Questionning efficiency

It is definitely not a secret that Germany and efficiency go hand in hand.

Stemming from the ideology of rationalisation, the notion of efficiency is often related to German technology, design and manufacturing but is also extended to the character of the German native.

Partnered with notions such as reliability, punctuality and bureaucracy, efficiency is more than just a ‘notion’ however – efficiency is present all around…

For example:

When a meeting is set for 10am, one can be assured that all participants are ready for the meeting to begin at 10am. Knowing that the meeting starts on time means things are moving along in order to move onto the next tasks. Making such a meeting with our Greek fellows, however, if you’re lucky the participants would start rolling in 30 minutes after the agreed time.

A (native) German teacher I had for the last language course I took turned up to class sick two days in a row and held the class without a voice, for the reason that a substitute teacher was not available. While the class wasn’t really that productive, she knew that if a paid class was cancelled, the group would be behind the course schedule and thus not have extra days to prepare for the final exam. Laryngitis obviously does not trump efficiency. For warrant of any embarrassment, I will not comment on the number of classes throughout my school and university education that were left without teachers..

In some German states, efficiency and waste management are combined as households are required to separate garbage into five different bins – ordinary waste, organic waste, paper, plastic and glass*. While this means having more bins than the ideal, it is good to see even a green spin on the efficiency argument.

As I recently engaged in some ‘light’, work related reading I came across some articles highlighting that throughout history, the productivity rate of an average German worker is respectably high despite having worked the lowest number of average hours per year (approx. 1400 hours in 2012) in comparison to other OECD countries. What I see around confirms this; the office environment consists of small offices  to improve concentration (there are very few open-plan spaces!), there’s no fussing about when things need to get done and work-life balance is on the top of the radar.

Now, I’m a fan of the way things work here, I like this efficiency thing. And while Germany is doing so well in many areas, I have come across some obvious weak spots that really question this innate characteristic.

Here are my top efficiency-killers:

(1) In most rental apartments, a kitchen is not included

I had always thought that until I had bought or built my first property, I really wouldn’t need to install my own kitchen. That was until I moved to Germany.

The concept that keeps Ikea in business – kitchens do not come standard. No sink, no cupboards – just holes in walls where things should belong. Now I don’t know how many of you have installed or dismantled a kitchen before – but it is not an easy, nor cheap exercise. Just as a you are required to install your kitchen when moving in, the kitchen should also be removed when moving out. Adding ‘build kitchen’ and ‘dismantle kitchen’ to the multitude of tasks required when moving in or out of a new place,  really questions the efficiency of the whole process – just think of the wastage with every move, the costs, the time required and the fact that most people work with deadlines and time pressures. Clearly not the most efficient use of resources.

Trying to wrap my head around the absurdity, I asked around why this is so. The answers I received didn’t satisfy me. The ‘best’ response I received was that kitchens, just like living rooms are personal and should be decorated to reflect the individual style of the home owner. Great. In other words a kitchen, unlike the bathroom is not a living essential. Really guys?

Given that no kitchen is the norm, where a previous landlord advertises their property with a kitchen included – a hefty price is demanded to pay for the kitchen outright, on top of paying a bond and commission. I don’t think I will ever understand the absurdity of this practice.

Just for the record: last year we moved twice within 6 months (from Düsseldorf to Munich). Moving generally isn’t one’s favourite pastime – throw in the kitchen situation and it becomes a nightmare. In six months we:

(1) built our kitchen (>200 boxes!)

(2) dismantled our kitchen

(3) transported our kitchen approx. 600km, and

(4) rebuilt our kitchen in Munich.

Three months after the move the landlord rang us up and asked why we had removed such a beautiful kitchen from her apartment (Only after 3 months of searching for a new tenant did she realise that it actually wasn’t the best idea to ask us to take the kitchen with us).

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(2) Most couples who share a bed, sleep with their own bed cover.

The sleeping situation in Germany is a little different to what I am used to. Couples share a mattress, couples do not share their bed cover. Personally I find it a little distant – as one would usually assume that couples want to cuddle close in bed. As humans, the closeness and warmth of others is necessary for our happiness and well-being.

Apparently this is not the case – couples would rather separate themselves from their partner so that no one hogs the blanket (this I have been told), thus ensuring that they each get a good nights sleep. It could be argued that efficiency underpins this blanket separation situation – but when you think that one is always required to buy two of the same bed covers (if you’re after consistency), to wash and dry two bed covers and to attempt to make the bed look neat with overlapping bed covers – the entire process is inefficient. One could improve this situation a little by purchasing extra bed covers for when the others are in the wash –  but this again just creates extra cost.

Going back to the idea of closeness and moving away from the argument of efficiency/inefficiency, one could also bring the relationship argument into play. The first question that comes to my mind is whether such a sleeping situation could cause distance between couples  in a relationship that may already be fraught with difficulties. For couples trying to improve their relationship, is sleeping under separate bed covers really the best way to move things closer?

Just for the record though – while separate bedcovers are popular, larger bed covers are made for those wanting to extend the warmth, or for those with beds on the larger size. These are however available in limited quantities and are considerably more expensive.

While the next one might be a little far-fetched, I think we can make an argument questioning efficiency here:

(3) The pillows here are HORRIBLE!**

We all know how refreshing it feels after a good sleep. After spending my university breaks as a sales assistant in the manchester department I have learnt that for some, a good sleep means having a relaxing bedroom environment, a heated blanket in the winter or a cosy mattress. Whatever it is – how you sleep can affect your mood and productivity the next day. I’m all about having a good pillow; supportive, firm but not hard, and one that allows my head to rest in- line with my spine. I may sound a little pedantic, or like the Princess from a Princess and the Pea (as my mum would call me) but without a good pillow I am not a happy camper the following day.

While some people could sleep anywhere and on anything, being cold throughout the night, or waking up with a sore neck isn’t ideal. Throughout my recent travels I was reunited with the horrible standard German pillow. Flat, feathery, airy and un-supportive. One fumbles the whole night searching for some support, using limbs, scrunching pillow corners and bed covers in an attempt to find the best position. In doing so, one is never completely rested.

I often easily adapt to new things – but honestly, the first few months without a good pillow was not fun. During breaks from german lessons I  hunted down all bedding stores in Düsseldorf testing pillows for the perfect support. The selection was abysmal. I settled for a mid-flat latex style with the promise of some support. It was definitely an improvement. Still not satisfied however I made a plea to Australia and requested a pillow shipment of my preferred variety – oh happy days!

As the pillows are most commonly available in large square sizes (80cm x 80cm, ‘European pillows’ in Australia) the natives tend to fold them in half in an attempt to increase the height and comfort of the pillow. This is all the evidence I need to know that the natives want more from their pillow. Folding, fumbling and discomfort are not the way towards a a good sleep.

To test my belief in this theory Alex and I gifted some close relatives new pillows last year for Christmas (the supportive kind). After many sleep-overs we had first-hand experience of their pillow situation. An odd gift, yes – but presented convincingly and the gifts were very well received. The first night’s sleep on the pillows was met with mixed feelings – going from feathers to firm is a big step. A week later and positive adjustments were made. 10 months later over Sunday-brunch and I rejoiced to hear the comment about having a stiff neck due to the poor pillow selection at the hotel. I am glad to see progress on the pillow-front, even if its just one couple at a time.

Given the current rate of labour productivity in Germany, I cannot begin to imagine what would happen if we replaced all horrible ‘European’ pillows. Better sleeps in fewer hours, improved happiness, no stiff necks – it can only lead to one thing.

Despite the omnipresence of efficiency throughout German daily-life,  there is definitely room for improvement. These elements, which if addressed, may not only catapult efficiency and all its glory to new heights, but may also help that little bit to see happier people, more love from couples and hopefully even reduce the number of discarded kitchen-bench tops.***



*In Munich, one must further separate brown, clear and green glass items.

** The horrible pillow situation extends to neighbouring European countries.

*** If anyone needs an almost-new, charcoal-coloured kitchen-benchtop (2m x 60cm), I would be glad to hand it over.

  1. Thank you for this article – a very enjoyable read.

    Yes, the pillow situation is horrible, here. For me not so much at home as I am living in a big city and can get what I need to enhance my sleeping situation. But when I think of my last visit in a Hotel in Berlin… that was a joke. Maybe they should hand out magnifying glasses to make sure that each guest is finding their pillow. 😉

    I believe, the two blanket thing is a matter of what we are used to. I still can cuddle with my partner under the blankets but I also don’t freeze at night when he is pulling his part all over, as I have my own blanket. This actually brings more comfort to me without having to miss closeness.

    As for the kitchen, I get your point and know that many people from other countries are wondering about this. I guess, it just gives the tennant freedom to choose the kitchen appliances they prefer as opposed to having to cope with what ever the landlord is presenting to you. In which way this supports efficiency is a different question… Maybe it is efficient for the economy, as it costs so much money…

    Sending much love and continuously happy exploration of the new culture! 🙂

    1. Thank you for your feedback, I’m glad you enjoyed reading this 🙂

      I have also managed to get used to sleeping with the blanket situation – but the multiple buying / decorating conundrum still gets me. The only upside I’ve discovered is that if I want to wear my light blanket all year his isn’t a problem for my partner – he sleeps happier with his heavier blanket!

      I hope the autumn weather is pleasant in Hamburg at the moment!

    2. Glad to read that you were able to find some positive aspects on the blanket situation!

      Today it is particularly sunny here and I am sharing some warm rays of autumn sun with you in Munich. 🙂

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