Eau de Cologne as a Haunting Matter

As Elizabeth Ettore writes in Autoethnography as Feminist Method, autoethnography means that the author reflects deeply on her actions and describes a ‘plausible journey of transition from “who I was to who I am”‘ (2017: 3). While my current research on the Olfactories of Hygiene is an ongoing journey, I indeed started noticing a kind of sensual re-attunment when it comes to Eau de Cologne. Upon embarking on this project, I readily associated Eau de Cologne, in particular the most classic one, 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser (Original Eau de Cologne, in German), with the older working-class relatives of my adopted mother, especially with Elli, her mother. As I grew up, Elli and her husband Fritz, a gardener, lived in a terraced house in a working-class district of Cologne, an industrial German city on the Rhine. Fritz passed away when I was six years old, but his presence lingered on in the large garden’s fragrant herbs and fruit trees as well as in the winter garden on the back of the house, which was filled with orchids and other flowering plants. In contrast, the house itself had an air of cool austerity to it which I readily associated with Elli.

The author and Elli in her house in 1977.

Elli extensively used 4711 and I suspect that she used it not only on her body and embroidered handkerchiefs to refresh herself, but also mixed it with vinegar to mop the stone floor of the house, which she did at least once a day. The slightly pungent scent of 4711, as ephemeral as it was (and still is), accompanied her as she moved in with us after selling the house. It travelled with us on our way south during summer holidays, with her sitting next to me in the back of the car. Later, when my mom could no longer take care of her, it permeated the room of the nursing home where she spent the last year of her life. This was in the late eighties/early nineties and by then, 4711 had long gone out of style. When in June 2020 I interviewed my uncle, born in 1942, about the role of smell and scents in his life, he noted that when he was young, 4711 was already considered something that only the elderly would use.

Nevertheless, it is still being produced and lately has seen increasing demand, especially in the form of wipes. In April 2020, after I had taken an interest in Eau de Cologne, which was now used as a hand sanitizer in Turkey, I discovered bottles of 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser at the bottom of a shelf in my local drug store. As I took up the blue and golden flacon and sprayed it on my hands, I sensed Elli’s presence almost three decades after she died: Elli mopping the floor in her apron dress with a flower design; Elli holding her scented handkerchief to her nose as we pass by freshly manured fields in the car; Elli sprinkling her temples with 4711 for relief from anxiety or headaches. The scent of a particular part of my childhood had been sitting on that shelf all along and I never noticed!

In Ghostly Matters, Avery F. Gordon writes of mediations that are of a haunting presence. Eau de Cologne and 4711 in particular, I realized, was such a mediating or haunting matter for me, defined by Gordon as a force or structure that ‘appear[s] removed from us [but] make[s] [its] impact felt in everyday life in a way that confounds our analytic separations and confounds the social separations themselves.’ (2008: 19) Scents and odors are paradigmatic haunting matters in that they may evoke memories one was no longer aware of. In the literature, this has been called “The Proust Effect” (Van Campen 2014), referring to an episode described in Proust’s Remembrance of Time Past, where a cake dipped in tea suddenly evokes a strongly affective childhood memory. The olfactory trigger is transported from the olfactory bulb straight to the limbic system of our brain, which is responsible for emotional processing and long-term memory. The sense of olfaction is the only sense linked directly to the limbic system. (Stoddart 1991)

4711 ad alluding to the disinfecting effects of alcohol and essential oils in front of the 4711 House in Cologne

A few days ago, I took my daughter to visit my hometown Cologne where Eau de Cologne –literally, the water of Cologne– has been traded since the late 17th century, with northern Italian tradesmen from Santa Maria Maggiore, especially Giovanni Paolo (de) Feminis and Giovanni Maria Farina, playing a major role (Rosenbohm 1951). Farina created a fragrance that reminded him of a spring morning in Italy, it is claimed, which he obviously missed while making a name for himself in Cologne. As I entered the 4711 flagship store, rebuilt after the war in Cologne’s almost completely demolished inner city, the scent of 4711 enveloped me once again. It emanated from a large fountain in the middle of the room, a reminiscence of the fact that Eau de Cologne, also called aqua mirabilis, miracle water, used to be consumed not just externally, but also internally (like the Plague Waters, which –some claim– have survived in the form of Eau de Cologne).

Sitting in the newly refurbished exhibition hall on the first floor of the building and talking to a fragrance developer of Mäurer & Wirtz, the manufacturer that acquired the 4711 brand in 2006, the pervasive scent of 4711 slowly lost its awe. The fragrance developer told me about the challenge to compose a contemporary 4711 remix series from its seven basic ingredients –bergamot, lemon, orange, neroli, petitgrain, lavender and rosmarin. Her love of the resulting product and indeed, its refreshing and cleansing feel came as a revelation. Like other visitors and employees that I talked to, the fragrance developer was well aware of the common stereotypes and affective aversions triggered by 4711, especially by those born in Germany before the 1980s. The French tour guide who guided us through the exhibition alongside a group of visitors told the story of a four-year-old who never smelled 4711 but when asked about it responded ‘it stinks’. My daughter turns out to be less indoctrinated and happily collects the tiny 3ml glass bottles of 4711 that I suddenly remember playing with as a kid.

Miniature flacons of 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser

‘To be haunted and to write from this location,’ writes Gordon, ‘is not a methodology or a consciousness you can simply adopt or adapt as a set of rules or an identity; it produces its own insights and blindnesses’ (2008: 22). I’m not sure yet what the haunting matter of 4711 Eau de Cologne produces in and around me, but exposing myself to its scent and thus creating new layers of olfactory presence and experience certainly feels like facing ghosts of the past. Elli was certainly haunted herself as a working mother and wife of a rather bohemian plant lover in the conservative post-war period in Western Germany. Her extensive use of 4711 was certainly part of an attempt at self-cure and healing. Like many other women of her generation and social background, she lived the frugal life of a hard-working and, she would have liked me to emphasize, a clean and respectable woman. The luxury promised by more expensive perfumes or fragrances was not just unaffordable, but it was also morally suspect to her. The hygienic freshness and unapologetic presence of 4711 fit well into the world that she created for herself.


Ettore, Elizabeth 2017. Autoethnography as Feminist Method: Sensitising the feminist ‘I’. London, New York: Routledge.

Gordon, Avery F. 2008. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press.

Rosenbohm, Ernst 1951. Kölnisch Wasser. Ein Beitrag zur europäischen Kulturgeschichte. Berlin et al.: Albert Nauck & Co.

Stoddart, D. Michael 1991. The Scented Ape. The biology and culture of human odour. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van Campen, Cretien 2014. The Proust Effect: The Senses as Doorways to Lost Memories. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Surveying Cultures of Hygiene in Germany and Turkey

Between June 8 and July 15, my research assistant İdil Deniz Şakar and I conducted an online survey on the “Cultures of Hygiene in Germany and Turkey,” which has now been completed by 212 respondents. We were overwhelmed by the many positive responses to our survey and would like to summarize some of our findings in the following.

Who completed the survey? More than half of our respondents (59 percent) resided in Turkey, 37 percent in Germany. Due to the fact that we reached many of our respondents from among our (former) students as well as university staff, university graduates were clearly overrepresented, with 63 percent of all respondents holding a university degree. Nevertheless, we succeeded in reaching persons of many different ages with half of our respondents being 40 years of age or older. 76 percent of our respondents described themselves as female, 22 percent as male and two percent as diverse.

Facial masks for sale in a mobile phone shop in Berlin-Neukölln (Photo: C. Liebelt)

Changes in bodily hygiene in Corona times

According to our respondents, everyday bodily practices and hygienic measures have changed dramatically since the global spread of COVID-19: 89,4 percent of all respondents said that their own hygienic everyday measures have increased; in Turkey, this rate was even higher, with 95.2 percent of all respondents saying that their hygienic measures increased. Respondents in both Germany and Turkey stated that they now washed their hand more often, 96 and 96.7 percent respectively. Some of those, who did not, explained that due to the risk of infection they observed physical distance and therefore did not see the need to wash their hands more often. Forms of greeting have likewise changed, with 90.4 percent of all respondents saying that they now refrained from touching other persons’ hands or faces upon greeting them (89.5% in Germany, 91.1% in Turkey).

69 percent of our respondents also used hand sanitizer on a regular basis, with an overwhelming majority of users (96 percent) saying that they now used it more frequently than before. Hand sanitizer was used more frequently in Turkey (by 79.2 percent of respondents) as compared to Germany (52.6 percent). Those who did not use hand sanitizer on a regular basis said they relied on other hygienic measures (72 percent) or avoided hand sanitizer out of concerns about skin damage (38 percent). Others claimed that during the lockdown they had rarely left the house and therefore did not require it. Most respondents in Turkey and Germany, 88.7 and 86.7 percent respectively, regarded washing hands as the more effective hygienic measure. A majority of respondents living in Turkey (56.6 %) also used sanitizing agents to disinfect objects as compared to just 17.5% in Germany.

The greatest differences between our respondents in Germany and Turkey concerned the use of Eau de Cologne. In Turkey, Eau de Cologne (kolonya in Turkish) is widely used as a hand sanitizer and became the quasi-official national cure for dealing with the Corona crisis following the public declaration of Turkey’s Minister of Health that citizens should use kolonya to protect themselves from the Coronavirus. Whereas 90.4% of respondents in Turkey said that they used kolonya, only 9.2 percent of respondents in Germany did so. In contrast to Turkey, where the disinfectant effect of Eau de Cologne was the main reason given for its current use, in Germany, this effect was rarely quoted (if at all known). In Turkey, Eau de Cologne is traditionally offered to guests in a gesture of welcome and hospitality. In Germany, according to our survey, it is rather associated with “traditionalism” and regarded as something used by the elderly or previous generations.

Covid-19 in Turkey and Germany and hygienic measures more generally

As of today (August 4), the official number of COVID-19 cases stands at 233.851 confirmed cases and 5.747 deaths in Turkey and 212.328 confirmed cases and 9.161 deaths in Germany (see the COVID-19 map by the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center). Both countries were among the top ten of countries with the highest number of infections globally at the beginning of the pandemic but managed to eventually “flatten the curve,” starting so-called normalization processes in early May. State measures of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic differed greatly, with the German government imposing lockdown measures that varied between its different federal states and the Turkish government imposing a total curfew for those 65 years of age or older and the chronically ill on March 21, which in early April extended to those under the age of 20. Whereas an overwhelming majority of 98.4 percent of respondents in Turkey agreed with the statement that “the current situation demands substantial hygienic measures, including the sanitization of public buildings and streets,” only 34.2 percent of respondents living in Germany did so. Whereas not a single respondent in Turkey opposed the statement, 42.1 percent of respondents in Germany did. More ethnographic research and data analysis is needed to further explain these and many other findings, including the reservations regarding some hygienic measures in Germany especially, which are most likely linked to the historical connotation of the notion of “hygiene” in Germany and political concerns.

In both Germany and Turkey, our survey finds, respondents’ worries about their own and relatives’ health, their economic, professional and financial situation have increased since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that the pandemic has made visible and/or exacerbated political conflicts and social inequalities, it is perhaps of little surprise that the number of those, who reported “great worries” about the global-political situation in both countries has doubled. At the very end of our survey, we asked respondents how they evaluated the hygienic measures taken up by the state to fight the spread of COVID-19. Here again, there were clear differences between respondents living in Germany and Turkey: respondents in Germany tended to be rather or very satisfied (60.5 percent) with the hygienic measures taken up by the state, as opposed to just 9.2 percent who were unsatisfied. In Turkey, respondents were divided almost equally between those, who were satisfied (27.1 percent) and those who were unsatisfied (33.9 percent), with a relatively large number of respondents choosing not to respond to this question or opting for “neither/nor, I don’t know” (42.4 percent). The many open answers to our question about the reasons for satisfaction or dissatisfaction with state hygienic measures spoke of a great deal of concern and reflection among our respondents. Many expressed their sense of appreciation for often far-reaching hygienic measures, authorities’ lack of control (in Germany) or reluctance to impose lockdown measures (in Turkey) and were concerned about other persons’ irresponsible behaviour.

Trained as a social and cultural anthropologist who believes in qualitative rather than quantitative data and loves to engage in ethnographic research rather than online surveys, for me these outcomes are just the beginning for more thorough research. Nevertheless, they offer many interesting insights into the dealings with the current crisis, the transformation in everyday lives and bodily practices, as well as olfactorial, hygienic and political concerns in Germany and Turkey.

Stay tuned for more findings and research outcomes!

A great thank you to all of those, who participated in the survey!

The smell of Covid-19: notes from Berlin during the lockdown

Shortly before the beginning of the Coronavirus lockdowns, I embarked on a new project on the social and cultural configurations of smell. While originally, I planned to focus on perfuming and deodorising in relation to cultural notions of beauty, what came to the fore in both my everyday life and the scholarly literature that I read, was the smell of hygiene –subsequently giving rise to a new research focus and the name of this blog. In this post, I would like to assemble a few research notes and observations on smell in coronatimes and my changing smellscape, living in Berlin during the Covid-19 lockdown. Does the pandemic smell, and how? What are the olfactorial shifts that I noted? In writing about these things, I also grapple with another question, perhaps the most difficult of all, namely, how to write about and record smell and odours?

Smell is ephemeral and cannot be recorded like sound or vision. Moreover, the language we have to describe smell is rather poor. Reading on the role of smell and odours in medical history and history more generally, as I currently do, I cannot help but think that over the past century or two our capability to detect and articulate odours has become even poorer. Not least, I’m certainly not ‘a nose’ (un nez in French), as they say in the French perfumery industry studied by Bruno Latour for an article published in 2004. That is, like most of us, I’ve never been systematically trained and educated in detecting, articulating or creating odours and scents respectively.

One of the first things that come to my mind when thinking about the relation between smell and Covid-19 is the relation between smell and the virus itself. Thus, a loss or a changed sense of smell is one of the effects of the coronavirus, as noted by the World Health Organisation. Rather late, on May 18, the British NHS officially added the loss or changed sense of smell to its list of coronavirus symptoms. Here, the loss of smell is described as ‘unpleasant,’ though usually ‘not serious;’ nevertheless, the experiences of those suffering from this loss, called anosmia, speak of a serious irritation. The olfactorial power of the virus, however, is twofold: what is less widely known is that the virus also produces a particular kind of smell. While this smell is undetectable for humans, even ‘the noses’ described by Latour, in the past few weeks, dogs trained by researchers at the University of Helsinki have succeeded in sniffing out Covid-19 patients by distinguishing between different urine samples.

Moreover, there are changes in the urban smellscape that are related to the Covid-19 shutdown rather than the virus itself. No longer taking the subway to the university or squeezing into the bus to take my daughter to school in the mornings, my personal everyday smellscape has certainly changed quite dramatically in the past few months. Staying at home most days and keeping physical distance while shopping, I’m hardly ever confronted with the bodily smells of others from close up. Moreover, in the first few weeks, with traffic in the neighbourhood coming almost to a standstill, there was an incredible improvement in the air quality that could not only be heard, but also smelled. Thus, I wonder whether the dramatic change in the urban soundscape during the shutdown –chirping birds, rather than traffic– contributed to a general intensification of attentiveness and sensorial experiences such as the olfactorial, reported by many of my interlocutors and experienced myself?

Blossoming cherry tree along the canal in Treptow donated from Japan in 1990 (photo: C. Liebelt)

The period of shutdowns also coincided with the arrival of spring in Berlin and during April and May, intensive musky and floral scents were carried through the air. Not far from where I live, the 45 cherry trees planted in 1990 along the former border between East and West Berlin by a Japanese TV channel as part of the so-called Sakura Campaign to mark the reunification of Germany started blossoming and I walked there almost daily to indulge in this visual and olfactorial spectacle.

A novel smell that came to dominate the smellscape of our apartment building and indeed, of many public and commercial buildings, is the smell of cleaning and sanitizing agents. In mid-March, in the beginning of the lockdown in Berlin, one of our neighbours used an extensive amount of sanitizing agent to disinfect the staircase and door knobs. Its acid smell continued to waft in the building for days. In the weeks that followed, I heard and smelled a lot of cleaning going on in our neighbours’ apartments. Similar to what has been reported for the epidemics of the 19th and 20th century (as described, for example, in Corbin’s masterful The Foul and the Fragrant) in confronting the pandemic, many of our neighbours obviously resorted to purifying and deodorizing their private spaces.

Newly discovered imported tobacco-scented Eau de Cologne from our Turkish corner shop (photo: C. Liebelt)

Now was the time to take stock of the hand sanitizers that we had at home: there was one in the car, an antiseptic in the bathroom, a couple of Sagrotan® cloths in the medicine cabinet.. To my taste, they all smelled rather horrid. I wondered, will their olfactorial attack on my nose affect my ability to smell? While ‘medical’ disinfectants were sold out almost everywhere, they nevertheless became ubiquitous, especially in their acrid olfactorial presence. Friends, who had rarely ever used hand sanitizers before, now carried them along in their handbags and increasingly used them. Many Turkish friends used traditional Eau de Cologne, rediscovered in Turkey as hand sanitizer due to its high alcohol content. Even my partner acquired a tobacco-scented Eau de Cologne, the classical kolonya used during his teenage years in Istanbul, from our Turkish corner shop. Another friend, whom I met for occasional walks around the block, used lemon-scented spectacle cloths to sanitise her hands. After mid-May, cafés and restaurants, offices, museums, libraries and even swimming pools and sport and fitness clubs reopened, given their so-called ‘hygiene plans’ had been approved by the municipality. Hand sanitizers for employees and customers/ visitors formed an important part of these. Again, I noted that many Turkish-owned cafés and restaurants use scented kolonya instead of ‘medical’ hand sanitizers, creating a different olfactorial atmosphere altogether.

Unbranded hand sanitizer in a restaurant in Berlin-Charlottenburg in mid-May (photo: C. Liebelt)

Now that we enter month four of the Covid-19 lockdown in Berlin, things are slowly returning to a fragile and different kind of normal everyday life. Cars and buses are back in the streets and with them, traffic emissions and exhaust smell. However, the smell of cleaning and sanitizing agents, I suppose, will stay with us for quite another while.

Hand sanitizer offered at the entrance of the municipal library in Berlin-Neukölln; the sign reads ‘Please disinfect your hands’ (photo: C. Liebelt)

Celebrating the Feast of Sweet Smells and Tastes during Corona times

From 23–24 May, Muslims all over the world celebrated Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of four weeks of fasting during the month of Ramadan. In Turkey and the Turkish Muslim diaspora, the holiday is commonly known as Ramazan Bayramı or Şeker Bayramı, the “Feast of Sweets,” due to the fact that upon visiting relatives, friends and neighbours, one is awarded candy, chocolates and other traditional sweets such as Turkish Delight.

While I was able to observe the holiday preparations and visits of neighbouring families in Berlin-Neukölln where I live, a district well-known for its large Turkish diaspora community, I had to resort to virtual ethnography to get a sense of how this year’s holiday was celebrated in Turkey. I am especially interested in the changed role of Eau de Cologne and scents during the holiday. Thus, during bayram, visitors are not only awarded candy, but also –in a traditional gesture of welcome and as a sign of hospitality– Eau de Cologne, called kolonya in Turkish. Its use certainly did change in the past few weeks, as is confirmed by countless twitter postings under the hashtag of #kolonya in recent weeks. As one user, Mine Karakoç expresses on twitter on the evening of the holiday, ‘This holiday, kolonya has a different meaning!’

Due to its disinfectant effect, alcohol-based kolonya has recently assumed the role of a staple in everyday life and subsequently, local demand and prices have been skyrocketing. At the same time, for most people in Turkey, the holiday more generally was celebrated quite differently this year: whereas the Turkish government has so far refrained from stringent Covid-19 lockdowns but resorted to weekend curfews in some provinces as well as movement restriction orders for children and the elderly, shortly before the holiday, it announced a strict and nationwide four-day lockdown.

Buying Eau de Cologne for Eid al-Fitr this year (screenshot from a youtube posting)

In preparation of the feast this year, families obviously still went shopping for candies and Eau de Cologne. However, as this youtube video posting of an urban middle class family shows, the shopping was done with rubber gloves and masks. Left alone at home due to the Covid-19 regulations, the couple’s daughter nevertheless directs her parents’ buying decisions via WhatsApp. Filming his tour through the supermarket with his smart phone, the father disappointedly exclaims: ‘I would have loved to get some nice scents for the holiday, but there’s nothing left. Should we get some lemon kolonya, then? The daughter, via the mother’s smart phone, agrees and he picks one for 14 TL.

Many bayram postings on twitter invoked the celebrations of former times, such as a user named Bihter Fidangül, who posted a Turkish state television spot from 1988 wondering ‘where have the old bayram celebrations gone?’ The spot features holiday greetings from a number of Turkish celebrities as well as a typical bayram scene, with younger family members ritually greeting older relatives by kissing their extended hands and touching their forehead as well as a female host offering candies to a group of seated guests.

In the weeks before the holiday, many producers of fragrances and scents launched advertisements that directly refered to the Covid-19 related changes. For example, the video commercial for Selin Limon Kolonyası, a lemon-scented Eau de Cologne produced by a family firm in Izmir, states:

‘This holiday, in our Eau de Cologne, there’s not only your beloved smell of lemon. This holiday, it also includes the smell of your beloved grandparents and great grandparents, who you cannot go to visit. It also includes the smell of the feast table. It also includes the smell of sweets from your homeland [memleket], where you cannot go. This holiday, our Eau de Cologne includes the scents of our loved ones, the ones we miss and the ones we wait for as well as of upcoming beautiful days. Selin Eau de Cologne wishes a happy holiday to all of Turkey!’

One of many postings on twitter this Eid al-Fitr, combining the seasonal greetings with a picture of bottled Eau de Cologne.

Like many others, journalist Ercan Küçük posts his holiday greetings on twitter (on 24 May 2020, 3:39 pm) alongside a picture of his personal kolonya assortment. Among the 14 bottles of all kinds of styles and sizes sitting on a beige sofa, there are the usual scents, such as lemon, rose and olive flowers, as well as one that I’ve never seen before: hamsi kolonyası, an anchovy-scented Eau de Cologne, produced in the Black Sea town of Trabzon. I wonder what it smells like? Was this part of a panic buying as they have been reported for Turkey in March, or is this rather the effect of missing one’s home region (the Black Sea region is famous for its delicious anchovy dishes)?

Finally, I come across a youtube video of a team of the Turkish Red Crescent, walking through the emptied town of Hakkari, on the Turkish Iraqi border, on a rainy day, offering drops of Eau de Cologne and candy to those they meet outside, mostly soldiers and policemen. These images of colourful candy and Eau de Cologne in an atmosphere of ghostly tristesse and melancholy linger on.

Buying hand sanitizer in my local pharmacy

In mid-May, I enter my local pharmacy in Berlin-Neukölln to buy hand sanitizer. Right next to the cashier a handwritten sign announces the sale of hand sanitizers: 100 ml for 5 EUR, 200 ml for 10 EUR. I ask for a small bottle, telling the pharmacist that hand sanitizers are still unavailable at dm, a large drugstore chain in Germany. The pharmacist tells me that I shouldn’t rely on the hand sanitizer offered there, because they are merely bactericidal, not virucidal. It simply doesn’t affect the coronavirus. In contrast, their hand sanitizer is based on the recommendation of the WHO. I ask about the ingredients and he explains that it is basically alcohol mixed with water; they used propanol to reduce skin dehydration. He explains that in order to be effective and similar to hand-washing, hand sanitizer has to be rubbed until completely absorbed, for about thirty seconds.

I ask when they started producing hand sanitizers? He explains that they used to produce hand sanitizers, but a couple of years ago, due to a change in regulations, were no longer allowed to do so. On March 4, the Federal Office for Chemicals issued a new decree in reaction to the spread of Covid-19, which allowed pharmacies to produce their own hand sanitizers once more. Ever since, this decree has been updated several times and most recently also includes the right to produce surface sanitizers.

In early March, he recounts, they hardly managed to produce and bottle sanitizers in sufficient numbers and even alcohol was increasingly difficult to come by. Indeed, in mid-March, the business magazine Capital reported that breweries and cosmetic firms world-wide started producing hand sanitizers to help ease the shortage.

Throughout March, my local pharmacy sold four items almost exclusively, the pharmacist tells me: Paracetamol, hand sanitizers, gloves, and facial masks. Now things are returning back to normal, the pharmacist says.

Their hand sanitizer comes in a plain white plastic bottle with a printed label on it. The production and expiry dates are hand written: according to the label, mine was produced on April 29, 2020 and is best before April 29, 2021. It has an acrid smell to it.

Katılım Daveti

Korona pandemisi sırasında Türkiye ve Almanya’da Hijyenin Kokusu konulu antropolojik araştırma projemiz için 18- 99 yaş arası, koku, hijyen, dezenfeksyon maddeleri hakkında günlük deneyim, gözlem ve anılarını bizimle paylaşmaya hazır katılımcılar arıyoruz.

Katılım için önkoşul 10 hafta boyunca konu ile ilgili haftalık fotoğraf, yazı yada ses kayıtlarından oluşacak bir günlük tutmayı kabul etmek. Bu veriler E-mail ya da Whatsapp üzerinden, Almanca, Türkçe ya da İngilizce olarak tarafımıza iletilebilir.

Bize gönderilen bilgi ve deneyimlerinizden her hafta bir tanesi derlenip seçilecek ve araştırmanın internet blogunda paylaşacağız.

Elde edilen veriler anonim olarak yayınlanacak ve kişisel veriler kesinlikle bir başkasıyla paylaşılmayacak. Katılımcılara araştırmanın sonuçlarının derlendiği kitabı projenin sonunda teşekkür olarak göndereceğiz.

Araştırma başlamadan önce sizinle yaklaşık 20 dakikalık bir online görüşme yapmak isteriz.

Araştırmamız ilginizi çektiyse, sorularınız ve katılım ayrıntıları için bize cultures_of_hygiene@uni-bayreuth.de adresinden E-mail ile ulaşabilirsiniz.

Proje ile ilgili ayrıntılı bilgi edinmek için internet sitemizi ziyaret edebilirsiniz: https://www.ethnologie.uni-bayreuth.de/de/forschung/forschungsprojekte/liebelt_olfaktorien-der-Hygiene_tuerkisch/index.html

About this project

Taking the use of hand sanitizers during the COVID-19 pandemics in Turkey and Germany as a starting point, this projects seeks to analyze the social, cultural and affective configurations of sanitization, bodily hygiene and smell. Drawing on an online survey, Auto- and virtual ethnography (including video interviews, participant observation in social media) as well as the keeping of diaries by selected research participants, Olfactories of Hygiene seeks to enable a deeper understanding of the bodily sensual and everyday hygienic practices in relation to different public containment measures. Moreover, it will contribute to conceptual debates in the anthropology of the senses and science and technology studies, such as, will post-Pasteurianism (cf. Paxson 2008) receive a setback during the COVID-19 pandemics? In what ways are the notions of hygiene and sanitations related to sensorial affects, or: does sanitized modernity smell, or is it rather odourless? What do the smells of cleaning and disinfecting agents remind us of? How do we relate to and what do we associate with cleanliness and disinfection?

Due to the global outbreak of COVID-19 practices of bodily hygiene, cleanliness and sanitation have achived new meanings in their everyday uses. While in many contexts, medical hand sanitizers were quickly sold out, in some, the disinfectant effect of perfumed alcohol-based Eau de Cologne have been rediscovered: For example, in Turkey, so-called kolonya, traditionally associated with hospitality and used in particular social situations, has assumed new meanings and now stands for a cultural understanding of hygiene and self-conscious self-sufficiency. Since early April, millions of Turkish citizens aged 65 and older have received Eau de Cologne as part of a COVID-19 emergency kit from the government. This has sent output figures and prices of locally produced Eau de Cologne skyrocketing. In Germany, olfactory displays of hygiene and cleanliness function in different ways. While it is here that Eau de Cologne first became popular during the 18th century, more recently, its use has been considered rather old fashioned, a thing one’s grandmother might still use. The hand sanitizers agents increasingly provided in shopping malls and public offices in Germany are commonly non-perfumed or smell of their chloride or alcohol-based ingredients.

The Turkish government’s COVID-19 emergency package containing face masks, Eau de Cologne and a letter from the President sent out to citizens above the age of 65 since April 2020 (photo: İhlas News Agency).

Olfactories of Hygiene aims at studying the everyday practices and multi-sensorial meanings and affects of bodily hygiene, sanitation and smell in relation to cleaning and disinfecting agents during times of rapid societal change. How are bodily hygiene and cleanliness manufactured and what is the role of smell in these processes? How have these practices changed in Germany and Turkey during the COVID-19 pandemic? What kind of affects, emotions and meanings are ascribed to different notions of hygiene and cleanliness? What are the material and immaterial effects on sanitizing practices? In what ways are the Olfactories of Hygiene bound up with intersectional categorizations of age, class, gender and ethnicity? And finally, what are the public politics of hygiene in Turkey and Germany and in what ways are these tied to what could be called olfactorial politics? To sum up, the research project seeks to contribute not only to scholarly debates, but also to highly relevant sociopolitical understandings of everyday olfactorial practices of hygiene.


Heather Paxson 2008. ‘Post-Pasteurian Cultures: The Microbiopolitics of Raw-Milk Cheese in the United States.’ Cultural Anthropology, 23(1): 15–47.

Hand Sanitizers at the University – A Scarce Good

In late April, the president of the University of Bayreuth (in the southern German Free State of Bavaria) sends out an email with the latest Infection Protection Act. In paragraph 7, the universities are asked to guarantee sufficient possibilities for hand washing and sanitizing in their facilities. However, the president writes that the sufficient provision with sanitizer dispensers is a difficult task at the moment due to “the current market situation” and that it will take a few more weeks until the problem will be solved.  

Curious to find out more, I get in touch with the responsible persons at the university’s Department for Acquisition and Inventory Management  and they confirm that they’ve never seen anything like what’s currently happening on the sanitizer market. Lately, many products have simply become unavailable.  

In the current Covid-19 pandemic, hand sanitizer dispensers have become a scarce good © picture alliance/dpa/Daniel Karmann

By the end of February, when the Covid-19 epidemic came increasingly closer, the university ordered 40 dispensers. In early March, they attempted to order additional dispensers, as well as refilling bags, but the provider was even back then unable to provide any and couldn’t quote a delivery date. There are enough supplies of disinfectant agents, which are used for cleaning surfaces at the university, but due to state regulations, these may not be used as hand sanitizers.

Instead, different kinds of hand sanitizer products have been ordered from other firms to refill the available dispensers. These hand sanitizers are based on alcohol and one on chlorine, provided by a firm specialized on the purification of water. When I ask the person responsible for ordering the products about their smell, she laughingly responds that she never even gave a thought to this! In the product data sheets the smells are described as alcoholic and chlorine respectively…

In the meanwhile, the in-house technicians are busy installing the precious forty dispensers where they are most urgently needed. While at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis dispensers were installed more generally across the campus, lately many have been removed and installed in newly reopened facilities. 

Call for Participation

For our project on the Cultures of Hygiene: Practices of bodily hygiene and smell during the COVID-19 pandemics in Germany and Turkey we are looking for participants between 18 and 99 years old, who are willing to share their everyday observations, reflections and memories on the themes of hand sanitizers, smell and hygiene. 

Over a period of ten weeks, participants will keep a thematic diary and, prompted by weekly questions, contribute short texts, photos or voice messages. Contributions can be submitted via email or WhatsApp in English, German or Turkish. Each week one selected contribution will be published on our research blog. All research outcomes will be anonymized, all personal data will be treated confidentially. As a thank-you gesture, all participants will receive a book copy of our project outcomes. 

In preparation of the study, you will be asked to participate in a video briefing, which will take app. 20 minutes.

For more information on the project or for participation, please get in touch with cultures_of_hygiene@uni-bayreuth.de

This research is funded by the German Research Foundation and is part of a Heisenberg-Position on “Gender, Body, Beauty: Transnational Formations of the Self” at the Chair for Social Anthropology, University of Bayreuth (https://www.ethnologie.uni-bayreuth.de/en/team/Liebelt-Claudia/index.php)