Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why Germans don't like air conditioning

Air conditioning is reasonably rare in Germany. It's not unusual to go out to dinner and sweat profusely in the restaurant because the windows are only cranked open a small bit and of course there isn't an air conditioner unit. Why do you think you see so many people dining outside in the summer? Of course it's pleasant and makes for a good opportunity to get some staring in, but it's also because it's too darn hot inside the restaurant itself!

I have heard that it's a German belief that air conditioning is unhealthy. I always wondered why this was. Was there a concern about Leginonnaires' disease, which is an illness caused by bacteria in the air conditioning system? If that would be the case, the Germans should be more concerned about the illness-causing bacteria in their beloved hot tubs/spas as it's more common to get sick from that than from air conditioning.

Or, was it Germans' love/hate relationship with the beloved and most feared draft?
I had the opportunity to ask a German about this. She's married to an American and has lived in the US so she can see things from both perspectives. She said it's because Germans are concerned about getting a draft on the back of one's neck, or, da da da (cue the dramatic music), on one's kidneys (no joke, they have these wraps you can wear during the winter to avoid getting your kidneys cold). Some Germans believe that such a draft could make one sick and therefore people are extremely distrustful of air conditioning. Her mother always yelled at her never to sit on rocks or anything cold because she'd get a kidney infection. Kind of strange, eh?

I wonder where people came up with this idea. My theory is that maybe it came up after the War, when many people hadn't had proper nutrition for a long time and there was a lack of sanitation and other basic necessities until the country was stabilized. Perhaps people's immune systems were a lot weaker then and they did get sick more easily from drafts, cold, etc. The woman I was talking to wasn't sure where it came from, but in her case, it was handed down from her grandmother to her mother. She doesn't believe it herself but thinks it is strange to have to wear a sweater in the middle of summer with blasting air conditioning.

Who knows. I did mention that the LACK of a draft is really a negative thing in many German buildings. It is really unhealthy to have no air circulation in a building. For example, my friend went to a concert and some other attendees passed out because of the heat and the stale air. Air quality inside is often worse than it is outside because of toxins in the building materials, dust mites, and bacteria. Sunlight and air are the best ways to combat this.

Either way, I can say this: it's not enjoyable to roast on the days that it is hot in Germany. Maybe a trip to the Schwimbad is in order!


  1. Well, WWII was not easy on anyone in Europe.

    This is really curious. I come from an Eastern Block country and we have the same beliefs when it comes to draft, sitting on stones, kidneys etc. My mother has been following me with a pullover ever since I could walk.

    I also share the prejudice against air conditioning, but for another reason. Keyword is "moderation". Drastic changes in temperature put enormous amount of stress on the human body. I have lived in very hot country and when you leave an air-conditioned area and go out to 35-38 it feels like you have opened the oven door. These are over 10 degrees difference, which the body tries to adjust to in short interval of time. Unnatural and definitely not good for you. I've had a horrible bronchitis in the middle of summer, thanks to air conditioning.

    Summer in German is cold most of the time anyway... :0)

  2. I'm German and yes my mother always said I would get an kidney infection, too. Which I never had, lucky me. But I got problems with my neck more than once because of the draft of an air conditioning. I got more than once a cold from air conditioning. I get car sick when the air conditioning is on in the car and in buildings I get sometimes a headache because of it. So I'm not really a fan.

    And yes, like Eva said, most of the times people or stores overdo it, when you have to bring a sweater or a scarf in the middle of summer than something is really wrong.

  3. This is curious, indeed! Melanie, what problems with your neck do you get from air conditioning? Like, a stiff neck? Wouldn't you get sick in a car that's too hot and stuffy, with stale air?

    I think I have an American immune system :) I have sat on cold rocks in the middle of winter (and winter where I'm from is quite a bit colder than it is here, and our summers are hotter) where it is usually about -10 celsius and have never had a kidney infection in my life. If I'm too hot, even straight from coming in from being in the heat, I like to stick my overly warm face in front of the air conditioner and I've never gotten sick from that, either. I've even lifted my hair up so I can cool my neck better ;-)

    Even "worse" -- I pretty much ALWAYS go outside with wet hair in the morning, no matter the temperature outside. My hair has even frozen by the time I've cleaned snow/ice off my car and I don't wear a hat or a scarf on the way to work. I don't like to use hairdryers and I don't like to get up early so my hair is always wet when I go to work. I haven't gotten sick from that, either, in the decades that I've done it that way.

    Maybe I've built my immune system up by doing this? I'm not sure.

  4. Yes, I would get a stiff neck or as mentioned a cold. I open the windows when I drive. I can open all four of them and go about a 120km/h and it doesn't bother me, but one waft of air conditioning and whoops I'm car sick. I always have the feeling that the air from an air conditioning albeit cool lacks oxygen.

    Interesting how different customs are. I think you must have an enhanced resistance for going out with wet hair. I couldn't do that (my hair takes hours to dry! even with a hairdryer I need more than 40 minutes).

    1. I think it's psychological. Air conditioners don't have anything that sucks oxygen from the air. All they do is blow air across a cold pipe. The heat transfers to the cold pipe, and cool air comes out the other side. No oxygen is harmed during this process. ;-) Cold air blowing continuously on one spot can make that muscle stiffen up but the effect is temporary. The body can do some strange things if the mind holds a belief strongly enough, because getting cold and going outside with wet hair has no effect on the immune system. That's not a cultural belief but a scientific fact.

  5. Just got back from a sweltering vacation in Munich & Berchtesgaden. I assumed lack of AC anywhere (we encountered none in hotels, restaurants, stores or buses) was due to environmental concerns. Germany seemed like an incredibly climate-change conscious country. Solar farms, solar panels on many of those picturesque stucco chalets in the country, low-water toilets in every public restroom, bike paths everywhere - I mean EVERYWHERE. I applaud the Germans.

  6. There is a lot of regard for the environment well as some distrust of AC, too ;)

  7. So here is my problem with this "distrust". It can cost lives. I do not have a thyroid and had a heart transplant. In NJ where I live it does get over 100 degrees. I would literally have all sorts of medical issues from that. Added stress on my heart, I already have a hard time regulating my body temp without my thyroid, over heating and dehydration would also add stress to my heart as well as other organs like the liver and kidneys. Now consider the elderly, pregnant women, others with medical issues, young children (my 3 year old over heats rather easily) and things I haven't even thought of. While it is great to think of the environment and want to better it, does it have to be at the risk of peoples health?

  8. The funny thing is how hoteliers or restaurant managers excuse themselves for not having a/c in Germany. "Usually it doesn't get so hot here". Guess what, this year cities like Mannheim or Freiburg surpassed the 32°C (90°F) already 9-10 times already, and we still have 2 months summer. Moreover, humidity makes even 26°C temperatures in Germany unbearable, unlike Southern European countries which tend to be more dry and pleasant even at 34°C.
    Germans like to sweat, they like their chocolate in the stores melted and travel on sticky and smelly buses in summer, unbelievable but real. I can only wonder what happens to milk or cream in a hotel breakfast buffet at 30°C without a/c. Is this not a health concern for Germans?

  9. Could I at least have a fan. It is sweltering in June. More the reason to have a beer.