates the most astonishing artefacts out of trash, love the molded cardboard inside?

In the most unlikely event that I actually throw the box away, I would throw it into the paper bin, one out of six bins in our tiny flat. We do have bins for  paper, glass, plastic bottles, batteries, Grüner Punkt-industry financed recycling and Restmüll-uncategorized. If we lived in a different part of town, we would have a “Bio-Tonne” for anything organic, too. Besides the bins, we collect old glass jars for the marmelade production of my mother-in-law, old books for Oxfam, old clothes for the charity market, old toys for the childrens hospital, old paint for the Sondermüll, and empty toilet rolls for any boust of creativity in our son. Before the “Grüne Punkt” was introduced in the 90ies, we would even have had a seperate bin for aluminium cans. Today, I use the aluminium cans to hold my pens or pot my plants.

No, I´m not an obsesessed trash neurotic. Some-including my spouse-would even say that I´m not serious enough when it comes to seperating trash. Even in the 80ies, when recycling became a religion in Germany, I didn´t seperate a teabag into paperclip (for the paper bin), tea leaves (organic trash) and cord (bin for what is left). Though I loved the compost heap and the discussions in our students group about the advantages of the Australian compost wriggler over the German compost wriggler. I loved the alchemy of worm shit turning into fertilizer, and fed the heap with all I could lay hands on. Till one late summer day, when my housemate came into the kitchen, screaming: ” There is  a decapitated head in our compost heap!”

Palefaced, we decided to have a second look before we called the police. Bravely we  went out  to inspect the heap. Amongst orange peels and egg shells I saw a nest of dark hair. After the first shock, I laughed: “Don´t be silly. These are the cuttings from my last hairdressing session”.

Since the 80ies, the way Germans treat their trash, has changed from trying to recycle everything to “let those who make the future trash pay for it”. Today, the bulk of household trash goes into the Gelber Sack-yellow trash bag, because it is marked with a Grüner Punkt-green dot, as a sign that the producer pays for the trash. Rather new is the system to recycle plastic PET-bottles and cans. Now, everybody goes shopping with bags full of empty bottles. After a slow start of the system when every bottle had to be brought back to the shop it was bought in, with the receipt as proof of purchase, bottles are now accepted everywhere. Recycling machines wait for the customers. They scan the products for the recycling code, then gulp and crash the accepted bottles. In the end, they hand out a voucher, which can be turned into new merchandise.

Maybe these machines could be the way out of recession. Let every household buy its own recycling machine, and German industry would be on the rise again.

But this is another story.


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