Culture in the Toilet – Pt.1, Germany

I had the very good fortune to spend the Summer of 2019 vagabonding around Europe. As an American who had previously traveled mostly within the US, I came to expect toilets everywhere to be pretty much the same. Here in the US, from sea to shining sea, we are one nation with one language and one toilet. In this country, the American Standard porcelain throne is the only thing more ubiquitous than McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola, but things are very different in Europe.

In Europe, if you drive all day, chances are, that the people you talk to at the end of the day will speak a different language than the people you spoke with at breakfast. If, like me, you are an American, you probably won’t understand either of them, but if you did your homework, you will know one sentence in both languages that can save you a lot of embarrassment: “Where is the toilet?” Although every European country has these facilities, the hardware you encounter within them varies widely from country to country. I became rather fascinated by these cultural differences, and documented them carefully. Eventually, I came to realize that the toilets people use speak volumes about the cultures that created them.

In Germany, the most “developed” nation in Europe, I encountered the most advanced, high-tech toilets I have ever seen. Germany’s high-tech toilets are so advanced that most people would rather pee outside behind a bush than use them. I don’t blame them a bit. The first, and perhaps most annoying thing about German toilets, is that you have to pay money to use them, and they have the most convoluted and maddening way of making you pay. I would not have believed it myself, had I not seen it with my own eyes.

First, to enter the facilities, you must pass through a turnstile. A coin-operated machine attached to the turnstile requires you to deposit .70€ (about 85¢ ). That struck me as a pretty hefty fee to use the bathroom at a truck stop on the Autobahn. Also, there’s no such thing as a .70€ coin, so you have to fish around in your pocket for a .50€ coin and a .20€ coin, or three .20€ coins and a .10€ coin, or maybe five .10€ coins and a .20€ coin, or fourteen .5€ coins, or you drop a 1€ coin and hope the thing makes change, before you pee you pants.

Then, once you’ve inserted the proper coins, the machine spits out a little paper receipt. I looked at this little paper square and wondered if it was my allotment of toilet paper. No, instead, the little slip of paper informed me that I could redeem it for “.50€ off” of any purchase made in the establishment that hosts the facility. Of course, after you’ve relieved yourself, and you go shopping to see if you can reclaim your half-Euro, you discover that prices have been jacked-up so high that your “.50€ off” coupon amounts to a less than worthless invitation to throw more of your money down the toilet.

But back to the toilets themselves. The first technological marvel I noticed about German toilets is that they attach to the wall, rather than the floor. They stick out of the wall, like an open drawer, leaving the floor beneath them clear, for easy cleaning, I presume. That struck me as a rather cool, gravity defying, feat of engineering. However, the toilet bowl itself was rather long and shallow, and when I sat down on one of these high-tech German toilets, my penis came to rest on the bottom of the bowl, a sensation I did not much like. I also felt bad for withholding this piece of information from my girlfriend, so I found the whole experience both unpleasant and emotionally distressing.

From my experience with these toilets, I can only assume that German men have smaller than average penises. This would explain a lot, historically, and it would also explain why German men insist on driving over 200kmh on the autobahn. I can think of no other reason why German men would tolerate, let alone design such appliances.

These toilets flushed themselves, like some American toilets I’ve seen, but these German toilets have a robotic arm that emerges from the back of the toilet, holding a sponge, that automatically wipes and disinfects the motorized toilet seat, which rotates 360 degrees beneath it. Unfortunately, the toilet was equipped with no such device to clean and disinfect my penis.

If you had the misfortune of spending almost a buck just to use a urinal, you were in for a real treat, because they had a TV channel just for you. Pee-TV mounted right in front of your face as you stand at the urinal, running a continuous loop commercial for coffee. They show you a steaming hot latte, while a manicured female hand stirs foamy milk into a heart shape. Words like “Ahh…the aroma,” “the taste,” and “the satisfaction of a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee” appear out of the steam. How cruel is that? You just paid almost a buck to empty your bladder, and they use the opportunity to sell you more coffee.

The mirror above the hand-sink also had a TV built into it. This one showed an ad for a travel agency. I can understand the logic of that. By the time you have finished using a German toilet, you wish you were anywhere else in the world. We spent a couple of weeks in Germany, and several of those nights at rest areas and truck stops. I quickly learned that the locals do not use these facilities at all. Instead, they look for clump of trees or bushes, or they go behind a building. Even at public facilities that did not charge money, I saw whole German families heading off to the cover of a few bushes, rather than use the public restroom. That’s the paradox of German culture. The ingenuity of German engineers is only exceeded by the practicality of German people.

Author: john hardin

Artist bio: The writer in me says: “Don’t tell them who you are, show them what you do.” The artist in me says: “It must be strong, simple, bold, yet rich with detail, but above all, original.” The filmmaker in me says: “We need to contextualize your work by weaving the roots of the Psychedelic Revolution, the Environmental Movement, Gaia Theory, Future Primitivism and musical influences from Iannis Xenakis to Bart Hopkin into a narrative that portrays an iconoclast's struggle for cultural relevance from the forested hinterlands of rural Northern California within the greater post-industrial, post-post-modern, post-reality mind-fuck of the 21st Century.” The critic in me says: “Will that guy ever shut up?” The comedian in me says: “It has to make me laugh at least once.” The engineer in me says: “Don’t forget to tell them that you do it all off-grid, with solar power, using recycled materials.” And the improvisational musician in me says: “Cut! Great job everybody!”

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