But, they might tell you more than you think, as I found out when I took a photo of this Abdeckung in Meissen.
'Yes, yes, fascinating Andie', you might say, before checking the time and hurrying off. But please bear with me.
Let's just get a closer view:
The manhole cover says 'Made in GDR' on it, so for a start you have a date: this cast iron cover was made when Meißen was part of the GDR (German Democratic Republic), so any time between 1949 and 1990.
Note also that it says 'Made in GDR', not 'hergstellt in der DDR'. Why in English? Well, that goes back to the Merchandise Marks Act passed by the UK Parliament in 1887. This Act stipulated that foreign-made goods should be clearly marked with their country of manufacture in a move to get consumers to patriotically buy British.
This back-fired somewhat, as German goods were considered of better quality and were in high demand. Consequently, German manufacturers proudly stamped 'Made in Germany' on all their products, whether bound for the British market or not.
This practice went on to the present day; if you examine anything in the local Baumarkt, for example, you are sure to see Bosch chainsaws etc. marked 'Made in Germany'. Rammstein even called their greatest hits album by the same appellation. Rammstein also, apparently - though I very much doubt it, 'can't get laid in Germany' (great pun, fun video!)
But why 'Made in GDR' then? That dates back to 1973 and a ruling by the Bundesgerichtshof (the highest court of law in Germany) that the mark 'Made in Germany' didn't distinguish between the two Germanies of the time.
What is surprising though is that anybody thought that Britain, or anywhere outside the Soviet sphere of influence, would want to source their manhole covers from East Germany. But, you never know.
You might also just make out that the manhole cover has stamped on it TGL22741/03. TGL stands for - wait for it - Technische Normen, Gütevorschriften und Lieferbedingungen (Technical Standards, Quality Specifications, and Delivery), which were regulations for the standardisation of manufactured goods to specified dimensions and level of quality of production. A bit like DIN standards are in modern Germany, or ISO worldwide. In particular, TGL22741/03 was the standard for cast-iron mahole covers. So there you go, something else to impress your friends with whilst walking down the streets of Berlin and you see it on a manhole cover.
You can spot DDR drain covers all over East Germany. Here's one from Halle in Saxony-Anhalt for example:
If you get bored with looking out for DDR manhole covers, then their modern-day equivalents can be just as interesting, if not more so. At least you can be reassured what town you are in. Here's a modern manhole cover from Meißen:
And here's one from Waren
And one from Brandenburg an der Havel:
One from Spremberg, in the Lausitz region of Brandenburg:
And one from Erfurt:
This is from Celle, Lower Saxony Niedersachsen
One from Neuruppin in good old Brandenburg:
Another drain cover from Halle, Saxony-Anhalt:
Wernigerode in the Hartz Mountains, Saxony-Anhalt:
Another from Saxony-Anhalt, this time from Halberstadt, with its rather interesting Wolfangel heraldic design (a two-barbed metal bar suspended in trees and baited with flesh to 'angel' for wolves):
Oooh! And here's one from Dresden in Saxony (Sachsen):
And an autumnal drain cover from Bautzen, also in Saxony:
I suppose that I should include one from Berlin too. You can tell it's from Berlin because unlike all the other pristine ones, this manhole cover is surrounded by discarded cigarette butts.
I think I'm starting to get a bit too obsessive now, so I will stop.