If you were to travel across the United States, you'd find some pretty big differences in cultures as you go. Think of the difference, for example, between "deep in the heart of Texas" versus what's in New York City. Those types of differences exist in Spain and Germany as well. Barcelona is culturally different from Madrid and Stuttgart's different from Hamburg. I love looking for and learning about those types of differences and how they represent or even define a culture.
So, you're living in an apartment building in Stuttgart and you come home one day and someone's hung a small sign outside your front door:
You probably'd ask yourself who'd hang decorations by your front door? When you get closer, though, you notice that the sign says Kehrwoche and has a broom on it:
What the hell is Kehrwoche and why has someone hung it outside your door?
Well, it might be helpful to understand a little bit more about the southern Germany area. Stuttgart, as you may already know, is located in the southwestern-most state (Baden Württemburg) of Germany. The people from the area, as well as from a small slice of western Bavaria, are called the Schwaben. Similar to the Catalans in Spain, the Schwaben have a different cultural identity but, unlike the Catalans, they speak the same language as the rest of the country day-to-day (although with a different, sometimes hard to understand, dialect) and are not considering, as far as I know, separatism. The Schwaben have lived in the region for about two thousand years and have been formally recognized since around 500.
Okay, back to Kehrwoche. At some point in the middle ages, someone decided that people weren't doing a good enough job cleaning up after themselves. It was decreed that everyone must toss their crap (sometimes literally) out regularly. Thus began the tradition of Kehrwoche, which can be roughly translated to "sweep week".
Another Kehrwoche sign:
If you've been to Germany, or even know some Germans, you already know that they are an incredibly orderly and clean people. But, I guess weren't always so! So, how does the modern-day Kehrwoche work? There are actually two versions, just to add to the confusion: große ("gross" meaning large) Kehrwoche and kleine (small) Kehrwoche but they are both based on the same idea.
A große Kehrwoche sign:
During kleine Kehrwoche, you're responsible for cleaning the common areas outside your and your neighbors' apartments including any stairways. It's usually limited to your floor and maybe one more below you. When you get große Kehrwoche, you'll have the honor of not only doing your kleine-Kehrwoche inside work, but also for keeping up on the outside cleaning. The term is for one week (the entire week) during which time you must keep everything clean, including shoveling any snow, or suffer the scorn and dirty looks of your beloved neighbors.
Some Kehrwoche signs (photo taken) by my friend Timo at his building:
Not performing your Kehrwoche duties isn't just considered antisocial, it's probably also a violation of your rental agreement since it's written into almost all rental agreements. So, what's the cultural connection, you ask? You'd really have to spend some time here to fully understand but Kehrwoche is such a good metaphor for describing the Schwaben people. They're very orderly, clean, and don't want any problems or misunderstandings. Having personal responsibility documented in the form of Kehrwoche makes them surprisingly happy.
A classy Kehrwoche sign photographed by Timo:
While I was living in Barcelona, I found that the Castellers embodied many parts of Catalan culture. It interested me so much that I ended up joining the Castellers del Poble Sec. In the case of the Schwaben culture, I'm interested in their local wines but not so much in Kehrwoche! I don't think I'll be joining any Kehrwoche groups, in other words, but if I find a wine-drinking group, watch out!
Thanks to Timo for the two photos!