Over the last week I’ve learnt most of my neighbours’ secrets. I’ve discovered how Frau Schmidt likes to be kissed (‘Not like that,’ she whispered to her new boyfriend last night). I know what the Rollmann twins spread on their brötchen every morning. I learnt that Herr Kunst, the building’s fortysomething bachelor, wears a corset. I’ve even discerned the sort of web surfing that preoccupies Herr Goldmann in the small hours.
I haven’t filled a recently-vacated post with the KGB. Nor am I confessing to a secret life as a peeping Tom. The simple truth is that the record-breaking heat wave has caused Germans to throw open their windows and bare all, exposing many shocking (and usually tubby) home truths.
Our building – like most blocks in Germany – is constructed around a central courtyard or hof. All the apartments have a number of rooms facing into it, usually bedrooms and bathrooms. Those private chambers, which usually preserve personal confidences, now broadcast them willy-nilly to all and sundry. Whispered words, the sound of private acts and the intimate uncorking of bottles of massage oil are amplified by the open windows and shared with dozens of curious neighbours. The newly-wed Meyers do not sound as blissfully happy as they appeared. Herr Schröder plays a most unusual game with his dog. Frau Schmidt has the most arresting tattoo.
Mrs. Cat and I have done our best to keep our intimacies to ourselves, although she is unsettled by the ready smile now offered to her by Herr Fink (his bedroom looks directly into our shower). But given the sauna-like heat, and a total absence of air conditioning, it is impossible to keep the windows closed.
The German Weather Service (DWD) has forecast temperatures of up to 40 degrees this week. As the highest temperature ever recorded in Germany was 40.2 °C. (in Karlsruhe in August 2003), it seems likely that a new record will be set this summer. My sister – who plans to visit in August with her husband and children – now says she’s only coming if the weather cools down. On the other hand a French resident-cum-sun-goddess, used to escaping to the Riviera or Seychelles to maintain her nut-brown tan, rejoices in Germany’s unglaublich weather. ‘But the poor Germans, they are not a people made for the sun,’ she told me yesterday. ‘Every day I see more and more sweaty pinky ladies in the street.’
The heat wave hasn’t been welcomed by Deutsche Bahn, the national train operator, or a number of its passengers. Last weekend an air-conditioner failure on a Cologne-bound ICE express sent temperatures in the carriages soaring to 50 °C. Nine students and elderly passengers had to be taken to the hospital, where some received IV drips. Meanwhile in Berlin, scores of dead fish have been spotted floating in the Teltow canal. Evidentially they died from a lack of oxygen in the water caused by the intense heat.
For my part, I’m doing my best to enjoy the spectacle – apart from that presented by beer-bellied Herr Goldmann – knowing that all too soon the cool air will return, the windows will be shut and secrets locked back indoors. But when that day does come, at least I will know a little more about my neighbours.