Balcony Types in Germany

After many years of aimless wandering and urban observation, I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of balconies in German cities, and finding both in the same building is not even uncommon.

The first balcony type attempts to combine the seaside vacation flair with playful coziness and, pretty much like houseplants, became increasingly popular during the pandemic. The “Faux Mediterranean meets hygge” balcony looks pretty much the same across cities, probably because a visit to a certain Swedish store is all one needs to set it up, so creative DIYers get extra points.

“The Pfandpflaschen repository” type of balcony is a forlorn extension of the apartment, and it functions as additional storage for returnable bottles and assorted scraps waiting to be transported to the recycling. This balcony type is characterized by visible signs of carefree neglect and a pungent eau de cigarette smell.

Now you are up! Are there discernible balcony types where you live? What about yours? Best regards from Balconia.

British Sinks

Being abroad can be a nerve-racking adventure in which even the most common daily routines become a hilarious challenge. Take washing your hands for instance. British sinks are the place where dragon fire meets penguin tears. They have two taps: the hot one will scald your hands, whereas the cold one will shatter them into frozen pieces. So, why do British sinks have separate taps for hot and cold water? Foreigners around the world have asked themselves that question for decades.

British sink with separate taps for scalding hot and polar freezing water

Back in the day when our grandparents were toddlers, houses didn’t have hot running water, just cold water that came from a main supply. Later on, hot water systems were added separately to each building for safety and health reasons.

British plumbers were concerned about the pressure difference between cold and warm water. The first came from a main supply with a much higher pressure than the latter, which was stored in a tank inside each house and relied on gravity. In case of an imbalance of pressures, one stream could force its way into the other and pose a number of problems.

There were also health risks involved. Old tanks were made of galvanized steel, which corrodes easily; and they didn’t usually have a proper lid, which made the tank an AquaLand for errant birds, distracted insects and sweaty rodents in need of a swim. Squatting fauna aside, hot water sitting in an attic tank was not considered safe to drink, for it created the optimal conditions for bacteria like legionella to proliferate and wreak havoc on human stomachs. So, what did the Brits do? They came up with regulations to keep them separate and prevent the hot water contaminating the cold water supply.

You might be thinking: “Sure, but that was YEEEARS ago. Why haven’t they switched to mixer taps yet?” – Well, in a word: tradition. Whereas continental Europe reinvented its water supply system after the war, Britain rebuilt its houses clinging onto the separate taps tradition. Chances are that mixer taps will take over in the future, but in the meantime, have fun flapping your hands between the two taps when washing them.

Customer Service: Germany vs. USA

A few weeks ago I was in a drugstore and the lady clerk promptly barked at me when I asked for soap. Customer service in Europe is not exactly winning gold, especially in Germany, where people’s skills and willingness to help – let alone enthusiasm – are pretty much foreign concepts. Whether you are on the phone with your internet provider or addressing an employee in the supermarket, you may be treated like an inconvenient nuisance, rather than the reason why they have a job. On the other hand, the startling over-friendliness found in customer service in the United States can be a bit daunting to outsiders. What if we met somewhere in the middle?