Q: I recently moved into my house in Germany, and I got a notice on my door that a chimney sweep would be coming the next morning. But I don’t even have a fireplace. What’s up with that?

A: You haven’t made a trip on the way-back machine. There are still plenty of working chimney sweeps in Germany — in fact their services are mandated by law.

Since every home in Germany has some kind of heating system, there is a chimney on every house to rid it of heat exhaust fumes. And any home with a wood burning fireplace also has a chimney.

So the chimney sweep, dressed in black and equipped with a long spiral rod topped by a brush, makes regular visits to ensure there are not remnants in the chimney that might cause a fire.

Recently, chimney sweeps were given the additional task of measuring chimney emissions to ensure clean-air standards are met. If the emission levels are higher than the prescribed standards, the house owner will have to replace the furnace.

Sweeps are appointed by the government and have to follow set standards. They must live in the immediate area, have to check the chimneys at certain intervals and cannot charge more than government policy allows.

“Sweeping” changes, however, are on the horizon. The federal government is considering busting up the “chimney sweep monopoly,” according to local news reports. That would mean that more than 20,000 sweeps in Germany will have to compete for their job orders. The proposal is to open the “sweep districts” to bidders every seven years. For the first time in 70 years, even foreigners will be able to apply for these jobs.

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