The Berlin Spectator
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Warm Drinks and No Air Conditioning: Germans in Heatwaves

In the past few decades, the weather in Germany got a lot hotter and dryer. In spite of that development, the Germans are reluctant to cool things down. This applies to apartments, offices and even drinks.

On a warm June day in 1976, a bunch of 11-year-old boys were looking at a thermometer during their first 20-minute break at ‘Gymnasium Müssenredder’, a high school in Hamburg’s ‘Poppenbüttel’ borough. They wanted it to hit the 28 degree mark. (82 degrees Fahrenheit). But it was a little too early.

Two history lessons later, during the second break, a loudspeaker announcement by the headmaster, Mr. Dibbern, echoed through all school buildings and the premises. He said all students were allowed to go home, due to ‘Hitzefrei’. There is no proper translation for this German noun. The direct one would be something like ‘time off due to heat’. It meant the school would be shut down for the rest of the day because of high temperatures that could melt students’ and teachers’ brains.

Reluctant to Adapt

What they called heat in 1976 is below average today. Thanks to the changing climate, north-western Europe is almost as hot as the Balkans, southern France or California’s Central Valley these days. But somehow the Germans are reluctant to adapt.

Cooling things down does not belong to the strengths Germans could show off. The opposite is the case. In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, ordering a glass of Coca Cola or lemonade in the average German restaurant lead to disappointment, because the fluid the waitress brought a few minutes later would be warm, at room temperature, in many cases. Come on, who drinks warm Coke? Well, the Germans obviously did.

The only thing the Germans would cool down used to be their ice cream. Oh yes, they loved licking that stuff, and still do. Germany is not only a big ice cream consumer, but an even bigger producer. More than half a billion tons of ice cream per year carry the ‘Made in Germany’ label.

Germany is not America

Branded ice cream, ice cream parlor ice cream, soft ice cream or whatever it is: The Germans will lick and suck it away like crazy. This applies to all generations. They also do hop into swimming pools and lakes. But, other than that, cooling down is not what the Germans do.

In the United States of America, it does not matter where you go. Any offices, malls, shops or restaurants are being cooled down to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Centigrade) in summer. Yes, the Americans are exaggerating. But the Germans are the other extreme.

While America was starting to equip those bathtubs on wheels it called cars with A/Cs even in the late 1950s, that kind of amenity was unheard of in Germany even more than a quarter century later. Back then, the Germans did have a point because their weather was cool and rainy. But today, their refusal to live in the modern world, in this regard, is a little weird.

A/Cs Considered Unhealthy

Sure, whoever puts a big pile of money on the table, can purchase a German luxury car with a very effective A/C. Also younger Germans tend to insist on their drinks being ice cold. But A/Cs in office buildings and apartments are still rare.

People would rather sweat like crazy than install something considered unhealthy in Germany. “I don’t want to catch a cold” is what Germans usually say when asked about the subject. Somehow they can not grasp the idea that it all depends on the setting of the A/C.

Many tenants in Germany are not allowed to have A/Cs installed in the apartments they live in. Landlords do not seem to want to have those A/C boxes installed on the outer walls of their apartment blocks. Some authorities ban them and cite all kinds of reasons, including the energy consumption.

Cooling Down or Moving

Many of the 35,000 American soldiers stationed in Germany and their families have their problems with the lack of air conditioning in Germany. In 2015, Bryan Gatchell gave them suggestions about “Staying Cool in Germany Without A/C” on the U.S. Army’s website.

Those included rolling down the shutters during the day, opening the windows during the night, drinking a lot of water, wearing lightweight, light-colored clothing, reading the Army’s work/rest chart and using sunscreen. No, applying for a redeployment to Greenland was not on the list.

In Germany’s public transport, things look a little better by now. In Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich and many other cities, modern buses, trams or ‘U-Bahn’ trains are being cooled down, but for ages they were not. The only issue here is that A/Cs in electric buses reduce the ranges. When cooling down or moving is the choice, bus drivers tend to choose the latter.

T-Bone Steaks

People who actually want to be fried like t-bone steaks should come to Berlin. On the ‘U-Bahn’ lines 1 and 3, temperatures reach like 54 degrees Centigrade (130 degrees Fahrenheit) on hot days. The same applies to the German capital’s old buses. Being Germans, many drivers would not switch on the A/Cs in newly purchased buses either.

But these days, the problem does not apply in northern or eastern Germany. That is because the summer was cancelled up here. At least that is what it seems. Raincoats are far more useful than A/Cs right now. Over and out.

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