Germans in summer: 6 things I have learned

1. They suffer greatly in weather I experience as pleasantly warm. Sometimes you get the most gorgeous summer weather here: 25° (77° F), low humidity, a light breeze and a blue sky. You can’t believe how perfect it is. Then you realize that everyone around you is complaining about it. The first time I worked in a German office was during a spell of such weather. One day, while handing me an assignment, my new boss said sympathetically, “if you can manage it in this heat!” I was confused, thinking that this sentence must contain some sort of implicit future tense I wasn’t familiar with. “Oh, is hot weather expected?” I asked. “The hot weather NOW,” she said, her face gaining a disconcerted cast of who-is-this-strange-foreigner-I’ve-hired.  Is the weather outside warmer than room temperature? Is it in no way gray or gloomy? If so, Germans are suffering.

2. Their dedication to the sundress is unwavering. Germans may suffer from the heat, but unlike *some countries*, they do not take it as an occasion to dress sloppily. I get the impression that the typical German woman owns one perfect sundress, and wears it on every single day that is warm enough. The men dress well, too: lots of crisp button-down shirts and jaunty sun hats, all very seersucker-suity in spirit if not letter. And then they all ride their bikes in this lovely attire: isn’t northern Europe the best? I mean, except for that part about the sun not shining for six months of the year. Anyway, in Germany a warm day is such a rare sartorial opportunity that you don’t waste it in shlumpy activewear. And rightfully so, because there is nothing better in this world than a sundress, except perhaps the combination of wearing a sundress and sipping a refreshing iced beverage, speaking of which:

3. Their range of non-alcoholic cold beverages is somewhat lacking, especially for those of us who do not enjoy carbonation. As Berlin’s culinary offerings have become more international in the past few years, some coffee shops have started serving iced coffee rather than just Eiskaffee (coffee with vanilla ice cream in it). At the occasional Vietnamese or Thai restaurant here you can get some of the wondrous Southeast Asian palette of cold coffee, tea, or lime-based drinks. But at most German establishments, you’re still basically just looking at carbonated things (Bionade, Club-Mate, Sprite that calls itself lemonade) and Eiskaffee. All of which quickly go lukewarm, because ice cubes are seen to belong exclusively to the realm of alcohol.

4. Air conditioning is scarce. You might assume this is a matter of environmental principle, but it seems to be more pragmatic: with so few days hot enough for air conditioning, it doesn’t seem worth the hassle to have it. This is my favorite thing about German summer, because I hate air conditioning. In my country every indoor space is afflicted with headache-inducing gale force air conditioning from May to September. When I was a student and temped at office jobs in Boston during summer vacation, the air conditioning always foiled the pleasure of wearing summer dresses, because the temperature was modulated to men in suits, not to women in sundresses. And then there was the gross feeling of stepping back out into the humidity in the evening after a day spent in arctic air conditioning. But I digress. One of the German buildings where I’ve worked actually had air conditioning in the canteen, but I didn’t even realize it until I’d worked there for several years, because it was subtle, low-key air conditioning, whereas overbearing air conditioning was the only kind I’d ever known.

5. They are suspicious of fans. This is where I really part ways with them. Germans are notoriously wary of drafts (es zieht!), and of any contact between their necks and moving air. When I used a fan in a Berlin office-share, several of my German officemates intervened to warn me that I was endangering my health by blowing all that unhealthy moving air onto my neck. Come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a ceiling fan in all my years in this country.

6. In professional environments, they soak their feet in wastebaskets filled with cold water. So without iced coffee, lemonade, fans or air conditioning, how do Germans beat the heat? In many cases, with foot water. On warm days at multiple German jobs, I have seen people empty out an office wastebasket, fill said wastebasket with cold water (but no ice), stick it under their desk, and soak their bare feet in it. I was initially startled at this sight, which seemed both awfully casual for the workplace and kind of dangerous given all the electrical wiring under people’s desks, but I got used to it.

Today was a hot day. I was translating difficult art theory, and my apartment’s one fan had bought the farm. So, well, I tried out the footwater. I felt kind of wrong, but also kind of proud of my Integrationsfähigkeit. I have to admit it was sort of refreshing. Especially in a sundress with an iced coffee.

2 thoughts on “Germans in summer: 6 things I have learned

  1. Lol, Jane! I hate to tell you but you have been foiled once again by Travel Writer Syndrome. Actually, all of humanity wears sundresses and sips lackluster nonalcoholic drinks in non-air-conditioned rooms with their feet in buckets of water, anytime the temperature rises over 25 C. Only those big-refrigeratored Americans don’t 😉

    1. Yes. Also, all of non-American humanity eschews fans because of the drafts they produce. On a less sarcastic note, yesterday while waiting to go to a movie I went into the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden for the specific purpose of spending time in air conditioning. IT WAS NOT AIR CONDITIONED! Even though IT IS A MALL! I was quite relieved that at least the cinema was air conditioned. (I know I wrote that I hate air conditioning, but, well, under the current weather conditions I appreciate it.)

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