Fresh air is good if you do not take too much of it; most of the achievements and pleasures of life are in bad air – Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Germans have a very special relationship with “air”. Air is a thing for the Germany that is measurable and recognizable, that has a “flavor” and a smell, almost like a good wine. There are many cities in Germany that have a special distinction because of their “air” that is supposed to have healing properties. Before I moved to Germany I never really thought about “air”. Maybe when the local meat packing plant was doing something that smelled bad but the “quality” of air? Went by me.
Germans can immediately notice the quality of “air” in a room and ask for the windows to be opened if they don’t find it good. I have to admit, I hardly notice it myself but I have gotten into the habit of “airing” the bedroom in the morning. I also open the window in the studio where I teach after every lesson just so that no one complains. They also “air” their bedding by hanging it out the window in the morning, something I have also taken on. One of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm – who lived most of their lives in the German state of Hessen where we live – tells the story of a girl who is put through many tests. When she comes to “Frau Holle”, she has to shake the bedding out of the window and that is why it snows. When the Germans hang their bedding out the window, they sometimes say they are playing “Frau Holle”.
The other thing that Germans are obsessed about is “draft”. I never really thought about this concept before either. Draft to me was a good thing. Until I got an air conditioner, I learned to sleep with a fan on to drown out the noise of the New York streets. When I moved to Germany, I was so used to the flowing air, I bought a fan and had it on even though the nights were really quiet. When I met Wolfgang and we spent the first night together at my place he went ballistic. “How can you have that on? There is a draft!” He drove a little convertible at the time, a Mazda Miata. I found it confusing that when we had the top down, everything was all fine but when we had the top “up”, we couldn’t have the windows “down” because then there would be a “draft” and he would get a cold. It may sound crazy but I have experienced the truth that he indeed gets a cold if the windows are open in the car. Makes for hot driving in the summer since we don’t have air conditioning in the car.
Germans know no pity when it comes to “draft”. Many’s the time when riding on the train with the window open because the air conditioning didn’t work, I would be amazed that someone would come from a seat some way away and demonstratively shut the window by my head muttering the word “draft” as if that would explain being so rude. They have unbelievable antennae for such things.
But the funniest thing is that after living almost twenty years in Germany, I now feel a “draft” and ask people to shut doors or windows. I rarely open the window in the car or in the train anymore. And I may even be noticing the quality of air in some of the rooms or places I walk into. I don’t know if it is my imagination or indoctrination but there you are. Air had become a “thing” for me, too.