Notes from the Schnell & Sauber

BERLIN – As I’m sitting here watching my clothes spin, it occurs to me that there is no language better suited to laundry than German. The pre-wash is called the Vorwäsche (meaning “fore-wash”), the main cycle is the Hauptwäsche (“haupt” means “main”) and in between there’s a cycle called Zwischenspülen. I don’t know what that means, but whenever my Nyborg Type 902 electronic washer zwisches and spüles it shakes something furious, and all of its washing machine neighbors rock back and forth like men hoisting beer at Oktoberfest. Perhaps the Germans place so much emphasis on cleanliness because the words are so much fun.

I’m at a laundromat called Schnell und Sauber – “fast and clean” – which just about says it all. There’s another machine here called a Schleuder (pronounced “shloydah”), which my dictionary translates as “centrifuge.” It looks like a big red metal barrel. You put your wet clothes into it, close the top, turn it on, it spins with maniacal force, and your clothes come out drier. Not dryer-drier, but drier than drying them in the dryer without Schleudering them first. Even jeans. It probably cuts the drying time in half. I have done laundry in many countries but have never encountered a Schleuder before. I may have to get one.

Now I’m watching my clothes spin in the Nyborg 210T dryer (called a Trockner in German). This is a pleasure that my Maytag stacking unit at home does not permit, and I’m savoring the moment. The guy by the window, with a strange earring and bad facial hair, is drinking a beer. He seems a little unhinged, bouncing from here to there. He’s folding his funny little Euro-briefs, but then who am I to judge? He probably thinks my plaid boxers are hilariously quaint. He laughs kindly as I whistle “Something Stupid” by Frank and Nancy Sinatra while folding. He’s smoking. Why are people always smoking? I’m going to have to wash my clothes again. I wonder where his beer came from and contemplate getting one myself, but I don’t dare leave. The dryer is too interesting, and there’s no way I’m leaving my computer unsupervised with Mr. Bad Facial Hair.

It’s 10:38PM. The laundromat closes at 11, and the caretaker-lady has come by to scoop out lint from huge traps beneath each dryer. It emerges in sheets which, when folded, are each the size of a roast duck. Finally my clothes are done, and I’ve realized that one thing is universal: static cling. Time to get back on the U-bahn. Happy Trockning.