Eureka! We’ve done it! We’ve cracked the top-secret code of German curtain terminology. I am not a kiddin’ when I tell you that figuring out how to buy curtains and make them fit our plain old standard windows has been one of the hardest tasks as expats in Germany. Not only have we accomplished the task, but we were able to do so without spending very much money – less than 50 bucks (excluding our plissee project).
When we started curtain shopping in Germany, we had two main goals. First, we wanted to figure out how to make use of the curtains we brought from Switzerland that didn’t have any hardware. Second, we needed to buy new living room curtains, ideally ones that would fit a special ceiling curtain rail the previous tenants left at our new flat.
Searching for inexpensive curtains we liked, I finally lucked out in the clearance section on a website called Bonprix.
For €8.99 apiece, we bought 4 curtains for our biggest windows and sliding glass door in the living room. With a not-too-girly green fern motif, they’re the perfect fit for our living room. As is often the case with clearance items though when you have to take what you can get, the only remaining size was 140 cm high x 245 cm long. Not only is 140 cm not very wide, but 245 cm is ridiculously long. Apparently a standard size in Switzerland and Germany, it seems common for folks to hem them after purchase or pay to have it done.
Once the curtains arrived, they sat on my desk for over a week while I pondered what to do about hemming them. Trav drilled holes and hung the ceiling curtain rails for them, and still, they sat.
Not a total slouch with a sewing machine, I was bummed I couldn’t use the one I’d brought from the US. Though Trav looked into whether it would work in Europe before we moved, he found out afterwards that European current is incompatible with the machine, and the necessary converter costs more than a used BMW.
The entire time we lived in Switzerland, I owned a Swiss-made Bernina sewing machine that we'd paid to ship from the US, despite that it weighs almost as much as a BMW. Then we lugged it to Germany, where it still sits in a corner, unusable.
Luckily, a friend came to the rescue, loaning me her snazzy Singer machine. Grateful for its universal sewing knobs and stitching symbols rather than German-language instructions, I had it up and running in no time. For the better part of an evening, I hemmed our four new fern curtains with a little help from Brisco, my personal assistant on this particular project.
Our last step was just to hang our new curtains.
We had figured out much of the unfamiliar German curtain terminology. We knew that schlaufen and vorhangen ösen, traditional curtains with loops made for a curtain rod, wouldn’t work for the ceiling rail the previous tenants left at our flat. We’d correctly purchased vorhangen kräuselband, special curtains that are made to go with the curtain rail. And we had the final component – innenlaufröllchen. These little plastic hardware with hooks on one end attach to the curtains on one side and rollers on the other to slide in the curtain rail.
Only thing is, the hardware, which we’d bought at IKEA, didn’t fit inside the curtain rail when we tried to hang our hemmed curtains.
Anyone know how to say #$@&%!# in German?
Let’s give it an “Amen!” just for good measure.
At a specialty curtain shop in Göttingen, we bought more innenlaufröllchen that looked almost exactly like the ones from IKEA, but they fit perfectly in our curtain rail. Go figure.
Next I tackled the four older curtains we’d bought in Switzerland. Since I hadn’t had a sewing machine there, we’d creatively jury-rigged them with knots to keep them from dragging on the floor. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.
After hemming, they correctly fit our windows for the first time. Putting the teal set in our bedroom, I made matching window sashes with the material left over from hemming them. Finishing the whole shebang with a €6 basic curtain rod, our bedroom curtains were up.
We hung the last two curtains in the second bedroom, but not over the windows. Using them to divide the room into a guest bedroom and an art studio for me, Trav hung a narrow curtain rail in the middle of the room.
Fully expecting our new roller hardware from the curtain shop to work in this curtain rail (since we bought it at the very same shop), it was just too much to ask. Giving the IKEA rollers a try, they were perfect.
Standardizing innenlaufröllchen – or even better, all curtains in Germany – would likely go a long ways to preserving the sanity of all future expats.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed for them.
As of now, we’re done buying curtains, plissees, or any other kind of window adornment.
We opted not to hang or install anything in the third bedroom since we’ll be advertising for a roommate soon, and they might either have curtains already or prefer to choose their own. If not, we’ll be happy to help them put something up now that we know the difference between rollos and schlaufen, innenlaufröllchen and vorhangen.
Of course, they might be German, in which case we should’ve had them move in weeks ago so they could help us figure out the mysterious world of German Curtain Terminology!
For those who are possibly trying to figure out their own window- covering dilemma, this little list of German curtain terminology might help. Good luck!
- Plissees – Pleated blinds that attach to the edges of the window, require either drilling or ohne bohren (no drilling) assembly, and typically open from the top and bottom, though some only open from one side. We bought some of these and love them!
- Rollos – This cute little word just means blinds, but it could be anything from a basic piece of material you roll down like a projector screen to vertical or horizontal blinds that have alternating opaque and translucent panels that you line up to “close” them.
- Raffrollos – Known as Roman shades, these corded blinds open vertically and lay flat when open. They’re very common in Germany, often with two vertical ribbons on each side that extend through the blinds and can be tied open at any height.
- Jalousien – The equivalent of Venetian blinds, these have to be the most common type of window covering that comes standard in apartments in the US. They’re also available ohne bohren.
- Gardinen – Though a basic word for curtain, I’ve mostly seen this term associated with thin, flowy, often transparent curtains.
- Halbgardinen – Literally “half curtains”, they’re common here in kitchens and often just cover the top or bottom portion of a window.
- Vorhangen – Another word for curtain, these are often made of heavier, more opaque fabric than gardinen.
- Vorhangen ösen (eyelet curtains) – This type is the most similar to old-fashioned curtains in the States, the kind with large metal rings at the top through which you insert a traditional curtain rod.
- Vorhangen kräuselband (“curling” curtains) – These wacky little guys have a ruffled look at the top, attach to linear ceiling rails, and from the room side, the little hooks used to attach them aren’t visible.
- Schlaufen – Curtains that have fabric loops on top that are hung with a traditional curtain rod.
- Gardinenschienen – These linear curtain rails attach to the ceiling and require additional hardware for the curtains. They can have one, two, three, or even four rows of parallel rails in one track for layering curtains or curtain panels.
- Innenlaufröllchen (“indoor rollers”) – Plastic hooks that loop through vorhang kräuselband and then attach to gardinenschienen (curtain rails) with little rollers on the top to slide back and forth.
- Schlaufengleiter – These ingenious little accessories can be used to convert schlaufen (loop curtains) to slide on gardinenschienen (curtain rails) rather than curtain rods. Thanks to this useful forum on Toy Town Germany for that little tidbit of info!