Just up the road from our house a great big billboard has been erected announcing that a set of new homes will be built on a development site.
But the thing that caught my eye was the sign hanging on the house which is already standing on the plot. A house, I might add, that in typical German fashion is well maintained, recently painted, double glazed and in possession of a sound roof. On this sign is a cartoon house with a wrecking ball smashing into the side of it. The house is smiling… no even positively beaming with excitement, as demolition starts. Just in case there’s any doubt, next to the picture in cheery wavy writing, it says: “Ich werde abgerissen!” – literally: “I’m being knocked down!”
Only in Germany could there be such excitement about knocking down a perfectly sound, if slightly jaded property and building afresh. Germans love building new houses… and generally dislike buying older properties. If they do end up with a “second hand” house… they don’t just renovate it (renovieren). No, they will have it sanitized (sanieren). This pretty much means stripping it down to the bare walls and wires and starting again. Any period features will be ripped out, nothing will be left in its original state.
What a contrast to the Brits who rummage through salvage yards to look for authentic period fireplaces, single glazed sash windows, reclaimed bricks and original guttering. The British like their homes to stay forever in an imagined timewarp – based mainly I think on pictures from “Period Living” magazine. Of course the fact that neither the Victorians nor the Georgians had Aga range cookers, fridge freezers, televisions or computers is conveniently overlooked. Our “period” kitchens couldn’t be further from the reality of historical housekeeping.
Maybe the Germans do have the right idea… rather than trying to create an idyll from an imperfect property, perhaps it would just be easier to start over.