The first time I saw one on a breakfast table at a hotel in Nuremberg, I thought it was hiding some breakfast delight. Extra butter. Milk. Tea, maybe. But it had an odd size and it was shaped like a tiny trash can.
Because it was a tiny trash can.
Yes, in Germany there are tiny trash cans on breakfast tables at bed & breakfasts (and your grandmother’s).
Guys! Tiny trash cans!
“They’re totally old fashioned,” my German wife told me as I sat down to write this. “Nobody uses them any more.”
Au contraire mon Frau.
She hasn’t googled Tischmülleimer (table trash can) recently. Or checked on amazon.de for Tischabfalleimer (table trash can). Or gone to the housewares section in any department store and looked for Tischabfallbehälter (table trash can).
Because Germany still has trash cans on many of its tables. Lots of its tables.
Tischmülleimer = Ordnung
How obsessed with Ordnung (table trash can … actually, order) do you have to be to have tiny trash cans on your breakfast table? So obsessed that you put tiny trash cans on your breakfast table. So obsessed that you have to take out the trash before you’ve even finished your Rühreier mit Speck (table trash … oh never mind, it’s scrambled eggs with bacon).
Teen-aged me thought the Germans were genius for their Tischmülleimer. You could spread all sorts of stuff on your bread and then throw all the detritus away sofort! It allowed you to focus on your German breakfast which, as we all know, requires full concentration.
Tischmülleimer make sense when you think of all the things the not-always-environmentally-conscious Germans serve in tiny plastic packages. Jelly. Honey. Butter. Cream cheese. Pumpernickel. Schmelzkäse (processed cheese). Angst. And Nutella. That can leave a table looking pretty unordentlich. The-day-after-New-Years disorderly. Plus: That tiny trash can is just the thing for your soft boiled egg shells (though you’ll still end up with some between your teeth).
Even better: The wait staff (or your grandmother) doesn’t have to come through and clean up your trash while you’re quoting Goethe and ladling quark (this weird cheese/yoghurt stuff) into your piehole. You can just throw it away!
When I was in high school in America, I imagined being an adult meant having all the CDs of my favorite bands. As an exchange student in Germany, I imagined being an adult as being able to have a Tischmülleimer at every table.
Now I’m an adult and I don’t have either.
And I never quote Goethe.