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New Year's Cleaning

Berliners have traditionally taken New Year's celebrations very seriously, so much so that in the past, I usually did my best to be away from Berlin on Silvesterabend. I remember one year in the early 2010s, I was walking to a friend's party a few streets away in Berlin-Kreuzberg and had three bottle rockets shot at me from apartment windows, narrowly missing my face before exploding. After that, I decided to never stay in Berlin again on New Year's. This year, of course, it would be socially irresponsible to travel in the midst of a Corona lockdown, so I am staying in Berlin.


Until just a few years ago when the City of Berlin began doing more timely street cleaning, the first weeks of the new year found the sidewalks, bike paths, and street gutters strewn with broken bottle glass and soggy, smelly fireworks remnants. If there had been any snow or ice, this trash would sometimes remain clogging the sidewalks with debris until the snow had melted, as late as March. Luckily, after numerous citizen complaints, Berlin began cleaning the New Year's street debris within a week or two of the celebrations. Berlin may be terrible at building airports, but at least the city has proven itself capable of timely street cleaning!


So New Year's is not just a time to "cleanse" our lifestyle with resolutions—most of which we probably don't keep anyway—it is also a good time to clean up our own clutter in our house, basement, or storage unit. Let's take a look today at some German verbs that mean "to clean."


Kuck mal, wie das hier aussieht!

Look at the state of this place!

Mama, steh auf!

Mom, get up!

Wir müssen aufräumen. Komm, bitte!

We have to clean up. Come on, please!

Captions 21-23, Die Pfefferkörner - Alles auf Anfang

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The separable verb aufräumen (in British English "to tidy up") is a good word to use when you are generally cleaning up.


Ich muss die Küche aufräumen, den Abwasch machen,

I have to clean up the kitchen, do the dishes,

das Bad putzen, Staub saugen und Staub wischen.

clean the bathroom, vacuum and dust.

Captions 5-6, Hausputz - mit Eva

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Here aufräumen appears again, but what is the difference between that and putzen? As a rule, you can use putzen for cleaning your house or an item in your house such as your refrigerator or stove. But if you use aufräumen in the context of a refrigerator or stove, it would suggest that you were clearing out the fridge or clearing off some pans from the stove rather than properly cleaning them. So for proper cleaning rather than just "picking up" or "tidying up," putzen is the better word choice. 


Doing the dishes may be den Abwasch machen, as in the above example, but you can also say das Geschirr spülen or das Geschirr abwaschen. As for vacuuming (or "hoovering" in British English) with der Staubsauger, you may write that as the noun and verb Staub saugen or the nonseparable verb staubsaugen.


Wir reinigen hier mindestens zweimal am Tag komplett durch,

We clean through here, completely, at least twice a day

und wir reinigen auch die ganzen Ställe und Zwinger,

and we also clean all of the stalls and cages

nachdem sie benutzt worden sind.

after they have been used.

Captions 29-30, Frankfurter Flughafen - Animal Lounge

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The German adjective rein, which means "pure," is suggested in the verb reinigen, and thus reinigen has specific contexts too: 


Dadurch sollen die Steine helfen, die Luft zu reinigen.

Thus, these stones should help to purify the air.

Caption 15, Schadstoffarme Straßen - Neue Gehwegplatten für reinere Luft

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The verb reinigen also means to give something a thorough cleaning. How and what is being cleaned determines which verb to use. It would not really work, for example, to use aufräumen in this context!


Further Learning
Read the Yabla German lesson Around the House and watch the Yabla video Hausputz with Eva to learn more about German cleaning words in different contexts. 

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