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Word of the Week: Kehrwoche

Germans have a reputation for being clean, and here’s something that backs up the stereotype: Kehrwoche. The German word Kehrwoche means “sweep week” and refers to the time period in which a resident of an apartment building is assigned to clean the common areas.

If you live in a German apartment building, you might wake up one day and find a sign on your door reading Kehrwoche. The sign indicates that it’s your turn to clean the building. It’s no fun, but every resident has to do it at one point or another. For the duration that the sign hangs outside your door, you are responsible for sweeping the stairways and taking care of the sidewalk at the entrance. Sometimes that even means raking leaves or shoveling snow.

Kehrwoche rules and regulations are usually described in the rental agreement. In some cases, there are two types of “sweep weeks”: the Große Kehrwoche (“large sweep week”) and the Kleine Kehrwoche (“small sweep week”). The larger one usually includes outdoor cleaning, such as snow shoveling, while the smaller one might only require sweeping the staircase inside the building.

Fortunately for some Germans, Kehrwoche does not exist in all parts of Germany; it is typically found in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg. During the Middle Ages, the city of Stuttgart, which was the capital of Württemberg, created a new law to try to keep the city cleaner. The law, which was founded in 1492, required residents to remove all dirt from sidewalks and street corners in front of their homes every 14 days. Back then, not everyone had a restroom, and citizens without one were also required to bring their waste to the stream. In multi-tenant buildings, Kehrwoche divided up the tasks between all residents. As a result of this law, streets and alleyways were generally kept clean.

Even in parts of Germany where the word Kehrwoche is not familiar, however, tenants may still be required to help out with the cleaning. But if you’re lucky, you might have a cleaning crew or a Hausmeister (apartment facilities manager) to take care of the dirty work for you.

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

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