Fresh air: Germany's superweapon to beat the coronavirus


Germany is all about opening windows, even when it's cold outside, to let in fresh air. This has become even more important during the pandemic. — dpa

There is plenty to like about Germany – and what people value varies a great deal. Take Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example: She once said she was inspired by the country's windows.

And in the age of the coronavirus pandemic, windows, it turns out, are now back on her agenda.

Plenty of fresh air, and regularly opening windows, are Germany's super weapon when it comes to containing the spread of the virus.

So far, Germany has relied on social distancing, hygiene rules and mask-wearing to protect people amid the outbreak. Now though, airing is to be added to the official government advice – as is downloading a tracker app to help tell people when they need to self-isolate.

In Germany, there's a science to the business of airing: Shock ventilation brings about completely different results than cross-ventilation, as any child could tell you. The former is when you open the windows for five minutes at the start and the end of the day, while cross-ventilation means opening all the windows to let stale air out and fresh air in – as Kate Connelly, correspondent for The Guardian, a British newspaper, explains to readers.

Much is possible with Germany's well-insulated windows, which feature sophisticated hinges that allow them to be opened to differing degrees, to permit different types and degrees of ventilation.

In light of the pandemic, all this is leading to a dawning realisation in the Anglo-Saxon world that Germany is not only associated with beer, the Bundesliga, schnitzel, big cars, humourlessness and Nazis – it is also the land of ventilation.

Perhaps the German word Lueuften will one day enter English vocabulary much as the word Blitzkrieg once did.

The reasoning behind this approach is presented on the website of the country's disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), and Christian Drosten, a leading German virologist who specialises in researching novel viruses, has also signed off on the airing method.

At the RKI site, experts warn that extended exposure in small, poorly ventilated or unventilated rooms can increase the probability of transmission. This can occur due to aerosols – small particles which can travel over 1.5m – especially if an infectious person emits particularly large numbers of them, stays in the same room for a long time and those exposed inhale particularly deeply or frequently.

A manual is now to be prepared on how teachers should ensure that schools are properly ventilated, at the request of the states' education ministers, according to the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). All schools in Germany will receive a copy of the guidelines.

"The core of our recommendation is to air classrooms regularly every 20 minutes for about five minutes with the windows wide open," says UBA president Dirk Messner.

The UBA also recommends air purifiers and other technical equipment.

The main advice while the coronavirus continues to spread is that windows should be opened before the room starts to smell stale - or "like a puma cage", as the German idiom goes.

Airing was a popular remedy for many ills even before the pandemic in Germany, with many landlords requiring or advising renters to air their apartment regularly to prevent mould and damp.

That may not be an approach that is universally popular – as Germans are also famously intolerant of draughts.

"There's a draught!" is a complaint often heard when a window is open for a while – or in extreme cases, Germans will use a phrase that literally translates as "It pulls like a pike soup!"

The original dates back to the Yiddish phrase hech supha, meaning strong wind – but it sounds like the German word for fish broth.

Perhaps that phrase could be retired – at least for the pandemic. – dpa/Gregor Tholl

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