German windows are fantastic. I’m seriously considering getting some for my abode when I grow up and become not-broke, just so I can show them off to visitors. They open at the top: the verb to describe the action is kippen, to tilt. Like so:
I know, it blows the mind. (If that was interesting, have a look at these various contemporary styles of European windows – the 3D renders have occlusion shadows! Hover over a window on that website to see how it opens.)
From the existence of a window position specifically for letting in air from outside, you can tell that Germans have a bit of a thing for ventilation and fresh air. In green spaces, people comment on how good the air is and how you’ll never get that in the cities – and check out this lengthy German Wikipedia article on ventilation.
This puzzles the heck out of me because Germany has one of Europe’s higher smoking rates, which has been causing me lots of misery. (I hate smoke.)
In general, Europeans smoke much more than what I’m used to, and the phenomenon seems more loosely linked to socioeconomic class and far less stigmatized. Look at the numbers: In the US 18% of the population smokes (2014 figure) and in Singapore only 14.3% of the population does (2010 figure). Compare this to, as of 2011 for male smokers: 22% in the UK, 30% in Denmark, 31% in Switzerland, 35% in Germany, 39% in France, 46% (!) in Austria. Germany also has cigarette vending machines everywhere, one per 133 inhabitants; every two blocks or so in Mannheim you can see an ugly metal box affixed to the wall with ZIGARETTEN stencilled on its side. Now, in China the smoking rate is 47%, and in Indonesia it is a whopping 67% – but that’s something you sort of expect. I can’t say I entirely understand it in Europe. These people recycle obsessively, they eat organic food, they work out – they breathe smoke as if it were air. I don’t get it.
Now German doors are not quite as fantastic as their windows, except for their rather clever soundproofing, which, when present, involves a partially recessed frame, and is the reason hotels here are impossibly quiet even when full of guests. But for some reason all the doors I’ve run into in Germany in everyday life are usability nightmares. Take this one near the neighborhood supermarket, which had me stumped and lurking in a corner furtively waiting for someone else to show me the correct way to escape:
Look at those large curved handlebars, invitingly calling your name! Do you push? Do you pull? Both wrong. You use the little door handle on the inside. What?
My aikido dojo here offers another horrific example of German door-engineering, so convoluted I can’t even find a photo of a similar one on the internet. It involves a metal plate that sticks out slightly from the door proper, and a handle underneath it that seemingly serves no purpose, as to open the door you must pull the plate. Yes, you pull the metal plate.
For all the smoke and weird doors, though, I am sad to be leaving this country – this continent, really – in a few weeks. I’ve settled in quite well in my apartment, and I’ll miss cooking. For now I am making the most of it: tomorrow I will buy a whole chicken (hopefully my landlady’s rubbish knives are up to the task of chopping it up) and attempt to make chicken rice, that most wonderful of Singaporean dishes.
1. For further reading, Don Norman writes about doors quite a bit in The Design of Everyday Things.
2. While checking noun genders for the title of the post, I finally realized that Tor and Tür are actually not just different forms of the same word. An elementary mistake, but one unobtrustive enough that I’d never bothered to look it up. Wikipedia says:
Eine Tür, vor allem ober- und mitteldeutsch Türe, auch Tor für größere Exemplare, ist eine Einrichtung zum Schließen einer Öffnung in einer Wand, in einer Mauer, in einem Durchgang oder in einem Einstieg.
So a Tor is a large Tür – a large door. There doesn’t seem to be an exact definition, but often Tore (pl.) are more like gates – large, somewhat grand, two doors if there are any – for instance, das Brandenburger Tor, the Brandenburg Gate. And of course, in football, a Tor is a goal.