I’m experiencing my second heatwave of the Berlin Summer. This one’s a doozy. When I was living in LA, I rarely bothered to check the weather app on my iPhone. You pretty much know what the weather is going to be. 75 and sunny. Hotter in August and September. That’s it. The cushiest job in the world is a meteorologist in Southern California.
Here in Berlin, I’ve resorted to checking the app almost hourly as the temperatures soar into the 90s–that’s Fahrenheit. The U.S. is one of only five countries that still use Fahrenheit–ironically, named after a German.
Yes, while the rest of the world was shifting to the more sensical metric and celsius systems, Americans couldn’t be bothered. The government once tried but to no avail. Maybe they should try again, this time getting Kim Kardashian to promote it. Wait, don’t click off the page! I’m totally kidding!
Anyway, Celsius makes more sense – zero is freezing, 100 is freaking hot (boiling). So it still takes a little time to register when someone says, “It’s going to be 37 tomorrow!” that I don’t think, “that doesn’t sound so bad.”
Which brings me to what may be my most favorite invention of all time. Air conditioning.
You get hot, flip a switch and…wow, immediate comfort. Your shirts no longer have white salt stains because you can’t drink water faster than you sweat it out.
Yes, I’ve hear the stories of generations ago when there was no such thing as air conditioning. Fans blew in every room, as little clothing as decency would allow was worn, and you hoped the block of ice in the “ice box” would last until the delivery man came with the next block. I get it. People suffered. I’ve been at Starbucks when the wifi was down. I know suffering.
But that was then and this is now. Except someone forgot to tell the Germans.
Now, weather this hot and this sustained is uncommon in Berlin. But when it arrives and there is no escape, it sucks. Yes, movie theaters have air conditioning (check that, a few have air conditioning), malls have air conditioning (and for those who know me, the only mall I like to set foot into is called Amazon), and then there is…wait for it…Starbucks. Leave it to an American chain to be one of the few places for relief from the heat.
Now, I admit to love hanging out at Starbucks in the U.S. because where I lived there was the choice of three Starbucks (which we referred to as low-, middle-, and high-class SB. For those who live in the NoHo/Studio City area of LA, guess which is which) and one cool coffeehouse with the most sinfully delicious assortment of pies, usually packed with hipsters and no empty seats.
But I digress. Here in Berlin, as well as many European cities, it’s blasphemy to go to Starbucks when there are so many great, independent coffeehouses, ironically opened by Australians. But they all lack one thing. Yes, air conditioning.
So, here’s the thing about Germans and air conditioning. They are convinced it will make them sick. Like pneumonia sick. Because all the Americans and those southern Europeans who use it are dropping dead like flies every summer. And the mega-malls in Asia. Yeah, they’ve set up triage units to handle the waves of of those who have walked in from the 95 degree/95 percent humidity and now are suffering.
Another argument is that man lived without air conditioning for thousands of years and so they can still live without it. Uh, have you heard of the internet? Have you been in a car? Have you watched television or gone to a movie? Because Cleopatra and the Egyptians weren’t exactly driving their cars to the kino to catch or illegally stream the latest the latest flick, “Snakes on a Vein” (yeah, I went there). Her method of transportation was a bunch of beefy guys hoisting her up and carrying her around. And entertainment was courtesy of some live, Egyptian slaves.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, we had people who also thought like this. They are called the Amish. However, they can make one helluva shoo-fly pie and a mean quilt.
So air conditioning is out (Except in cars. Cars must have AC. Go figure). But guess what else is also out? Fans. Yes, apparently moving air, or drafts as they are called, is also an all-out assault on the immune system. Because a virus calmly floating in the air is suddenly less dangerous than one going about 20mph (or kph). Moving air will cause pneumonia, flu, the plague, whatever.
That’s right, you too can sit on an un-airconditioned S-Bahn with a bunch of sweaty people who are deathly afraid to open a window because of the draft it creates. If you are the one to open a window, chances are you will hear someone yell “es zieht,” which means “it’s a draft” and not urban slang for “it’s alright.” It makes no sense, so I don’t try.
There’s actually a word for this – Anemophobia. Now think about this. When you rent an apartment here in Germany, it is a standard clause in the lease that you are required to open the windows twice a day to let air blow in. That’s right. Required. And the number of people who ride bikes is astounding. Um, that is all called “air.” And when you’re riding a bike, it comes at you pretty quickly.
For a highly intelligent group of people, as the Germans generally are, despite their love of fleischsalat, it’s totally bizarre. Even more bizarre is that only the Chinese spend more money annually on international travel than Germans. And I’m assuming that the bulk of it requires getting on a plane. You want to talk about air that can make you sick? How about sitting on a plane of recycled air for hours. Air-conditioned air, at that!
Which brings up a question. Did the Allies know this phobia existed in WWII? I’m thinking we could have saved a lot of money on artillery, tanks, submarines, etc., not to mention lives on both sides, and just flew over some industrial-sized Hunter fans, turned ’em on and called it a day.
So, I will suffer through it, this heat wave, as in Germany there is always a cold beer. And besides, do I really want to go to MediaMarkt to buy a portable air conditioner (“See the one guy looking at air conditioners? Must be American.”) for what amounts to about 20 days of use? Yes, 20 torturous days. But still.
So instead, I bought a fan. And it blows for hours. Sometimes, gasp, directly on my neck. Enter at your own risk.