German pillows are a crime against sleep

How does this make any kind of sense?

How big is your head?

I’m not suggesting you know its exact circumference in centimetres, but you do have an idea of how much space it takes up, right?

I don’t think this is the case for German people. How else would you explain their pillows?

The sleep-deprived foreigner has two choice of pillow here in Germany, and each is terrible in its own way.

The most common type is the pointlessly huge square pillow: 80cmx80cm and pathetically thin. I hate them.

I’ve devoted a considerable amount of time to thinking about those giant square pillows but I confess I’m completely unable to imagine how you’re supposed to sleep on it.

Prop one under your head like a normal pillow and you’ll find 70% lying there uselessly with no head resting on it. That method can’t be right. Not unless German efficiency is a myth.

Try sleeping with your head in the middle and you’ll find half the pillow wedged beneath your shoulders, completely defeating a pillow’s purpose (Hint: it’s supposed to prop up your head).

The only hope you have of transforming a giant square wafer into the thickness of a normal pillow is to fold it up 83 times — and good luck keeping it that way all night.

No, these things are the world’s worst pillow, second only to the wooden blocks the Japanese slept on in the Warring States period.

There is another option in Germany, a sort of 40cm x 80cm rectangular half pillow. It does fit beneath your melon without elevating your shoulders, but given that it deflates to the thickness of a handkerchief the moment you ‘rest’ your head on it, it’s hardly an improvement.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Here’s a random sample of expats on the ToyTownGermany forum:

Pillows in Germany are cr*p. Huge bags of nothing. Don’t expect any support for you head from them.” – Sleepless in Munich

The pillows here are horrible. It’s a top 10 ‘most hated differences’ for me.” – Dolfan

i would buy pillows before coming here, they are sometimes bigger but they are not nearly as fluffy. i hate them actually” – Fromageball

Why on earth are the German pillows so big!! I like the idea mentioned by Osmacher that they’re designed for sleeping cats, but somehow I don’t think that explains it.” – ValleyGirl

Technique for using German pillows successfully is to buy four (4), roll them up very tightly and then insert them carefully side by side into a normal size UK/US pillow case.” – Thetrotter

I see lidl are selling a myriad of poxy square pillows next week so i typed “what the fuck are you supposed to do with square pillows” into google, and came to this thread. After 13 years in Germany, I still don’t know how or why they have square pillows.” – Exquitius

I am still searching for the perfect pillow.” – Marshal

Sadly, they don’t even seem to be benefitting the Germans.

A 2012 article in the Frankfurter Rundschau daily reported that young Germans are not getting enough sleep. In a survey of almost 9,000 people aged between 16 and 25, more than half said they didn’t feel rested during the day, and 70 percent told researchers they would like to sleep more.

I think we know why.

Only a giraffe could use one of those square sleep thieves without suffering acute spinal discomfort.

The German pillow experience feels like this

Believe it or not, the beds are even worse.

Here’s a word of warning for you if you’re traveling to Germany: you will not end up with the bed you thought you reserved.

What at first glance appears to be a big bed for two people will in fact be two single beds shoved together.

You won’t be sharing a blanket, either. Instead, you’ll find two single duvets folded on top of it, one for each person.

I suspect this is a holdover from Puritan times when sex was for procreation rather than recreation, and even then, enjoying it remained a borderline sin.

“Celibacy for rent” – a random Air BnB photo

You can thank Martin Luther for this bedroom travesty. When he wasn’t nailing things to church doors, he certainly wasn’t nailing the missus.

Two-beds-shoved-together is a step away from separate rooms, or the single beds couples used to sleep on in 1950’s sitcoms. It’s impossible to spoon, cuddle, or otherwise boink on them — at least, not with any comfort.

Should you desire to meet in the middle, one person is doomed to fall into the cavern between mattresses. And those two single duvets will inevitably separate during the night as gravity draws them to the floor on either side, leaving you with a very cold bare bum.

It’s no wonder birthrates are falling here. You either have to cram together on one single mattress, or invite one another over for a bit of fun before retiring to your separate mattress for the night.

Anyway, to quote Rick Springfield, the point is probably moot. Your humble narrator is not the sort of person to put up with that for very long.

I bought the biggest bed I could find at Ikea — roughly the equivalent of king sized — and used the sheets and duvet I’d brought from Malta.

And I bought a proper pillow in Canada the next time I visited home. I put it in the dry bag I use for my sleeping bag when camping. That way I could squish all the air out so it fit in one side of my suitcase, leaving plenty of space for Irish tea and Wiser’s rye.

Score: Germans, zero. Murd for the win.

In the next blog in this series on culture clashes, I’ll tell you why I should have brought some medicine back with me, too.

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • Dear Ryan:
    I TOTALLY agree with what you wrote! They don´t make sense….the pillows and the separate- think LUCY AND RICKY RICARDO!-beds. My American friends living in Germany KNOW what to give me for my birthday or Xmas…LOL..PILLOWS!
    Just last week, I had to buy an emergency pillow at Ikea..well the only one I could find ( you know Ikea, and its self-service)was an 80×80…I bought it and now -FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 18 years I own such a horror-,I can use the 80×80 pillowcases(that I obviously get when buying bed sets here) in full display- my cleaning lady showed me a trick on how to fold them to adjust to NORMAL pillows but I definitely lose some of the nice patterns when folding them! I only have the new 80×80 pillow with my pretty pillowcase -that I already had-as decoration, I´m not sleeping with such an enormous pillow…because of all the discomfort you mentioned!
    But it is totally worth living in Europe! Especially the south of Germany, so many countries (highway rather than flying) are just hours away!

    • Emma,

      I’m so sorry necessity has cursed you with this vast expanse of feathered uselessness. We’re fortunate that medical insurance here includes acute spinal disorders, because a night spent on an 80×80 is sure to cause one. On the other hand, you never have to worry about oversleeping. Morning can’t come quickly enough.

      • “I’ve devoted a considerable amount of time to thinking about those giant square pillows but I confess I’m completely unable to imagine how you’re supposed to sleep on it.”

        You are an extremely ignorant individual… but it appears you’re not on your own.

        Because you, and others don’t get it, does not mean the mechanics of the pillow doesn’t work.

        The pillow you describe is adjustable… By taking two corners, lift to eye level, tap the bottom two corners on the bed while holding the top two corners, and then fold over the slack… The pillow is then puffed up, and contents locked in, and can be adjusted to one’s liking.

        You should refrain from posting any further unthinking emotionally driven ideas.

        No charge!

        • Dear Mr. Hacker,

          Your angry defensiveness reveals a person who knows deep down inside that the pillow he champions is entirely unfit for purpose. Or perhaps you’re simply grouchy from lack of sleep?

          I fail to see how this oversized puffball will stay in your ideal position throughout a normal night no matter how diligently it is folded. The stuffing is also inferior. It compresses to a slim wafer the moment weight is applied.

          I admire German design in so many areas. Unfortunately, the pillows are a failure.


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