Cologne is a city of around 1 million. I’ve been here for 6 months now. I have seen exactly ONE mouse. I have not seen any rats or roaches. I lived in NY for nearly 15 years and not a day went by that I didn’t see a rat or a roach at least once. In my first apartment I unfortunately saw roaches in extremely unpleasant places like my bathroom. I only once saw a rat indoors. It nearly ran over Jib’s face in a movie theatre. His head was leaning on the wall, he was asleep (yep, during the moving) until he was awakened by the scratching of claw sound vibrating along the curtain covered wall and the world cup wave of folks standing and screaming as the rodent quickly and safely sprinted it’s way to freedom in balcony seating. (For the record you will never under any circumstances find Jib against a wall in a dark public space.)
Anyway – no rats and no roaches in my neck of Cologne. And outside of cigarette butts I have yet to see even one person randomly drop trash anywhere outside. I have noticed an avalanche of beer bottles. And sometimes in the public parks the garbage bins get to be overflowing. I mean it isn’t perfect. But the lack of pests intrigued me. So I decided to undertake a little garbage removal research.
Here is what I learned:
Refuse is a sacred medium here. Everything has it’s place and do not under any circumstances screw with the system. Do not put your bins out on Tuesday if they are stamped for Wednesday. And by the way YOU, simple resident, do not put your bins out. The refuse professionals enter both public and private buildings and place the bins neatly in front of the buildings. Here is how it works. On our street, two guys in florescent orange jump suits, work ahead of the truck. The truck is managed by a driver and at least two other dudes. The forward team prepare all the bins for pull up by the truck. The driver is like the best big machine operator you’ve ever seen in your life. And the back field team get the bins hooked up and turned around at the truck in the most efficient modern dance move you can imagine. Then the forward team sweeps through again and get this PUTS THE BINS BACK! The forward team also carry pick up sticks with little grabbers on the ends so that they can busy themselves with random refuse while waiting for the truck to catch up. These professionals often smile at my children and pleasantly say things like “Guten Tag!” or “Einen schonen Tag noch!” or “Guten Morgen!”. No miserable staring or rude body language. This is not to say they are overly friendly or some sort of super skilled social miracle. All I’m saying is that the garbage is gone with a smile and professional undertaking that is impressive. Don’t know where the garbage goes to, but that is research best left for another post.
Cologne has it’s fare share of graffiti and other issues but I do find it nearly spotless in the rodent and refuse areas. This may also have to do with the intensively competitive and effective dumpster diving that goes on. Do not, under any circumstances, leave your bedside lamp on the sidewalk. The maximum amount of time you have to retrieve it is 35 seconds. So my completely unscientific observations continue. From choreographed garbage collection to Olympic level sidewalk pickers somehow it all works together to make for one very tidy little city.