Most Germans, especially those residing in cities, live in apartments or “Wohnungen”. These can be generously-sized two- or three-bedrooms units complete with a living room, kitchen, etc. but they often take up a portion of a floor within a house no more than three stories high. There are tower blocks, but the locals snub these. As in the UK, they were often built in the ‘70s as social housing. Condos, as we know them in Malaysia, are virtually non-existent. In a way, Germans miss out on extravagant leisure facilities like landscaped pools, rooftop games rooms and entertainment halls to impress friends with. However, the times I have lived in high-rise apartments, I found it a pain to take the lift several floors down, anytime I forgot something in the car. And, as much as exclusive luxuries make one feel special, isn’t it cooler to be in a society that is overall awesome? Of course, this is not always possible. In Munich, for example, there are indoor and outdoor pools owned by the city for which you pay a few Euros to get in. The kids’ outdoor pools have great water features while indoor heated pools have slides and steam rooms. There is also a fun “flow channel” (Strömungskanal) which pushes bathers in a circular direction, something you wouldn’t even get in rich Silicon Valley’s community pools.
A posh Münchner, however, may disdain being thrown in skimpy clothing into close quarters with migrant youths, often from middle Eastern countries (called “mit Migrationshintergrund” or with migration backgrounds in polite society). Locals sometimes differentiate themselves from the masses by joining private gyms with swimming pools. Overall though, there are no exclusive country clubs, as in Malaysia and Silicon Valley.
2. Germans’ names are parts of their address
As mentioned above, most apartments are really bigger houses, divided into up to six or if in the inner city, more. These apartments share the same front door, with multiple post boxes and doorbells as well as names rather than apartment numbers. I found this surprising at first. Germans are famously privacy-sensitive. On Google Maps’ Street View, for example, many houses are blurred out. Nevertheless, all German homes have names displayed at street level, which most Brits and Americans would squirm at. It’s even compulsory when you register with the city (also legally required). So if you were to visit Erika at Brückestrasse 17, she may live in an apartment and you’d have to know her surname, or play a guessing game as to which doorbell to press. I do like this aspect of German homes as it makes the neighbourhood feel more personal and addresses simpler.
3. Laundry dries in cellars
Most German homes have “Keller” or basements. Some say this is because foundations must be built below where the ground freezes, to be stable. Also, heating systems seem more elaborate in Germany (our boiler, water tank and digital controls are separate components, for example) and are essential cellar residents. The washing machine and dryer are often also kept there. What astounds me is how hung laundry dries in the basement without an ounce of sunlight. In Malaysia, laundry sometimes stays damp even in the open air, thanks I guess, to the humidity. And God forbid, it should start raining!
The cellar often holds a workshop room where you can store your tools, and what is often sold as a “hobby room” where you keep your table tennis table, wine and fruit and vegetable preserves, or junk, which if you’re going to have, is probably better underground than in your guest room.
4. Kids walk to school
This is actually the best thing about German living. Communities areat least deemed safer than in the Klang Valley while pavements are narrow but consistent, with ubiquitous pedestrian greenways for walkers and cyclists. Like in Japan, kids are often expected to walk, cycle, scooter or take public transport to school, so there is safety in numbers.
5. Driving is a pain
Driving within neighbourhoods is a headache, however. In many Munich neighbourhoods, even outside the inner city, roads are only as wide as two cars. Most people park on the street, either because their driveways or garages are taken up by their first cars or more junk, or because their apartments don’t have driveways and it’s easier to park on the street than in the basement.As a result, getting in and out of your neighbourhood involves sidestepping unto oncoming traffic, which inevitably results in occasional confrontations. Germans sometimes say this is wholly intentional, to discourage driving and encourage public transport. To me, that makes as much sense as covering up half of your television to discourage watching television. Again, I reckon, they are just used to it. Indeed, as much as we like to think that we are all rational, ever evolving beings, historical inertia is probably something all societies deal with. Perhaps a peek from an outside perspective sometimes helps shake things up. You see, people with a “Migration’s background” can be useful after all!
* This is the second-part article contribution, continuing from the previous issue of YES.