The Unexpected Sleeping Adjustment Tourists Visiting Germany May Need To Make

Imagine it's evening and you've just arrived in Germany after a long transatlantic flight, ready to kick off your European adventure. You've experienced the thrill of the speed-limitless autobahn on your way from the airport, admired Berlin's hip and budget-friendly neighborhoods, and prepared yourself for the renowned German motto "ordnung muss sein" (there must be order), all while fighting off jet lag. As you finally check into your hotel, anticipating a cozy room to rest in, you notice something unusual. Two single beds placed together to create a double bed — slightly odd, but manageable. Separate duvets on each side — peculiar, yet practical for avoiding midnight blanket wars. But one unexpected sleeping adjustment foreigners need to make when visiting Germany remains unforgivable: their pillows.


What do pillows look like where you live? #berlin #germany #cultureshock #livingabroad #lifeingermany

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German pillows take on a strange shape to most international visitors: They are square, and although this might not seem decoratively odd, in the context of a bed pillow, it most certainly is. But this isn't the most infuriating; what confuses people the most is the size of these pillows. Compared to the standard American pillow, 20 inches by 26 inches, German pillows measure 31 inches by 31 inches. While many people find the large, square shape of German pillows annoying, others also complain that they are too soft. Filled with down and feathers, these pillows feel like laying on a winter jacket. The history of these soft German pillows dates back to the 18th century, inspired by the Romans and their trend of "soft" feather-filled pillows. 

How does a German pillow work?

Many struggle with figuring out how to use these pillows without waking up in the middle of the night. If you use it like a normal pillow, most of the feathers end up above your head, leaving your head flat and basically resting on the mattress. Also, resting your head in the center puts half the pillow under your shoulders, creating a recipe for a spinal disaster by the morning, exacerbating the back pain from your long-haul flight. Folding it several times to achieve a familiar shape and firmness seems like a good solution, but as you move during the night, so does the pillow, undoing all your efforts.

So, how should the pillow be used? German Reddit users try to explain, showcasing their knack for precision. One user advises grabbing the top two corners and shaking the pillow up and down to fluff it, then repeating with the bottom two corners. Lay the pillow flat, grab each side about 30% of the way from the bottom, and fold the bottom third underneath. Finally, lean it at a slight 45-degree angle against your headrest.

Others defend the pillow as an instrument of comfort not just for your head but for your entire body, designed to be molded, cuddled, and crumpled to your liking. This perspective is supported by Juliane Hedderich, managing director of the Association of the German Down and Feather Industry, who believes the same (per The Wall Street Journal). No wonder its German name is "knautschkissen" — aka, crumple pillows.

Pros, cons, and alternatives to the crumple pillow

These troublesome pillows are not part of an elaborate scheme to keep foreigners out of Germany, and it's not because Germans have broader, flatter heads — crumple pillows are simply an attempt to accommodate all kinds of sleepers. For example, belly sleepers need a flatter, moldable pillow that supports the head, shoulders, and neck. Side sleepers can use a crumple pillow to cuddle and align their spine, while the Germans who are back sleepers require minimal support, focusing mainly on the neck.

Ultimately, sleeping on a good pillow will improve your posture and enhance your sleep quality, leading to a better you and a better day ahead. Poor sleep is the last thing anyone wants while traveling, as it can lower your immune system and cause irritability at a time when you need all your energy. However, in a hotel, pillows are pre-selected, and unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all. The best pillow will always be unique to your body shape, mattress, and sleep style.

Trying to sleep the German way often hasn't worked for many foreigners, leading to disturbed sleep. To improve your sleep experience, anecdotal advice suggests that bringing your own pillow or purchasing a familiar shape in Germany is your best bet. If you do bring your own, you'll never forget your pillow at a hotel again with this genius hack. Sleep makes up almost one-third of our day, and being adequately rested is essential to fully enjoying your trip to Germany.