Clean up!

May 25, 2018

Spring cleaning is a very old tradition, practiced in many countries and cultures. Ten years ago Rainer Nõlvak gave this idea an interesting twist by organising Let’s do it. This campaign was initiated to clean up forests and countryside. It was a huge success. On May 3rd, 2008 over 50.000 people participated in this large cleaning event.

Seventy years ago, in Geislingen refugee camp, cleaning was a serious business. The authorities were afraid of infectious diseases and other health issues due to overcrowding in buildings. Rooms were disinfected and cleaned over and over again to get rid of vermin, dirt and dust.

In 1948 they made once more clear that all inhabitants were responsible for the cleanliness of the houses: the head of family or room elder was responsible for keeping a room clean, a building commission was responsible for shared spaces: kitchen, toilets, and stairs. There was also an assigned  housekeeper or house elder, who would receive the soap and cleaning materials and had to see that everything was done according to plan.

There were rules to obey and orders to follow, there were inspections and controls;  buildings, gardens, sheds were checked on a regular base.  This was done in a thorough way, even the garbage bin was not forgotten and if it was clean, it still could be that you had thrown away things you were not allowed to.  

Punishment consisted of naming and shaming, warnings, not getting your ration of cigarettes - which was quite something as cigarettes were used, until the money reform of the summer of 1948, as currency.  If warnings didn’t make a difference you could even be thrown out of the camp.

Reading about all the inspections, about dishes still in the sink, about bits of paper in the garden, about dust underneath the stairs I started to look at my own home in a different way. Had the inspectors of ‘48 come to my house now, I’m afraid they would have looked with a mixture of bewilderment and abhorrence at the rooms where I keep all my books, documents and other archival material as dust is on top of many piles, there is an occasional spider and my windows need to be cleaned.

They would probably have questioned me: how on earth can you live in such a pigsty… I would be mentioned in the Information Bulletin for having rooms which are in a total mess and I would get a serious warning: you’ll have to better your life immediately. Clean up!