The travelling washing machine

After a couple of weeks of settling into student life abroad I have become pretty comfortable in my new surroundings. Seeing how I live in furnished student accommodation there was little I had to worry about when I was packing for my exchange.

Big objects such as a desk and a bed were provided, small objects such as a waste bin or a kettle could easily be bought abroad. Many of my fellow exchange students felt the same, although one brought up something interesting. Having moved into a privately rented apartment this fellow student lamented how expensive the laundromats in the city were, and how few of them even existed. While accumulating enough laundry to warrant a trip to the laundromat she resorted to doing some hand washing in the bathroom sink. Confused, I asked her if her washing machine was broken, but it turned out the problem was far more basic: There was no washing machine in her rented apartment.

People do move with their appliances, just like they pack up their vases and sofas

Disbelievingly, I asked some local German students whether this student had simply gotten unlucky with her landlord. That was when I learned that it is not  uncommon to rent an apartment as is, without any appliances at all. Yes, some apartment buildings have a communal laundry room all of the tenants share, but not all of them. “You see, it is cheaper to rent unfurnished, and you are free in your choice of appliances,” they explained. I had heard this before, but only in the context of people buying houses or apartments. In a sense they occupy that space now and own all of the things in it with the intention of staying there long-term. After all, a washing machine (especially in a bundle with a dryer) is an investment and on top of that very hard to move around. A quick internet search, however, confirmed what I had doubted: People do move with their appliances, just like they pack up their vases and sofas, and there were plenty of Dos and Don’ts when transporting, say, a washing machine from place A to B.

From home I was no stranger to stories of former flatmates moving out and taking the coffee machine or the toaster with them, but in Germany it could very well happen that a former flatmate will also take the washing machine, or the entire kitchen, depending on what they owned but shared with their flatmates. As I voiced my deep confusion about this concept I was kindly reminded that hand-me-downs were also a thing in Germany. After all, the less one has to move, the easier, and both the former and the new tenant profit from that. I believe that in Germany, the idea of renting until one is ready to buy real estate is still widely spread. Until such a time of owning one’s apartment or house, tenancy carries the notion of being temporary. Sometimes, tenants change frequently due to rising rents or changes in lifestyle. In Switzerland, the country of consensus, it seems perfectly normal to keep costs down for everyone, for example by providing a communal laundry room for all tenants. But the cost reduction also comes with an element of control and judgement by the others. In this public space the other tenants are aware of each other’s habits and preferences. Non-compliance with the laundry room schedule or inconsiderate behaviour when using the appliances will likely cause issues with the other tenants, or with the landlord even.

The German way of having one’s own washing machine in the apartment is certainly appealing if one simply doesn’t want the hassle of dealing with other people after a long day. Perhaps having to lug heavy appliances up narrow stairways is the price Germans are willing to pay for their privacy. When they close the door to their apartment they have left the public sphere in which they have to answer to others behind and want to feel free to live as they please, tenancy agreement permitting. Free from the judgment of others, with their own washing machine that has travelled with them from where they came, and will accompany them to where they will go.

Carla Fischer

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