The Oddity of German Kitchens

Ummmm, weren't there supposed to be appliances there? Ummmm, weren't there supposed to be appliances there?
Ummm, where is the stove?? Ummm, where is the stove??
more of the finished product more of the finished product
the finished product the finished product

This is a guest post by my good friend David Roberts, who was a lawyer in Fayetteville, Arkansas when I met him and later moved to Germany with his wife for about four years, where he added two kids to his growing family. I asked him to write about the oddity of German kitchens.

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You may be stunned to read this, but after living in Germany for 4 years, I have discovered that Germans do things differently than you do in the United States.

Different doesn’t equate to worse or better, it is just different and once you have adjusted to the difference it becomes  the new norm and you never think about it.  Some of the differences you love and will miss long after you move on to a new location;  affordable health care, family-friendly beer festivals, extensive train system, a walking culture, extended meals (when you reserve a table for Friday night, it is your table…for all of Friday night).

Some things you decidedly don’t love and won’t miss for one moment once you leave; getting scolded by random people for minor social transgressions (walking against the red light, no hat on your child, not immediately picking up dog poop), massive amount of speeding cameras, paid parking garages with tiny little spots.

And then there are the differences that are just plain dumb.

When you buy or rent a home in Germany, you should have no expectation that a kitchen is included.  There is a room that you could use as a kitchen.  That room may have a few old cabinets and a sink, but mostly, it will be a completely empty room with electrical outlets and plumbing hook-ups (at least you know where the sink is supposed to go I guess.)

Yes, your “kitchen” will most likely have nothing at all in it. Oftentimes, they last owners have not only taken all the appliances, but also the counter tops, light fixtures and literally every single thing in the room.

When you rent or buy a place, you have to go out to a kitchen store and buy a custom kitchen to fit into the kitchen room of the place you are renting.   I still have a hard time getting my head around this — why people take custom made kitchens away from the room they were custom built to fit in when they move…they aren’t going to fit in their new kitchen, but they take them anyway.

Who was the first moron to rent a house with no kitchen and be happy about dropping a few thousand deutschmarks buying a kitchen for house he didn’t own?

It is simply the dumbest rental system I have ever encountered.

david roberts germany kitchen before

Ummmm, weren't there supposed to be appliances there?

Imagine this, you are moving to a new city for a job, school, love and you begin your apartment search.  The first place you go is in a great location, good size, affordable price; you go to look at it and when you get to the kitchen room, there are 4 walls, a few outlets, a whole in the floor for the sewer and 2 water lines coming out of the wall.  The real estate agent tells you that if you want a sink, stove, cabinets, etc, that you will have to go buy them.

My wife and I, in a brilliant financial move that has brought us to the brink of bankruptcy on a few occasions, bought a house while in Germany.  As is the norm, the kitchen was largely absent.  Our kitchen room actually still had all the cabinets and a sink, which was a total surprise, but they were at least 30 years old and the most hideous shades of puke green, fecal brown and bile yellow.

In fact, I startled the real estate agent a bit when I dramatically hit the counter top with my fist and loudly declared,  ”this kitchen has to go, all of it.  The tile, the cabinets, the counter tops are awful.”  The Germans have a fairly reserved nature; I don’t… even by American standards.  So the long and short of it is that we eventually bought our little slice of Bavarian heaven and began the process of fixing it up so we could move in.

finished kitchen germany david roberts

the finished product

The first and foremost project was the kitchen.   As you might imagine, the German retail kitchen market is very healthy and we had seen numerous kitchen stores in the previous 2 years.  So we knew where to go, but not exactly how it worked.

Was it IKEA-style, cash, carry and assemble?  Full service?  We choose and they do all the ordering, measuring and installing?  Do we order the entire kitchen in one store, or do we have to go somewhere else for the fridge, stove and dishwasher.

As an aside, German shopping is very compartmentalized.  Besides the, one,  large Wal-Mart style store (much smaller) for the most part you still go to a butcher for meat, bakery for bread, an electric store for electronics and a drink store for drinks (true story, called a getrankemarkt everything from from beer and wine to sparkling water and juice).

After looking at a few stores we decided to buy our new kitchen from a national chain named  Kuchen Treff.  Now, another oddity of the Germans is that….wait for it…they speak German, everywhere, including kitchen stores.  By this point we were fairly good at the niceties of everyday German.  We could say hi, nice weather, is going to rain, etc; and we were great in grocery stores, restaurants, bars, etc.  In short, we were good at the stuff we cared about.  Not so much talking about kitchen cabinets, countertops, gloss v. flat finishes and all of the other intricacies of picking out an entire kitchen.

So one Saturday, we gathered up the measurements of our kitchen, our young child (we produced children in Germany also, different story for a different day), our German speaking confidence and headed out to our chosen store.  Luckily, we were quickly greeted by a salesman, he quickly decided that his English was better than our German and we were of, shopping for first German kitchen, in English!  Our fears were partially relieved concerning the installation.

david roberts germany kitchen

more of the finished product

We had to pick out all the cabinets, sink, fridge, stove and hardware; then they would come out and install it.  We did however have to coordinate for the plumbing and running a gas line from the basement up to the kitchen.  Picking out the kitchen turned out to be very easy, after 2 hours we had ordered all the parts.  We would receive a phone call when everything was in, so we waited and waited.

Another unusual aspect of German culture is that, there is no hurry…to anything.  The efficient German characteristic is a complete myth, they believe their products to be of superior nature, so they don’t believe them to be produced or at least delivered expeditious manner.

After a month or so, we get the call, they want to install our kitchen in the next week or so.  Now we have been living in a house, with a 6 month old, with no kitchen for a month.  This was a glorious phone call.  While we had been waiting we had the old tile removed and new tile installed, all of the old cabinets were taken out and the walls painted; we were ready for the new kitchen.

The installers turned up early on the scheduled morning and started the process of building a kitchen and it was all coming together until…the stove got unwrapped ..and it was gas…and I hadn’t run a gas line to the kitchen…  I mentioned earlier that Germans tend to speak German, the workers only spoke German. So I used all of my German, a German dictionary and some pantomiming to tell them there was no gas in the kitchen, please call someone.  Finally they did and within an hour I had gas in the kitchen, an hour later the kitchen was complete.

The kitchen was a great success.  We cooked many meals in that kitchen.  Intially, it was for my wife, our first born and myself, shortly thereafter we added our beautiful little girl to the check list.  We had big parties to celebrate birthdays, engagements, holidays and random get-to-gethers.   The kitchen was always the center of action and it performed marvelously.

Unfortunately, we moved “home” a few years later and rented our piece of Bavarian heaven (sporadically, see aforementioned bankruptcy) until we could return, or otherwise come up with some long term gameplan.  But in a good ole American gesture of individualism, we left that kitchen in the kitchen room.

At least ONE person is Germany was going to get a fully furnished kitchen on us.

An example of a German Kitchen Store.

 

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I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all. Read more by Michael Hodson and connect on Google Plus.

15 Responses to “The Oddity of German Kitchens” Subscribe

  1. Angela May 1, 2011 at 2:19 am #

    This kitchen thing would make things very difficult for me should I decide to rent a house in Germany (which I strongly doubt is going to happen), because the first thing I check (and try if they work) are kitchen and bathroom. I care little about the rest of the house, of course if I’m only renting it, but kitchen and bathroom, must work. Without kitchen is truly an unnecessary expense.
    Angela recently posted..“Did you know that stones bleed” Journey in the mysterious world of Pino Sciola

    • Michael Hodson May 1, 2011 at 3:00 am #

      Angela, that is the most odd part of this whole thing. PERHAPS I could understand this whole thing for buying and selling houses (although why anyone would want to take their cabinets and counter tops that won’t fit in the new house is still beyond me), but the same thing applies to rentals. You might be able to find an apartment with a kitchen… but don’t count on it. Much more likely you are going to have to buy a kitchen…. even if you are just renting an apartment.

  2. Ali May 1, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    I’ve seen this at Andy’s (@graoundedtravelr) apartment in Freiburg, very odd. He had to buy the sink, countertops, stove/oven, etc. Right now they’re not even permanently affixed to the walls. The whole thing is so bizarre. I *really* don’t understand this practice for rentals.
    Ali recently posted..Friendship in the Time of Twitter

  3. Andrew May 1, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    Great article.. I have lived this first hand too. As Ali mentions, I have a few freestanding things in the kitchen. The idea of buying a kitchen is part of what made me buy my place rather then rent. I figure the cost of the kitchen I needed to do anyway, and the cost of mortgage was about the same as rent. What really got me wasn’t the kitchen, but the lights. You have to bring and install your own lights attaching them to the bare wires hanging from the ceiling. Thankfully the bathroom was intact.

    The nearest we can figure is that Germans don’t move very often. Once you get settled somewhere you stay there. This is perhaps seen in micro level as that ability to reserve a table and have it ALL Friday night.
    German Handworkers as you mentioned only speak German and likely with a local accent. I have to work pretty hard to understand some of mine. It all works, but wow I am learning how to understand the locals better through doing it.
    We are doing a full apartment renovation room by room. Kitchen is going to be last, but I’ll keep the link handy when we need to do it.
    Andrew recently posted..Having Baggage while Traveling

  4. Yvonne May 1, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    haha, ok ok. We Germans are really weird sometimes. As I moved about ten times in the last 12 years I always had the luck to rent an apartment with kitchen. Sometimes I had to buy them from the previous tenant and resold it to the new tenant. But a friend has now two kitchens because there was one in her new appartement and the new tenant didnt want to buy the other one as they already owned one.
    I really don’t know why it’s like that in Germany… maybe it’s a secret conspiracy between real estate agencies and kitchen companies… :)
    Yvonne recently posted..There’s a new- uhm- BUNNY in town…

  5. Laura May 1, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

    I read Andy’s post on this recently. I think the extremes are so funny. Some sell a place stripped bare, in other countries they sell you everything including all furnishings, and then (like in the US) it’s somewhere in between. Interesting how it changes country to country
    Laura recently posted..Photo Essay- Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

  6. Debbie Beardsley May 2, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    I had heard about this when buying a home but didn’t know about renting! Yikes that rough. We redid our kitchen (in the US) a few years ago and had to live without water, stove etc for about a month and it was hard. Thankfully it was just my husband and I and we cooked everything on the BBQ! Waiting for the furniture in the den was another story. Got tired of those camp chairs real quick!
    Debbie Beardsley recently posted..Fabulous Friday – When flying- do you prefer the window- middle- or aisle seat

  7. Terry at Overnight New York May 5, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    I lived in Tokyo for four years in the 80s and remember being astounded upon seeing the apartment that there was no refrigerator. Moreover, there was no room in the otherwise fully equipped kitchen for a fridge. So after a week or so of leaving milk and juice cartons on the window ledge, I went ‘fridge shopping and wound up with a fetching little refrigerator in candy apple red. I deposited it in my living room (there was no other vacant spot). It looked so good it didn’t matter (clearly, it was designed for precisely that purpose). At the time I remember thinking it was a pain to have to buy a fridge. Glad I wasn’t living in Germany!
    Terry at Overnight New York recently posted..Hotel Wales- Royal Fashion at the Met

    • Michael Hodson May 7, 2011 at 6:43 am #

      actually given my beer consumption when near a TV… that refrigerator location sounds about perfect! ;)

  8. Michael January 2, 2012 at 4:18 am #

    Part of this oddity can be explained by the fact that renting a flat in Germany is a more or less “permanent” situation. People stay in their rented homes for generations. Renting is not considered a shame and property prices have thus stayed stable with no property price bubble resulting, as it did in the US and in many European countries.
    Michael recently posted..Easy Hiking Is Adventure For Beginners

  9. Andy January 28, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    I lived in Berlin for a little over two years from 1990 and must have been lucky not to have had this problem – and I rented six different places. So I guess it either varies a lot depending on the place or is a relatively new phenomenon. Not to say that there weren’t a few quirks though – having to heat a flat with brown coal bricks wasn’t a lot of fun…although the best of all was a tiny place I had which was completely bare when I moved in (but it had a sink, can’t believe anyone would take that) and in what was originally the toilet some clever soul had installed a flip-down shower. So you had the actual toilet at the far end of this maybe 10 foot by 3 foot cupboard of a room and before that was a shower head on the wall and a ceramic base thing which you could raise up when not in use. At which point water spilled all over the floor. I gave up and got into a very healthy routine of visiting the swimming pool every day which made up for the vast quantities of Weizenbier that constituted my diet at the time…

  10. Conrad November 21, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    The German retail kitchen market is too healthy but where the stuffs will have their seat!!! This is a simple and straight wondering bug in mind. IKEA foundation is related to UNICEF by donating 1$ from each transaction but what our siblings gain in the long term war in the stores…

  11. major Tom December 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    Back in the day (the 50′s and before), in the USA, it was uncommon to buy or rent a house or apartment with a refrigerator or stove included.

    Built in stoves were rare to non-existent and refrigerators were much smaller and lighter, Stove and frig were the only appliances and you moved them when you moved.

    I have never heard of taking your cabinets in the USA but there were often free standing cabinets that were moved like a piece of furniture. There were fewer built in cabinets and counter space in the old kitchens in the same way that closets were smaller in bedrooms.

    Until the last 50 or so years there was far less difference in American and European style homes. The evolution of tech and the Euro population explosion has created the divergence.

    This doesn’t make the transport of built-in cabinets any less odd. :)

  12. Daniel H April 26, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    Wish me luck! I am about to pick up my kitchen in Germany. I am one of those crazy guys who did not want to buy a kitchen in Wickes, B&Q, Magnet and the stores here in England. I walked into B&Q and opened a wall cabinet and a piece of laminate came off in my hand!!! The B&Q salesman, in typical British humor said “oh, now I am going to have to glue that!” Then I was in Wickes and the kitchen on display was chipped! I saw the price tag: like 7000 GBP for such kitchens!
    I must admit that as a Dr-Engineer one of those unusual guys in Britain with three university degrees in engineering, I hate accountants, barristers, lawyers, and all of these talkers that run our country, so I thought I would go to the country of my “engineering brethren” and buy a good kitchen.
    My German is not that good but I gave it a try from England. A few kitchen studios refused me because they were scared of lawsuits if the kitchen they sold me did not fit. The Germans are like that. They have to do things right. I learned “Google Ketchup” and developed mm accurate drawings. I sent them to a kitchen house through a German girlfriend. Within a week she came back with a set o drawings from the “kitchen house”. This was a good outfit for they gave me what I wanted. Such kitchens are also sold in the UK but when I tried to cost the entire kitchen here it cost 7500 GBP but in Germany only 4200 EURO. My kitchen is now ready for pick up as it was made in one of those kind of highly automated robotic German kitchen factories populated by robots and a few highly qualified PhD technicians (like myself) who press a few knobs to make each kitchen to measure, going through several football pitches of wood per week in the process. So my girlfriend there told me precisely what long wheel based high roof van to bring to pick up my kitchen and I just went to Hertz in England to rent the precise same thing. I am making a small holiday of it staying the weekend in Germany and coming back with my kitchen through Holland on the overnight ferry to the UK. I leave in one week and maybe I will report on the experience of bringing it home, unpacking it and fitting it to my British home. I am spending 900 GBP going to get it but who the hell cares. It is in my budget.

    • Daniel H April 26, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

      ERRATA:
      “humour” not “humor”
      “Google Sketchup” not “Google Ketchup”
      “set of drawings” not “set o drawings”
      and a few others.

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