Draftophobia Blown Away by the Fear of Air

A lot of Germans don't like drafts. Some even seem to have an irrational fear of moving air, believing it can cause pneumonia, flu, colds, clogged arteries and just about every malady imaginable. Two readers offer their views of this unusual German quirk.

Coming to Germany for the World Cup this summer? If so, it is important to know a certain phrase you will probably hear: "Es zieht!"

Years ago, I traveled through Germany with a group from my high school. One sultry day, we opened the windows of the train we were riding in to allow some air to circulate. Immediately, people from all corners of the train started complaining "es zieht," then got up and began closing the windows and letting us know how displeased they were with our actions.

None of us could understand any German and we had no idea what was going on until someone took the time to explain it to us. The explanation was that if we open the windows, the air would blow through the train. We explained that we realized this and it was for precisely that reason that we opened the windows in the first place.

They won the battle by making sure that all the windows remained closed in our sweltering railway car for the duration of the journey. We remained quietly seated, drained because of the heat and confused by what had happened.

Sometime later at the home of a friend, I was asked if I felt the breeze from an open window. I replied that I did and to my dismay the window was promptly closed. It was at that moment that it finally hit me, what was enjoyable for me, was quite a serious problem for my German friends.

Germans love fresh air and open their home and office windows quite often, for a short time -- winter or summer -- in an exercize they call "lüften," or "airing out," and yet they are deathly afraid of any drafts.

For almost 20 years now I have been in Germany and every summer it is the same. In an attempt to relieve the heat at the office, I will open a few windows to get some air flowing. I always know what is coming, but I still cringe when I hear it. Someone will say "Es zieht" (there is a draft) and ask that the windows be closed. I bring my own fan to work and year after year it is a problem to find a place to put it as my German colleagues are absolutely convinced the blowing wind will land them in the hospital.

Contributed by Robert Dynan in Mörfelden-Walldorf.

One of the most bizarre quirks I experienced in my 2 years living in Germany was what I like to call draftophobia. What is draftophobia, you ask? I define it as an irrational fear of moving air. As an American, I grew up with open windows in cars, buildings and houses. If the car isn't at a standstill, heaven forbid if you happen to roll down a window in a car full of Germans. I have endured many hot and sweaty drives with my German friends who lacked air-conditioning. At first, I thought, "well they are just waiting for the air-conditioner to kick-in." Finally, we stopped at a red light and the windows went down in unison. Ahhh, fresh air! Then the light turned green and the windows went back up, trapping in the hot air until the next red light. If you are unlucky enough to be stuck driving on the autobahn, you might have to endure hours without moving air. You arrive at your destination in sweat-soaked clothing wanting nothing more than a two-liter bottle of water.

My German wife once explained draftophobia to me. According to leading scholars and doctors in Germany, she said, drafts are responsible for pneumonia, flu, colds, clogged arteries and just about every malady imaginable. Yet the biggest paradox of all is that Germans are busy walking and cycling throughout quaint little villages and busy urban streets on a regular basis.

Contributed by Ken Chilton in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States.

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