Germans are good at many things. Snow removal is not one of them.
When I moved to Berlin from British Columbia (where it rarely snows) in 2008, I remember feeling really excited with the first snowfall that year. But as it kept snowing, it became increasingly difficult to walk. I was surprised to see that nobody ever shoveled it. At best, someone might sweep a little and throw a handful of gravel on it, neither of which was very effective. In more extreme cases, there was no human intervention at all.
Now I grew up in Georgia, so I won’t pretend that I have ever shoveled snow in my life. But I spent ten years living in the Northeast, and never once did I struggle to walk in 6-inch-deep snow or fear breaking my neck (or hip) on the sidewalk once that same snow had frozen over. In most American cities with snowfall there are strict laws about snow removal—it is almost a matter of pride, as my friends who did grow up shoveling snow have pointed out. A more cynical person might say that the sidewalks are cleared quickly in American cities to avoid lawsuits. Whatever the reason may be, no matter how much it snows, most sidewalks are always clear and walkable.
Not so in Berlin. And if you ask a Berliner why nobody bothers to shovel the snow, they will likely claim it is because the city is too poor to deal with it. Right. The capital city of the one of the richest countries in the world doesn’t have the funds to deal with snow. But anyway, this is beside the point, as it not the city’s responsibility to clear snow, but that of building owners. If you look at your lease, you will probably see that Winterdienst is included in your rent, so if the sidewalk in front of your building isn’t being cleared regularly, you’re getting ripped off, and so is everyone walking by your building.
Property owners who do assume their responsibility to clear the snow will hire these little cars that go around every once in a while and shave off a layer of snow while leaving a trail of gravel. This is not very helpful. The gravel will end up in your apartment and you will be sweeping it up all winter long. If you have a baby crawling around, he/she will likely swallow some, and it’ll end up in his/her diaper. I’ve heard a lot of people defend the gravel because they say that salt (which is what is used in the States and Canada) is bad because it contaminates the groundwater. I’m not sure why this is a problem, as Germans generally refuse to drink tap water anyway. I would also think that the millions of cigarette butts and tons of dogshit on the sidewalk might prove a bigger threat to the groundwater.
On those bits of sidewalk that the property owner hasn’t bothered with, you will have to fend for yourself. If you happen to have a child who likes napping outside (like I did), you’ll be pushing your stroller through what feels like really dirty, really cold sand for hours each day. You will be cursing yourself for having decided to live in this godforsaken place while commending yourself on getting such an excellent upper-body workout.
Meanwhile shop owners (too lazy to shovel the snow in front of their shops) will spend all winter mopping up the mess their customers track in from the rocky, filthy slush outside. Some will even get really annoyed at their customers, like the owner of a children’s clothing shop that hosted a music class I attended, who angrily forced every parent to clean the snow off their stroller’s wheels before coming in.
Needless to say, I am really happy it only snowed a couple of times this year!
Written by michicevedo.