Disclaimer: This post – as indicated in the title – is about toilets. Though there are no stories detailing dirty business, it is implied. If you prefer more heart-warming topics, why not consider my posts about my favorite Berliner and having a baby in Germany.
Today is Rosenmontag (Rose Monday of Fasching/Karneval) which means there will be much drunken celebration, parading and some toilet hugging for those that overindulge. Is that a roundabout way to acknowledge the holiday and write about what I really want to talk about? Yes. Just go with me here.
As heathen Berlin doesn’t do much to recognize the Catholic holiday I have no first-hand knowledge of Karneval – but I do know toilets. Or “die Toilette“ auf Deutsch. I use one every day and have sampled facilities across Germany. I would consider myself an expert.
The reason toilets and my expertise is on my mind is that I just returned from the States and have a new-found appreciation for German commode engineering. During my time in the USA, I was personally responsible for clogging up two different toilets. As I struggled to locate a plunger and pumped away, trying to clear the stoppage, I had time to ponder differences in American and German toilets and realize that I have never had a German toilet clog.
I haven’t always felt this way. Upon opening my first German lid I was alarmed by two things – the lack of water and what appeared to be a shelf we’ve lovingly come to call the “lay-and-display”. Let me explain…
Where’s the Water?
I never thought about toilet water before leaving the US of A. But the lack of water in German toilets had me re-considering American toilets’ exuberant flow. On average, US toilets use two to three gallons of water for each flush. Two to three gallons (or 7.5 to 11.3 liters)!
Germans have a necessary obsession with energy usage and efficiency as energy costs are much higher in Europe. The extravagance of extra water literally equates to flushing money down the toilet. This is also more environmentally friendly which is sure to make any German happy.
To further facilitate saving water, there are usually two buttons to start the flow – one smaller embedded button for less water for number one and a larger push button for more water for number two. Unlike those jokes of low-flow toilets I’ve encountered in the States, most Germans toilets feature impressive suction despite the low water levels.
While I was back in the States the overabundance of water felt positively decadent. And splashy. I am shocked to say that I am a German convert on this issue.
German Toilet Shelf
More shocking than the lack of water is the presence of a shelf in many toilets. I can hear you asking, “A shelf?! Like to put things on?”. My answer is yes, a shelf inside your toilet to put something very specific on. BM. Caca. A #2. Scheiße.
What I came to know as the “lay-and-display” German toilet model has horrified and scarred many an expat or traveler. Instead of excretions making the plunge straight into the water, this toilet has a prominent shelf midway to catch everything.
The natural questions is why, oh why!, would Germans create this? And Germans have a practical, disgusting answer. I m told that the shelf is indeed to catch one’s leavings for examination. I have even heard this is for easy stool sample collection. How many stool samples is the average German taking?
The obvious downside (besides smell) is how to get the poo all the way down. A good German toilet has turbo suction that whisks away the offending object, but you may be left with Bremsstreifen (skid marks). After some experimentation and chatting with other “lay-and-display” survivors, I have heard of several solutions.
- Pre-flush – A delicate matter of timing can theoretically lube up the bowl with water just as you send down your offerings.
- Lay down extra paper – Another preparatory measure, laying down a little nest of toilet paper can possibly help ease the transition of the poo into the water below.
- Scoot forward – This requires some real maneuvering to aim forward to miss the shelf entirely.
- Toilet brush – The most common solution is to just clean up the mess. The omnipresent toilet brush can be found beside any toilet bowl in a residence, hotel room or at a restaurant. If you do leave a mark in a public place it is expected you clean it up.
Obviously this is a rather large flaw for those of us not interested in examining our leavings. But as I mentioned before, somewhere in the mysteries of low water/high shelf I have yet to come across a toilet that has jammed. Maybe I’m just lucky, but after spending even a small portion of my vacation with plunger in hand I am giving it up to the German toilet. I’ll trade a plunger for a brush any day.
So there you have it – the amazing and horrifying German toilet. What toilets have you found on your travels? Ever had a clog? Any tips to share?