Potty Training in Germany

I’ve talked about raising a child in Germany and I’ve talked about toilets. Now these two things have combined as I attempt to potty train in Germany. Give me strength.

Our German potty seat PHOTO: Erin Porter

History of Potty Training in Germany

Germany has an interesting history with potty training and – like so many things – it was done differently in the East than in the West.


East Germany‘s regimented social program included strict guidelines for group potty training. The GDR’s state-run Kitas had children eat together, play together, and poop together. Potty benches are just what they sound like, where several kids at a time would perch together and use the toilet until everyone was done.

It wasn’t just potty training, it was the first steps of socialization into this ideology and required total submission to authority. It was also quite practical as disposable diapers were not widely available.

DDR Museum Krippe Display PHOTO: Erin Porter

In the West, things were much more relaxed as Kommunes and cooperative living were in vogue. Authority was decidedly uncool and boundaries were tested. “Coercive toilet-training” was roundly criticized, along with so many practices of the East.

10 years after reunification in 1999, German criminologist Professor Christian Pfeiffer  went so far as to blame the Eastern potty training for personality faults. He alleged that forced potty training broke a child’s naturally rebellious spirit.

How to Potty Train in Germany

Things have changed a bit since then. Disposable diapers (Windeln) are common and cheap throughout Germany, and Berlin’s parenting elite are big users of Bio, reusable diapers. Elimination communication (EC) has even become trendy.

While researching other people’s experience for this post, I saw several sources parroting that potty training is required to start KiTa. That has not been the case in my experience as my daughter started KiTa at 11 months, and a former GW also stated that wasn’t true for her when she lived near Heidelberg.

However, I do have some advice for potty training in Germany.

  1. Buy a potty chair, or Töpfchen. They come in a variety of styles and themes from many different stores. If there is kids’ stuff, they probably have potties. For some low-priced options, DM and Spielemax are good options. We bought a fancy convertible one that started on the ground, then perched on the toilet. It didn’t perch quite right, so we ended up getting a toilet inset (the one above). The KiTa started us on this journey (like so many others) by simply doing it and then asking us if we were also doing so at home.
  2. Note for those with boys – German males sit down to pee. There are exceptions to the rule, and my American husband will never adapt to native ways, but Germans usually learn to sit to pee and never stand up.
  3. Let that kid run nude – Germans won’t blink an eye. They are generally cool with nudity, especially among children, and this is a good way for kids to figure out what it feels like to pee and poop without a diaper. Be thankful for wood floors.
  4. Take that nude show on the road by allowing them to go clothes free outdoors. Many people time potty training with the spring and summer so kids can go bottomless at the parks…which makes for an unexpected sideshow amongst the greens. We were grilling in our Hof (courtyard) with a bottomless babe beneath her big fluffy dress and an elderly neighbor chuckled when she spotted her bare bum. “So geht es am leichtesten.” (That’s the easiest way to do it) she confirmed.
  5. Buy Slippe (undies) they will like. I stopped just short of the gaudy Frozen underwear I see everywhere, but I did get some with hearts she was really excited about peeing in.
  6. Make a mental list of where there are free toilets in your neighborhood, and everywhere you will be going. Where DM was once your savior with their free diapers, you will now need to catalog public bathrooms that actually have toilet paper and soap.
  7. Proudly tell the Erzieherin your daughter is potty training and be amazed that she comes home in the same clothes for three days…until she doesn’t. Then apologize for the mess (I am still an American after all), and go about removing poo from brand new undies and pants. Also research the word for stain remover (Fleckentferner by the way) in German.
  8. While many US sites I read bragged about the 3-day potty training method, the practice in Germany seems much more subdued, drawn out, and relaxed (like practically every other aspect of raising children here). After we followed the KiTas lead and got her a potty last spring, we slowly experimented with her using it for the past 6 months. Always encouraging, sometimes offering treats to move along stages, and never adding too much pressure. It has taken some time, but I think we are almost there.

German Potty Training Vocab

  • das Badezimmer / das WC / das Klo = Bathroom
  • die Toilette = toilet
  • Toilettenpapier = toilet paper
  • Töpfchen = potty chair
  • Topf = potty
  • Pullern = pee pee
  • Sauber = potty-trained
  • Unterwäsche / Schlüpfer (Slippe) = underwear (undies)
  • Wasche deine Hände = Wash your hands
  • Windeln = diaper