Borderlands – the address conundrum

Graham Rhind

In my last blog post External I looked at some of the cultural differences affecting data management on either side of the Dutch/German border. In this post I’d like to explore the German address system in more detail.

A German written address looks much like a Dutch one, except that a German postal code has 5 digits instead of the Dutch 4 digits, a space, then two letters. The German postal code can cover a whole settlement, whereas each Dutch one covers a small number of buildings. Unlike the highly organized building numbering system in The Netherlands, the situation on the ground in Germany has always proved troublesome for me. You don’t have to go to Japan External to find idiosyncratic addressing.

My street address in Germany is

Schloßstraße 14

(or Schlossstrasse 14 if you like esses, or SchloBstraBe 14 if you are my Dutch bank and can’t find the ß on your keyboard, don’t know how to create it when it’s not on the keyboard, and don’t know how to correctly substitute that glyph).

To the left of my house is Schloßstraße 16, as you might expect. On the other side, where I would expect to find number 12, is number 5. Alte Bismarckplatz 5 to be exact. This building has entrances to distinct business units on three streets – why the Alte Bismarckplatz was chosen as its address is a mystery to me. Schloßstraße 12 is some 50 metres further down the hill. Still further down, Schloßstraße 1 is not physically on the Schloßstraße at all – it’s on the Ochtruper Straße.

It may make sense to somebody. To me it’s a confusing mishmash.

A Numbers Game

There seems to be an aversion to high numbers in German addresses. A single building number will often include not only a large number of businesses and residences (running to many tens) but also more than one building. Opposite my house at number 14 is number 3, somewhat puzzlingly located between numbers 7 and 11. Its frontage goes on for about half a kilometer, and it includes a restaurant, several offices, an art gallery, a church, a museum, the residence of a prince and his family, oh, and a castle. The use of sub-building indicators, such as floor, apartment or suite numbers, to distinguish each delivery point, is uncommon in Germany, so each building, business and resident assigned the same number share an identical postal address. Deliveries depend to a much greater degree than in other countries on personal or business names, and these are expected to be clearly displayed.

Bad Bentheim

This is not just an issue local to Bad Bentheim – it is common throughout Germany. Start at one end of the street in most cities looking for number 10, for example, and it’s far more likely to take you 20 minutes to get there than the 2 minutes you might expect.

Apart from guaranteeing jobs for postal deliverers and causing no end of perplexity amongst visitors, this holds serious implications for data management. Many methodologies, such as householding, matching and de-duplication have been developed and honed in one culture, where a single building tends to hold a single person or business entity and, if not, where sub-units can be identified in the address. Attempting to apply these same processes and procedures in places where addresses are formed differently, where several people called “Smit” can have the same address but be completely unrelated, or where many tens of occupants and/or businesses share an address, will clearly not produce the same level of data quality.

What works on one country won’t necessarily work in another. Watch out for those borders – they will affect how you need to tackle data management!

(Original online location External)

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