Peering out into the 6 a.m. darkness, I registered with a shudder that the outside thermostat read a crisp -1 C (29 F.) Groaning, I quickly piled on my winter wear, preparing for the frosty, morning walk with our dog Rosa. In rounding the corner of our apartment complex, I was immediately struck by our neighbor's large, ground floor picture window standing fully ajar. Stepping in for a closer look, I noticed a faint light shining through from the kitchen as the occasional gust of wind gently rocked the window’s frame. Now under “normal” circumstances I would have immediately contacted the police, my brain quickly piecing together the horrors associated with the overnight break-in that had rendered our lovely neighbors statistics on the 9 a.m. morning news. Thankfully my American sensibilities quickly re-calibrated to Germany and sighing with relief, I realized our neighbors were simply going through the process of Stoßlüften. 

Stoßlüften: the opening of all windows for a short time in order to quickly exchange as much air in the room as possible. 

It’s a definition – really. 

Germans approach their need/desire/craving for fresh (outside) air with gusto. Despite the fairly common habit of engaging in long walks in order to gain the best access to it, there seems to exist a sense of eagerness in also ensuring that it follows them inside. Now to the untrained eye it is easy to dismiss this away as the seemingly mundane American practice of ‘letting in a bit of fresh air.’ However, by the Germans giving this process its very own name, I see it as much more formal in nature. I must also be clear, that by living a large chunk of my adult life in New York, where the opening of one’s windows was often seen as an open invitation for terrifying strangers to take your things and/or you, Stoßlüften was and quite literally is simply foreign to me.

The Art of Exchanging Air

Stoßlüften, or what we refer to in my home as ‘exchanging the air,’ is overseen by my husband V and lasts for about 20 minutes. If fortunate enough to be at home when this ritual occurs, I am prone to receive a brief sermon on the health and welfare of us and our household in claiming ownership to this new air. Despite still being a bit unclear by what means this ”exchange” takes place (how exactly our stale, old air knows it’s time to hightail it out of our apartment is truly beyond me) he appears committed to the soundness of his work so I have chosen to support him. Unfortunately however, this process is upheld throughout the year and with the typically mild Cologne winters dropping this year into the frosty zone, my support of him is slowly waning.

“Honey trust me,” V said. “It’s healthier to sleep with the windows open.”

Outfitted in a circa 1990's track suit, wooly socks and using my thick terrycloth robe as a second layer of warmth, I was hardly convinced. Stoßlüften it appeared, had settled into my bedroom and was seeking to do a very, cold overnighter.  

“Listen,”  I said. “Not happening. We are absolutely not sleeping with this window open overnight. It's freezing outside and now thanks to you, inside as well. Honestly, I can hardly understand how contracting a fatal case of pneumonia can be construed as healthy decision-making.”

Shaking my head in profound exasperation, I looked up and thought… good grief, is that my breath condensing in the frigid air of our bedroom? Clearly facing inhumane sleeping conditions, I stood my ground as V summoned his best arguments to convince me otherwise. Evidently no match for my well thought out counterattack – one which concluded with me dying silently in my sleep and an uncomfortable call back home to my mother – he finally relented and mercifully closed the window.

Stoßlüften may have won the war in my home but I will hang my hat on the small victory I managed to win in our bedroom.