Next to the underground and city train, those automated wash salon would probably be the next place to see colorful characters. It is my third time to go to and use one. The first one being in Antwerp when I visited a former colleague over New Year’s 2008, and the second one in Bonn when I visited my cousin a few months ago. Back in the Philippines, we have our own washing machine and a lavandero as well to make sure our clothes are immaculately clean. When I was still doing my undergrad and during the times I couldn’t go home on weekends and bring my dirty laundry, I would visit a lavandera where I can leave my clothes and pick it up a couple of days later all clean, although unironed, yet neatly folded and packed in a plastic bag.
My notion of characters that go to a wash salon were mainly shaped by movies. They are mostly those who struggle through life. There’s a common denominator among them: they cannot afford to buy a washing machine. Refusing to buy one for spatial or practical reasons might be an exception more than the rule. Most flats, however small, usually have one either in the kitchen, cellar, or in the toilet. For those living transiently in an unfurnished single-room apartment, buying one is simply impractical. At about 400 Euros, those heavy-duty washing wonders can put a dent on the budget of the frugal. And that includes me.
It is a bit odd that the house where I am renting a room now doesn’t have a washing machine. It has the best of the kitchen ware and the cupboards are decked with imported herbs, ingredients, and cooking what-nots. And I learned the washing machine is somewhere hidden in the cellar, probably collecting rust and dust. So I searched for the nearest wash salon via Google Maps yesterday and decided to go to one last night before I ran out of clean clothes in a couple of days. When I say nearest it is about a couple of kilometers away. Yes, it is not that far, even by foot. But under the weight of my dirty laundry and the rain, it seemed twice as far.
I was pampered in my dormitory in Freiburg. The washing machines are just one floor down, and a wash token is a bargain at 1.80 Euros a piece. We have a drying room where our clothes could dry overnight. I would go back to my room after chucking in my clothes, throwing in the detergent, and turning the dials and pushing the power button. After an hour, I slip them in a blue Ikea “shopping-laundry bag” (that’s its rightful purpose!), go to the adjacent drying room and hang them to dry. Now that I have left my dorm and haven’t found a permanent place still, all those were a luxury of the past.
While it is my third time to use those automated washing machines, I still caught myself staring in confusion at the control panel full of numbered buttons, blinking lights, and LCDs. I might have been as well staring at a mainframe computer. I slid a 50 cent coin in the slot to buy some detergent. And nothing happened. I pressed the button which said ‘soap’. Again nothing. I pressed the ‘return money’ button. Still nothing. So I thought I just lost my precious 50 cents in this greedy contraption. I made a distress call to a lady who was folding her clothes. She must have been Mediterannean or middle-eastern. She asked me questions on what I have done so far and analysed the situation. I pushed some more random buttons, and the soap dispenser sputtered and gave me my 50 cents’ worth of detergent. Ah, that’s more like it. Once done turning my clothes inside out and putting them in and shutting the machine, what next? The same lady saw the question in my face and dictated the next steps as writtoen in the instructions posted on the control panel. I slipped intwo 2 Euro coins, hit some more buttons here and there to get back my 1 Euro change, and soon the machine started rolling. The button-hitting reminded me of the arcade games I used to play back in high school. This time there’s no virtual battle to fight, rather a fight against the machine with the reward of clean clothes. I was determined to win.
Now comes the waiting. Some people bring a book or a laptop to while away the almost one-hour wait. One man brought his sleepiness as his head hung on one side, almost falling down from the bench. In my case, I brought my hunger. It was not unplanned though. I already knew what I wanted for dinner. I’ve been hankering for a doener since last week. With 45 minutes to kill, I had time to look for a doener place. My wish was right away granted. Outside the wash salon was a Turkish snack house. I walked a little further to explore my other choices, where there turned out to be none. I backtracked and ordered a Doener dueruem. It wasn’t the best one I’ve had, but as they say in German, hunger is the best cook. I just enjoyed my food, and the TV even if I don’t understand a thing, which has started to show an old Turkish film.
Only eight minutes were left when I went back to the wash salon. An African guy with graying hair was waiting for his laundry to dry. Another young guy who must have been a student was staring at one machine, mesmerised by the spinning motion and the tumbling clothes. Soon they picked up their dry clothes and left, and I put my wet clothes in one of the dryers, did another coin-slot-button routine, and waited some more. A rocker-looking hippie and a couple of ladies in chic gothic were my new company. The rocker-hippie placed his soiled clothes in the machine in a calculated manner. First he held them at two ends, folded them, and laid them in the washing machine like casting a rod to fish. There must be some clothes-washing physics that I might be missing here. By arranging the clothes in such order, the surface area of the clothes exposed to water, detergent, and the tumbling is optimized. I thought it was better to leave him alone before I get into any trouble. A pudgy man soon emerged from one of the few doors inside the wash salon. He didn’t have any clothes to wash with him. He turned out to be the cleaning guy. He mopped the floor wherein a puddle has started to collect, and wiped the machines to take out the coagulated mass that has formed from the fabric and chalk. A few words were spoken. No one among us was a German but it was the default language of choice. The rocker-hippie was looking for a bottle opener for his beer, and the pudgy guy was complaining about broken bottles in the city as he found some on the floor. He went into his room with a keychain bottle opener, and handed it to rocker-hippie. I asked the pudgy guy if he has found anything interesting in any of the dryers he was cleaning. He said there’s none, just loose strands of fabric. Sometimes, there’s a cent or two in the washing machines that were left unchecked in pockets.
I took out my clothes from the dryer. They felt nice and warm as I folded them, yet some were still damp after 24 minutes of tumble-drying. That costed a Euro. Half as much is half as long of drying. I didn’t want to give it another go. I’ll just save my 50 cents, and besides, it was getting late. I still needed to make my way back to my place. I bade my company tschuess! and wondered who will be the next soul to use this hub. It was still wet and a now a little more colder when as I stepped out and left the wash salon.