Tag Archives: Snow

Snow – friend or fiend?

“Excuse me. The U-Bahn was late because of the snow,” Francesca said when she arrived 15 minutes late to our meeting. “The Germans can´t handle snow any more,” I grumbled.”Two snowflakes, and everything runs late. Just shows how far German reliability has gone down.” “But in London public transport really broke down”, our South Korean friend reminded me. “In comparison, 15 minutes late in  Germany aren´t that bad”.

When it comes to snow, I become a raging “Kulturpessimist”, one of those  who always  sigh “When I was young, everything was much better”.

Snow  was much better when I was young.

First of all, there was snow. Snow season started in December and lasted till March. Sometimes we even looked for Easter eggs in a snow covered garden. In the moderate clima zone of Germany, snow meant fun: skiing, riding a sleigh, bulding a snowman, snowball fights. At least for the kids. For my father, it was hard work. Every morning, after a night of falling snow, I woke up to the sound of the snow shovel scraping on our gravel road. 200 m he had to clear before he could get out to work. I didn´t hear his words, probably for the better. But his angry shoulders and abrupt movements told me that he was not amused. 

When I got up and went to school, not only had my father already cleared our private road, but the public roads were free of snow, too. At 5 o´clock in the morning, the snow plough had started its work. It pushed the snow aside with its iron shield, coughed it up with the snowblower and melted it with salt distributed by a rotating disc. The garage of the snowplough was near my parents home. On my way to school I passed the huge barn, filled with saltbags for winter. Those saltbags, empty,  served as make-shift bobs for us children, as they where very thick and durable. 

Snow never was a problem for drivers in the Black forest. Everybody boasted confidence, nobody came one minute late because of the snow. The secret: be prepared. We had cars whith  engines in the back and not in front, which helped when you had to drive uphill in snow. Everbody knew which gear to choose for the right speed on snowy slopes and winding streets. Everybody knew about engine brakes, had non-skid chains in its trunk and winter tyres on the rims. Sometimes, when somebody got stuck on a hill, all neighbors came to weigh the rear end down with their bodies. 

While  enjoying these happy memories I always forget about the cold. Cold as in terribly cold. Wet woolen mittens didn´t warm my fingers, neither did unlined wellingtons warm my toes . All during winter,  feet and hands were icy red. And wouldn´d get warm at night.

Germans don´t heat bedrooms. Instead, they rely on thick feather duvets and a hot water-bottle for warmth (some of them with two ears…). Normally, the window is open, at least a bit. For this nightly nip of fresh air, German windows can be opened two ways: completely or by unhingeing the upper part which then inclines into the room.  This is the mode for the night, while the wide open window is reserved for the morning, when the duvets are placed on the window sill to air them. 

Germans sincerely believe in the prophylactic power of cold and fresh air: as if bacteria and viruses would immediately die in an oxygen enriched, cold environment. To catch a cold, in our understanding, is only remotely connected to the temperature outside. Of course, German mothers insist that their children wear coat, gloves and cap in winter. But deep in their heart they don´t worry too much: “Draußensein in der Kälte härtet ab. Das ist die beste Vorsorge gegen Erkältung – to beware of a cold  be out in the cold.”

Those “on duty” when snow falls find ample opportunities to enjoy the cold. By law, sidewalks must be cleared from snow before 7 o´clock in the morning and kept open till 8 o´clock in the evening. Otherwise, if somebody falls and breaks its ankle, he can claim liability. In principle, the clearing of the sidewalks lies in the responsibility of the local council. In practice, local councils hand this responsibility down to house owners, who hand it further down to the tennants. Whose duty is to  do what in which week is part of rental contracts and elaborate in-house arrangements. In German appartment houses, you often see calendars with alternating names either fixed to the notice board or dangling from the doorknob of the person on duty.

Homesick Ohioan gets lesson in Snowshovelling in 1967 @John C. Krueger

Homesick Ohioan gets lesson in Snowshovelling in 1967 @John C. Krueger

This schedules for “Kehrwoche” must be obeyed, at all cost. Otherwise, sanctions aren´t far away. A German saying goes: “Es kann der Beste nicht in Frieden leben, wenn es dem bösen Nachbarn nicht gefällt – even the best can´t live in peace if his neighbours decide do act nasty”.  On the other hand, if you obey to the Kehrwoche rules and fight your way out into a snowstorm at 6 o´clock to shovel snow, you will be rewarded with the warmest possible welcome from your neighbours, a 10 on the Richter-scale. 

My landlord outsourced the snow-cleaning job to a professional firm. Lucky me. I can stay in my – heated – bedroom till it´s time to go to work. It is only when I see my handsome new neighbour shoveling snow that I feel a pang of regret. 

But this is another story.


Leave a comment

Filed under typical german, World

Hibernation and “Was Dich nicht umbringt macht Dich nur stärker”

My hair froze.

It’s not the arctic, just Germany in an unusual cold snap. While walking home I caught the pitying look of a pedestrian coming my way and could not understand the reason until I caught sight of my hair, which stood out under my hat in its usual untidy waves but tinted a frozen white. I was afraid if I touched it, it would snap off with a satisfactory tchik noise.

-15 Celsius is unusual. Still we expect our children to weather it all. Many foreigners from warmer shores, who stay here only temporarily, huddle their children to school in their cars at every drop of rain, snow or other “ill” weather and express desperation when the kids are sent outside during the breaks while their German counterparts dress their kids in snowsuits for the cold season and raingear and specialized mud-pants for the rainy season. If we did not adapt to the weather around here we would be going out even less than already is the case. It is winter after all and if we want some snow the only way we seem to be able to keep it in these last years, is if the temperatures drop well below 0 and stay there.

Igloo in the Taunus @Smangane

Igloo in the Taunus @Smangane


This week saw the holiday of Epiphany, Los Reyes Magos , Heilige Drei Könige or La Befana. Exploring the history of our calendars I discover how hard our ancestry worked at creating consistency. Our current calendar evolved, till it attained this structure in which our birthdays and holidays happen in the same season and we always have the same number of months (Here you will find all sorts of interesting data.). Not so in China or Korea. A friend from Korea told me that although they use the Gregorian calendar they mark the Chinese Year on it as well and some of the older generation still move their birthdays and other events accordingly. One year her mother celebrated her birthday in summer and the next in winter.


That is amazing. Here I am admiring my skillful dance between different cultures and languages and suddenly I realize how easy I have it in comparison. We share fundamental things like calendars and know no alternatives. We can completely ignore the recent (1582!) history of their creation and enjoy the fruits of a well-regulated time and calendar system. We can ignore that without precise watches seamen would still risk getting hopelessly lost at sea and we can time our meetings and plan our birthdays for the same day and season every year with only subtle shifts like leap years or leap seconds, which we hardly notice and often forget (Google: Results 55,800 for leap year, software glitch). Consistency is so reassuring.


In January we have left behind the religious holidays and are contemplating the arrival of “Fasching” (Carneval), which officially started in the 11th month on the 11th of day at 11 minutes passt 11 o`clock and will last until the end of February, but we don’t have time to think of preparations until the 06th of January, when with the arrival of the Kings we clear our houses of all related to Christmas by packing up decorations and throwing our trees into the streets. I shiver at the thought of dancers big and small preparing for the Fasching parade in February in their traditionally very short skirts. I can see them in countless halls across the countries donning their colorful suits and three point hats with a fur trimming (Why is the fur on the hats? Why don’t they have long coats?) practicing their steps and baton moves. Maybe school breaks out in any weather have prepared the countless “Funkemariechen” for the feat they are about to perform, which is marching throughout town for the parade in their little skirts, while the audience huddles in winter coats, scarves and wool hats.


I feel I was luckier when I played the role of one of the three kings as a child. We were allowed to dip into the vast treasure of smocks, woolen skirts of mass servants and adorned ourselves with one of the fancy priest stoles, which we  thought was a huge privilege. Pretending to be men and kings (Yes, the servants were all girls in 1976. The boys were all out playing football. I mean soccer.) meant that we could dress warmly. I don´t remember much about the actual event. A few chalkmarks over doors marking our passing and a blessing for the house. What remains are photos that are gradually turning yellow showing myself and my fellow kings grinning into the camera, tucking our long hair under crowns and turbans.


It is a vague but sweet memory to keep me warm as I follow my father’s advice and hibernate like other clever animals and stay in my cave, waiting for warmer and sunnier times, while my children as all young ones test and improve their resistance to life and all its trials in winter weather and school halls according to the old saying “Was Dich nicht umbringt, macht Dich nur stärker”.



Filed under World