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The Swabian or Württembergische Kehrwoche began at the end of the 15th century in Württemberg, to improve household cleanliness. In its original form, it imposed duties on individual households regarding order and cleanliness inside the common property within the building, like staircases or entrances, as well as outside the house, especially on public pathways and places adjacent to the house. It was a weekly duty, taken in turns, on Saturday.
Stuttgart's municipal law from 1492 states, "To ensure that the city stays clean, everyone should remove their muck, (...) from your own street corner every 14 days, although only at night. Those who do not have a restroom (WC), must bring the waste to the stream." In the 18th century, a new law, the "clean alley ordnung" came about, that added detail. In 1988 the kehrwoche was abolished as a communal law. It doesn't apply to public order in any part of Baden-Wurtemberg, but it can be part of house rules and rental contracts. The communal order obliges every owner of a house to hold parts of his property, like entrance areas and access paths as well as the public pavements free of dirt, snow and ice. There is no determined time or interval, making it a permanent obligation, contrary to the weekly duty on Saturdays as in the tradition of the kehrwoche.
In Württemberg, as generally in Germany and other countries, it is typical to include the kehrwoche into the rental agreement, describing which parties on which days clean the sidewalk, shovel snow and clean the staircases. Also a sign displaying the bolded letters "Kehrwoche" is often hung on the door of the party responsible for the Kehrwoche activities of the week. The rental owner as well as the other tenants can see who is responsible for such tasks.
Agreements distinguish between "small" and "large" kehrwoche. Small kehrwoche includes hallways and staircases. Large kehrwoche includes the outdoor sidewalk in front of the house. Outside of Württemberg the cleaning of multi-tenant property is organized very similarly, using "large and small house rule" with identical meaning, as long as the delegation of cleaning responsibilities is not given to costly outside vendors or building superintendent.
The Kehrwoche is often cited as something highly characteristic of Swabians or of Wurttemberg, often seen as proving their petifogging obsession with order. In actual fact it proves to be more of a myth, or a projection of a German characteristic on one particular of its ethnic subgroups.
- Wolfgang Brenneisen, Peter Ruge: G'schimpft und g'lacht über d' Kehrwoch. Drw, 2003. ISBN 3-87181-490-3
- Andreas Reichert: Die Schwäbische Kehrwoche, ISBN 3925185038
- Christoph Sonntag, Gerhard Drexel: Schwäbische populäre Irrtümer. Ein Lexikon. Edition Q, 2006. ISBN 3-86124-603-1