Sleepless in Karlsruhe


The time – 9:30 PM. The place – a quaint little German town near the French border. The mission – Travel to a laundromat and do laundry. The only obstacle, of course, was the German language.

Map of Germany

However, since many Germans are very knowledgeable of the English language nowadays and it is the era of the smartphone, I walked into the waschhaus confident that I would be able to tackle such a trivial chore. As you’ll find, however, I almost went shirtless in Germany.

The first time around, I was fortunate to find a woman who spoke enough English to get me started with one of the smaller washing machines. As you’ll see in the picture, most can hold only 5 kg of clothes, although there was one that held 10 kg and another that held 14kg.

I had enough laundry for one of the bigger machines, but since she was being so kind helping me, and I noticed the other two machines a little too late, I didn’t push it (to not look like a crazy person as well) and took what I could get.

However, this only got half of my laundry done since the laundromat closed soon. I knew then I would have to return but at least I would know how to get a cup of detergent and pay for my clean underwear.

Fast forward to Thursday, November 10th. Determined even more, my hubris led me to try Big Bertha – the 14 kg laundry machine since I had amassed even more laundry to do.


Without any help, I paid to start the machine, I got my cup of detergent, and after putting my clothes in, I looked at the controls and realized they were not the same as the smaller machines’.

“No problem!” I think to myself since most of these have to be a combination of cold, lukewarm, and hot ware. “Sure!” I said to myself as I choose ‘Option 2’ and hit ‘Start’. I sit, and wait, scrolling through the smartphone I should’ve initially used to help me out…..

After the first half hour, I start wondering how much longer this machine would take since it is doing more laundry than the smaller one did.

Surely, it couldn’t be much longer. Another half hour goes by, and I start hoping it isn’t that much longer since the laundromat would close at 11 PM and I still needed to dry my clothes afterwards.

After an hour and a half, I get up to check how much longer the machine has left and I see it displays what time it will be done – 11:30! I couldn’t believe it, so I asked a young German to verify this for me and he said “Yep. That’s messed up!”

washing machine instructions

Except he didn’t say ‘messed’ and I was wondering if I had to leave my wet clothes in the middle of Germany overnight. If I did, would I they still be there in the morning? I had to go to work anyways. What would I do? I praised German engineering as I tried to tug open the washing machine’s door unsuccessfully.

I dial the laundromat owner, explain my dilemma, and he kindly said that I could finish my laundry if I let the security guard know once he shows up to lock up. But what if the security guard doesn’t speak English as well? Or he refuses to let me stay?!? This was turning out to be more nerve wracking than public speaking.

At this time, I hear my washing machine unlatch, indicating that it is done. A birthday miracle! (My birthday was the 16th) I didn’t know how this was possible since it was only 10:30 but I didn’t think twice. I took my wet laundry to the dryer, dried it, and was able to get back to the hotel before the laundromat closed.

When I came back to the states, I told my boss this story and he intuitively wondered if the laundry machine didn’t account for Daylight Savings Time where all clocks went back an hour on November 6th. I laughed thinking about how lucky I was and how such an event could affect even the most trivial of tasks.

As a metrologist in training that week in Germany, I learned as much as I could from my colleagues about gear metrology, but my midnight experience also made me realize something about how we learn outside the workplace.

wenzel outside view

The resources I had at the laundromat were more than enough to help me avoid unnecessary anxiety and stress. I could’ve asked more people if I was doing my laundry correctly the second time, or I could’ve used my cell phone to translate more of the instructions that were right in front of me rather than using it too late to just make a phone call.

For fear of looking silly or thinking I already knew how to do laundry, I decided to forego further assistance and ended up taking a chance that could’ve ended me in a bad situation. Even showing up earlier could’ve avoided my rush to finish washing my clothes.

This thinking extends to our workplace, of course, where taking an extra moment can help us avoid complications. Communication, even with the simplest assignments, isn’t useless, especially when multiple coworkers are involved. It is interesting the number of meetings I’ve found myself in where the more people there were, the less they were willing to share amongst themselves.

There is also something to be said about the differences that can be found between two very similar concepts. I have spent the last three years dealing with CMMs and have recently switched gears to – well – gears! Specifically, gear measurement machines (GMM’s) where I learn something new every day about them yet has recently caused me to do something that hasn’t happened to me in a long time – break a probe!

When in a new environment, we try to adapt in different ways; sometimes by being silent, sometimes by arrogance, but regardless, sometimes we have to solve problems by going back to basics, and we may overlook this in exchange for saving some time or making others content.

As much as I like helping people measure gears, I also have learned to help others help themselves. After all, this is ultimately what makes our jobs easier and more enjoyable in the long run. Avoid this and you may find yourself shopping for new clothes in a different country.

Mariano Marks

Product Specialist – Gear Metrology

ASME GD&T Technologist Certified