Expat Essentials

Rachel Gooch: Brexit Brits heading to Frankfurt … get ready for a totally different lifestyle

The communal laundry room is the biggest surprise

(Editor’s note: More than 10,000 positions in London’s financial sector are projected to move to Frankfurt by 2022 due to Brexit. This is what British expats can expect.)

Our fancy new Frankfurt flat has a great washing machine – top of the range Miele, fast, quiet and well-maintained. I would be delighted with it were it not that I have to traipse to the basement to do a wash and my underwear has to join the queue for a machine that I share with the 11 other flats in my block.

The communal laundry room is the aspect of German life that has come as the biggest surprise since Brexit swept my banker husband and me to Frankfurt from the United Kingdom earlier this year.

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF RACHEL GOOCH

With the influx of finance companies and their affluent employees, property in Frankfurt is in high demand and consequently very expensive. And yet, in all but the most recently-built apartments you should expect to share a laundry room.

In my case, this also means a coin-operated machine. I have a stack of 50 euro cent coins in my drawer like the pile of 10 pence pieces my mother had to feed the electricity meter in 1970s.

I eschew cashless payment systems now so that I get enough small change to keep me in clean shirts. Why do Germans persist with an arrangement that I find so inconvenient?

NICER FLATS IN FRANKFURT TEND TO BE EXPENSIVE, BUT NOT HUGE

KEEPING PEOPLE CONNECTED

There are practical reasons – the Hausordnung forbid you from drying your washing in your flat, for example, because of the humidity and risk of mould growth. German flats are small and their tiny kitchens prioritise dishwashers over washing machines.

But I think communal laundry rooms speak to the fundamental German concept of Gemeinschaft – the personal social ties and interpersonal interactions defined by traditional social rules which result in an overall cooperative social organisation. Germany is still, even in a modern international city such as Frankfurt, quite a conservative nation.

Aside from its infamous public bureaucracy, there are even now numerous assumed standards of behaviour and ways of maintaining cooperative relationships that no longer seem to exist to the same extent in the UK.

THIS IS GERMANY … THERE ARE RULES

Getting used to these expectations is something that the newly arrived ex-pat should take seriously. When you move into your new apartment, read the Hausordnung carefully. Be aware that your neighbours expect you to know the rules and keep to them. Pay attention to the restrictions on noise – late night or Sunday afternoon parties are probably not allowed.

Put your rubbish in the right place, at the right time. In some places, you may even be expected to join a cleaning rota for communal areas. The rules are there for everyone and make living in the densely populated city centre tolerable.

I cannot imagine a fancy London apartment block full of urban professionals being able to cope with communal washing rooms without its residents falling out over it. But in Germany, everyone expects everyone else to abide by the rules; to take their turn and to do so without complaint.

And people who do not comply are soon told to mend their ways.
There is no passive-aggressive tutting and sighing here when someone steps out of line.

In Frankfurt, you will be set straight – without aggression or rancour – when you get things wrong.

About the author:

Originally an anthropologist, Rachel Gooch has worked in journalism and education and is well known on Twitter as @SchoolDuggery.

She has recently moved to Frankfurt with her husband as a consequence of Brexit. She is working hard to learn German and understand the culture of her new city.

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