Es Zieht: German Fears of Deadly Drafts

by Mark F. Weber on March 19, 2011

A breeze, brushing back curtains, panics many Germans, who dread a potentially deadly draft.  Experts call it Anemophobia, the fear of air drafts.  Many Germans imagine these deadly drafts as tickets to the hospital or worse.  This phobia makes it interesting when visiting Germany on hot and humid summer days.

Germans are enthusiastic outdoor people that hike, climb, bike, and ski in all types of weather.  Why fear a draft blowing through the curtains at home or in their office?  Specifically, the concern is an abrupt breeze from a sudden gust; a passing train; or a speeding car.  When a window is open near roads or tracks, it is common to hear ‘Es zieht.’  The window must close.

Among the feared maladies of deadly drafts are colds; pneumonia; and clogged arteries.  According to a Toytown Germany article, ‘Germans Fears of Drafts,’ a blowing curtain may immediately show symptoms like, “shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea, and overall feelings of dread.” Each Anemophobia victim may show different symptoms.

Summer in Germany is warm, especially in the south.  Air conditioning is on, but Germans are uncomfortable with the frigid American temperatures.  It gets a little toasty.  There is an urge to open a window.  Deutsche architecture aligns with Anemophobia as many window open in from the top, rather up from the bottom.  As soon as someone finds and opens a traditional window, there cries of ‘Es zieht.’  Windows slam shut and perspiration rises.

The oddness of fearing deadly drafts comes from the many German contradictions:

  • A draft may lead to a cold, but a German will enthusiastically spin into the wind on a road bicycle;
  • A breeze from an open window is a recipe for pneumonia, but Germans ski under frigid temperatures in the Alps;
  • The whoosh of a passing train, brushing back the curtains, is a ticket for clogged arteries, but the average German consumes 62 pounds of sausage per year.

Anemophobia is one of the reasons behind the estimated 900 spas in Germany.  The warm whirling waters sooth their souls.  There is no worry of a deadly draft sneaking into the bathes.

The phobia does impact travelers and tourists.  In the summer, I hop on a German tram, light rail systems that quickly and inexpensively take you around a city.  Signs warn passengers not to open windows.  The atmosphere is steamy. Even if I rebel, and slide open panel, just a crack, others will scream, ‘Es zieht.’  The stranger, next to me, has not bathed for a very long time.  His arm is in the air, holding on to a loop as the tram turns the corner.  Talk about a deadly draft.

 

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I am an international business professor in Pittsford, NY who managed a business unit for a German company. My passion is family and friends, plus roaming the countryside on my road bicycle.

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