Nice surprise this morning – my eldest daughter was already awake when I got up and came with me to the bakery at 6:30. The sky was clear, birds were already singing and there was no queue when we got there. All in all, a good start to the day.
We live in a suburb of Stuttgart – a town of about 10,000 residents in a pretty “steady” area. We are a long way removed from the crazy hipsters in Berlin. It’s probably about as conservative (with a small “c”) as you can find anywhere in Germany, perhaps Europe. But at least it’s all neat and tidy – all the pavements were swept and there was hardly any rubbish lying around. The road sweepers had also cleared the residual grit from the cycle path this morning too.
There’s a reason for keeping your bit of pavement clean – it’s the law! When you buy a house it is your responsibility to keep the pavement in front of it clear of dirt, leaves and in winter, snow. At least that’s what everyone thinks. I have never heard of anyone actually being prosecuted, but everyone just takes it for granted that you look after your bit of pavement. The system works well – for most of the year you don’t actually have to do anything. In Autumn when the leaves fall there is a bit more to do. (I always pray for a good strong north wind because then the leaves on the tree outside our house blow onto the neighbour’s bit of pavement). And if it snows, which it hasn’t really done much for a couple of years now, then you are supposed to have it cleared by 7am! As a fairly early-riser with a family this isn’t such a big deal but I would have hated it in my early twenties.
If you live in a building with several flats, your rent contract will usually specify that you are responsible for cleaning the stairs every few weeks. This is a great source of conflict in Germany. There’s always going to be a sloppy sweeper fighting with the house busy-body over whether it’s been done well enough or not. Stuttgart is infamous for it’s strict “Kehrwoche” (Sweeping Week) rules. Many a tenant/owner landed in court to settle a sweeping argument. This has calmed down in recent years – now that we live in a lazy and affluent society most buildings with flats will charge you a bit extra and get a professional sweeping firm in once a week.
We are lucky to live in a group of 3 houses with a shared driveway and both my neighbours are pretty conscientious shovellers/sweepers. A few years ago we had really heavy snow and as I put on my boots and thought about my poor back I felt a rumbling under my feet. Before I was able to plunge my snow-shovel in for the first load, I saw that one of my neighbours (who works for a building company) had borrowed a huge tractor with a snow shovel. Two minutes later our drive was clear (and some plaster had been removed from the back wall of a neighbour’s garage).
So next time you are wondering why Germany is so clean, it’s because we are efficient and responsible people – and we can’t bare the accusatory, piercing stares of the old busy-body over the street.