German word of the day: Die Kehrwoche

Today we look at a word with its roots in southwestern Germany - and it's one that's useful to know if you live in a shared apartment.

German word of the day: Die Kehrwoche
Photo: Depositphotos

If you live in a shared apartment, who cleans the building? It could be that a company or person is employed to keep the common areas, like the stairway, tidy, and you split the cost of the service with the other tenants or owners.

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But if you live in Baden-Württemberg (or an apartment building that's decided not to pay for a cleaner), you and your neighbours will have to do it yourselves.

This task is summed up in one word: Kehrwoche. Made up off the words kehren – to sweep – and Woche – week – this noun roughly translates to ‘sweeping week’ or ‘week of sweeping’.

When it’s your household's turn for Kehrwoche, you’re in charge of sweeping and mopping the floors as well as keeping the stairway clean. When you’re done, you pass the Kehrwoche sign onto the next neighbour and they must do the tasks the following week.

Although some apartments in modern day Württemberg prefer to pay someone to keep it clean, Kehrwoche is ingrained in Swabian culture and history.

Kehrwoche started at the end of the 15th century to improve household cleanliness. Originally, it meant that households had duties to maintain order and cleanliness inside the common property of the building, like staircases, as well as outside – for example on public pathways. A weekly task, it traditionally took place on Saturday.

In 1988, the Kehrwoche was abolished as a public order law across the state but it can still be part of house rules and rental contracts. If it’s your turn for the Kehrwoche you should also make sure the area outside the apartment is clean and safe. For example, you might have to grit the pavement if there’s ice.

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Other apartment buildings throughout Germany might opt for Kehrwoche too when they decide to take turns to clean the building instead of paying somebody to do it.

However, the Kehrwoche is often said to be something highly characteristic with Swabian or Württemberg culture but this is a stereotype.

Just remember that wherever and whenever you have Kehrwoche, you’ll be judged on how good your cleaning is – and if you decide to give it a miss you will likely have angry neighbours knocking on your door.

How do you know if it’s your sweeping week? You’ll see the schedule that’s probably hung up on the wall but if you forget, don’t worry: a sign will likely be placed on your door that says: ‘Kehrwoche: this week it’s your turn’.

Photo: DPA


Bitte vergessen Sie dieses Mal nicht, die Kehrwoche zu machen.

Please don't forget to do the sweeping week this time.

Oh nein, die Woche ist fast vorbei und wir müssen ja noch die Kehrwoche

Oh no, the week is almost over and we still have to do the sweeping!

Letzte Woche hatte Herr Schubert Kehrwoche. Das Treppenhaus hat er trotzdem nicht geputzt.

Last week Mr Schubert had to do sweeping week. Despite this he didn't clean the

Zum Glück gibt es in Essen keine Kehrwoche.

Fortunately there is no week of sweeping in Essen.

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This article was produced independently with support from Lingoda.


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German phrase of the day: Lügen haben kurze Beine

This phrase tells you why you should try not to lie.

German phrase of the day: Lügen haben kurze Beine

Why do I need to know Lügen haben kurze Beine?

From the serpent in the Bible to the spectacular fall of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (see the Spiegel cover below with the title ‘one lie too many’), lying has always been morally and socially unacceptable.

Yet everyone lies. Anyone who says otherwise is probably telling fibs. Past research has suggested people lie once or twice per day on average. So, the Germans have found a unique way of tackling lies with this proverb.

What does it mean?

Lügen haben kurze Beine (which sounds like this) literally translates to ‘lies have short legs’. In English you might say: ‘the truth will out’ or ‘lies won’t get you far’.

This proverb was reportedly first found in a German dictionary as early as 1663. As you might expect, this saying is based on the idea that someone with shorter legs can’t run super fast – the metaphor being that a lie won’t escape, it will be found out.

The moral of the story is that honesty is the best policy because nothing can run away from the truth. This symbolic proverb is taught to many German children by their parents. 

But what about white lies? In German, they are pleasingly called Notlüge (emergency lies) and we all know that sometimes not telling the whole truth is appropriate or needed in certain social situations. We’ll look at this in more detail in a future word of the day. 

Use it like this:

Irgendwann wird er mein Geheimnis entdecken, denn Lügen haben kurze Beine.

At some point he will discover my secret, because the truth will out. 

Lügen haben kurze Beine, vor allem im Internet.

Lies can’t get far, especially on the internet.

Ich rate Ihnen, heute die Wahrheit zu sagen. Lügen haben kurze Beine.

I advise you to tell the truth today. Lies won’t travel far.