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Lüften: Why Germans are obsessed with the art of airing out rooms

Lüften: Why Germans are obsessed with the art of airing out rooms
Airing rooms is such a major part of German life that it's written into most rental contracts. Photo: DPA
Germans take fresh air seriously. And now in a pandemic, it's seen as potentially life saving. We looked into the German love of Lüften.

If you're in an office, cafe, bar or restaurant, look around you. Are the windows or doors wide open? If so, it's likely because of a very German habit: Lüften or airing out a room.

As The Local reported this week, airing out rooms was recently added to the German government's advice to tackle coronavirus.

Two more letters are being added to the “AHA” (Abstand halten, Hygiene und Alltagsmaske) formula that Germany advises for keeping distance, good hygiene and wearing so-called everyday masks.

The two extra letters are “C” to stand for the coronavirus tracing app, and “L” to stand for “Lüften” or ventilating a room. It makes the acronym “AHAC” in full.

On Tuesday Chancellor Angela Merkel said ventilation is one of the “cheapest and most effective measures” in the fight against the virus.

“The custom is something of a national obsession, with many Germans habitually opening windows twice a day, even in winter. Often the requirement is included as a legally binding clause in rental agreements, mainly to protect against mould and bad smells,” wrote the Guardian in their report on the new advice and the German pastime of airing out the indoors.

Proving how seriously Germans take airing out rooms there are different methods for ventilating. Stoßlüften literally translates to “shock ventilation” or “impact ventilation”.

For about five minutes at least twice a day (usually in the morning and evening), it involves opening the windows wide and let a 'shock' cold air stream in. Then you close the windows and the room is fresh again.

It doesn't matter what time of year it is – even if it's winter and it's freezing outside this will still happen. 

There's also Querlüften, or cross ventilation, which involves opening all the windows of a house or building and letting the fresh air flow through.

It's common practice for Germans to turn off all of the heating, and to don a hefty jacket before they let the bitterly cold air in.

They believe regular ventilation of indoors spaces improves the quality of air in a home or workplace and stops mould from forming.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Stoßlüften

During the pandemic, Lüften has taken on an even more significant role. Experts, including virologist Christian Drosten and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control have talked up the importance of frequently airing out indoor spaces.

Scientists say that one of the ways coronavirus can spread is through so-called aerosol droplets in the air – tiny particles that are produced when we breathe, cough, sneeze or speak. Most infections spread indoors, meaning the upcoming colder months are a major concern in many parts of the world, including Germany.

As we reported in August, experts from the Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt) issued advice to avoid the spread of coronavirus indoors. They said enclosed spaces should be immediately stoßgelüftet (briefly but completely ventilated) after every cough or sneeze.

According to the commission set up by the agency, consistent ventilation can significantly reduce the risk of infection, but they of course added that it cannot eliminate the risk altogether – that's why distance, washing hands and wearing a mask is also just as important.

The windows of a classroom at a school wide open in Stuttgart. Photo: DPA

READ ALSO: Stoßlüften: The new German guidelines for when someone sneezes indoors

What do people in Germany think about airing out rooms?

It seems that for many Germans, regular ventilation has long since been a Selbstverständlichkeit (a given). 

Despite crisp autumn temperatures, many cafes in the northern Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg had plenty of open windows or doors to keep the air flowing.

When we questioned one café worker on Oderberger Straße about his attitude to Stoßlüftung, he seemed surprised that we had asked, asserting that it has always been “fundamentally important” for him.

The pandemic has barely changed how often he ventilates his cafe, he told The Local. However, he does “ventilate the space slightly more often” than before.

The cafe owner welcomed the government’s new recommendations, saying they were “a good idea”.

Katie Cantwell, owner of the cafe Cookies and Cream in Prenzlauer Berg, is also supportive of the government advice.

While ventilating her cafe has been easy over the summer months due to the warm weather, she admits that the upcoming colder season will be a “big test” for her business. 

“Usually in the winter, [our windows and doors] are closed because it’s supposed to be cosy and warm,” she said. Their ventilation during the colder months normally comes from the constant flow of people through their front and back doors. 

This winter, however, she is “more willing to stand in the cold if it means that the windows and doors can stay open”.

“The make or break will be whether people feel comfortable in the space or not. I think having ventilated space [this winter] is going to be more important than having a warm, cosy space indoors,” she said.

Kein Durchzug!

There's a fine line between airing out a room and creating a draught, as anyone who's experienced the wrath of a German who fear the Durchzug.

Lots of Germans, especially those from older generations, believe that a draught of air or Durchzug will give you a virus like the cold or flu, or a stiff neck.
 
It results in windows being slammed shut on trains (even when it feels like 100C inside) and an unwillingness to install air conditioning or have cooling fans or windows open for a long period of time.
 
It also might be one of the reasons why German people really love wearing scarfs – even when it's not that cold – to stop cold air from invading their neck.

And Germany is not the only country where people are worried about this. There's a similar air draught phenomenon in Spain, for example.

READ ALSO: 'Durchzug is not harmful': Red Cross tells Germans to leave their fans on and windows open

As non-Germans at The Local, we're not 100 percent sure what counts as Durchzug and what is healthy Lüften. I guess we'll just have to rely on our German friends to keep us right.

With reporting by Rachel Loxton and Eve Bennett


Member comments

  1. Yes, the whole concept of Lüften is fascinating. My wonderful German wife is an especially dedicated Stosslüfter which can sometimes make me a bit grumpy. But when one considers the evidence, or perhaps lack of it, then I think it’s mainly custom and tradition rather than evidence based. Even a scientist as eminent as Christian Drosten shouldn’t really be proclaiming the benefits of Lüften without first carrying out controlled trials. Having said that, the idea of flushing out virus-laden air does sound sensible.
    What fascinates me as much is that in a country where modern houses are practically hermetically sealed in order to conserve heat, everyone is throwing open their windows in mid-Winter and frittering away vast quantities of energy. Come to think about it, what about an ozone machine instead .. . isn’t that supposed to sterilise the air?!!

  2. There are studies that proves inside air is more polluted than outside air:
    https://www.mana.md/indoor-air-vs-outdoor-air/
    and
    hwww.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/08/the-hidden-air-pollution-in-our-homes

    Moreover, you can only heat inside air to some point, then it won’t get warmer.
    Having a blast of fresh cold air from outside, will help heat up the flat more.
    It’s easier to warm up cold air than already warm air, and costs less energy-wise.

  3. I am not German, so not attached to any traditions, however there are plenty of studies out there to support the needs and benefits for “Lüften”.
    And in winter it may seem counterintuitive, but to keep a flat warm, and influx of cold air is necessary: cold air is easier to warm up than already room temperature one.
    See here:
    https://www.mana.md/indoor-air-vs-outdoor-air/
    or
    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/08/the-hidden-air-pollution-in-our-homes

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