Terrifying German Toilets

Nothing when travelling in a foreign country, is ever as daunting as that first trip to the lavatory.

German toilets are among the scariest. You see, on first sight, German toilets masquerade as normal toilets. This creates a false sense of security in the unsuspecting foreign user, who then lifts the lid and finds…. the inspection shelf.

German toilets are modelled back-to-front. Anyone sitting normally on the device cannot aim last night’s digested curry squarely down the hole.  One option would be to straddle the toilet while facing the cistern, however this requires the user to divest all their lower clothing. Obviously the time taken to do this means that the queue of Germans outside the door becomes restless. People start banging and shouting: “Sind Sie immer noch nicht fertig?” in an increasingly hostile manner.

What the locals do is to sit on the seat as though it were a normal toilet … and emit their excrement straight onto the shelf. SPLAT.

The shelf, I am informed, plays a key role in the health of the German nation. The user, on rising from the throne, will inspect (I’m not sure whether with satisfaction, disgust or curiosity) the resting turds and make a note of the consistency, shape, colour and any abnormalities. Once the inspection is over, the toilet will be flushed… and the bowl cleaned as necessary using the brush provided.

The scatological information gleaned from the study of this morning’s dump can be passed on to a member of the medical profession if anything untoward were found (possibly with accompanying photo). Alternatively the experience will form part of the cheery response if any unsuspecting English person is silly enough to enquire after the Teuton’s state of health.

So when in Germany, remember to take your camera to the toilet… and never ever ask a German how they are. Especially when they’re just emerging from the bathroom.


Filed under About Germany, Life in Germany

38 responses to “Terrifying German Toilets

  1. > will inspect (I’m not sure whether with satisfaction, disgust or curiosity)

    All of them. It depends on your performance 🙂

    Great and certain observation

  2. My husband did inquire about the necessicity of the shelf too when he first came here 24 years ago.
    I told him it was probably to boost our room deodorizer industry.

  3. The mystery is solved. Thank you for explaining, so delicately, the purpose of the annoying shelf. There is no end to what I have yet to learn about my new country.

  4. I’m a German and never realized there’s something ‘wrong’ with our toilets.. So, what should a ‘normal’ toilet look like?

    • Ah, now… I’ve learned the vocabulary for this!

      A “normal” toilet is a “Tiefspüler” and a weird scary toilet is a “Flachspüler”. I hope that clarifies everything!

      • oh, just learned the different advantages & disadvantages at wikipedia. hehe
        So, the German (or European) ones might be for your disliking because of the ‘inspection’ (no one really does that!), but it’s far more hygienic, cause you it doesn’t splash and you won’t get in contact with the water.

        Before now I never noticed there are different types, but now I realise that even my parents now have this “Tiefspüler”-type / the American one, whereas I have the other one..

      • Chris

        It’s only more hygienic if you’re used to it and don’t inadvertently brush the deposit with your hands while wiping. I prefer my waste to get as far away from my backside as soon as possible. Splashing can be reduced by laying a little carpet of loo paper intge target zone. Ahem.

      • vanizorc

        @ annejoan: The “tiefspuler” toilets aren’t supposed to cause water to splash up. Unless you’re dropping a watermelon sized turd.

    • Jos Schmoe

      The water should be in the back, and there should not be a shelf, but a much steeper side in front.

      Link ===> https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Toilet_370x580.jpg

  5. Chris

    I remember my grandmother having a particularly scary variety which had not only an inspection shelf, but no cistern. The flush was simply a lever valve in the high-pressure mains pipe. When activated, about 80 litres of freezing cold water would shoot out at high velocity and spray the deposit down the pipe (while generating a poo-flavoured aerosol mist). Oh – and don’t forget the old-fashioned grey bogwipe that seemed to be made out of sugar paper. A damn sight better than UK-style Izal (Londoners may remember “Property of ILEA – now please wash your hands”), but still pretty horrific. Shudder.

  6. I’m not sure about taking a photo of it!

    If something is wrong, then your doctor gives you a small scoop and a tube to put a sample in. It’s easier to scoop some off the shelf than out of the water.

    • In 50+ years I’ve not once had to take a stool sample. I’d wager the experience of the majority of others is similar to mine. So why widely implement a toilet for the .001% of times such a rare need arises?

  7. I call those biffies “flush-n-brush” because that’s what you have to do every time. 🙂

    BTW… in case you haven’t noticed, that one could do with some Ente toilet cleaner and a healthy application of elbow grease. It’s filthy…and on second look, so’s the surrounding tile and cupboard.

  8. Inspection shelf – brilliant! And to think that all this time I’d been calling it a Presentation Bowl…

  9. Jul

    I am so so happy that the toilets in our apartment contain no such shelves.

  10. Mairead

    …I was told it was to specifically inspect for various types on worms which one could host from eating pork…..
    Imagine what fun Gillian McKeith[of “You are what you eat” fame] could have with this loo!

    • Stevelittleboy

      subject of intense fascination for the schoolboy disposition-something to boast about, excellent social glue, subject to dine out on!

  11. Oh god. These toilets. I am but a weak-nerved Australian, raised with toilets that seek to whisk away all excrement as rapidly and invisibly as possible. Nothing in my background has prepared me to deal with the quantity & intensity of information that these German toilets are determined to deliver to me about the daily state of my innards. /shudder.

  12. lejupp

    Ah, the dreaded German shelf toilet. Inevitable staple of expat blogs since… (…well, when did blogging become popular?). Anyway, are these even made anymore?

  13. Jasmin

    I neeeeever released that….
    I would not even think about toilets 😀 but now that you mention it. Its uhhhm interesting.

  14. Sine

    LOL, thank you SO much for this post, it made my day. Being German myself I never realized that this is a thing so unique to Germany. In fact, we certainly didn’t have a name for it growing up. Rather, we found foreign toilets much more disgusting, like those squat holes on our annual vacation in France, or even the regular toilets WITHOUT shelf where everything splashes you when it drops in. Just think – no splash with an inspection shelf!

    And now I can’t wait for that Kehrwoche post…

  15. sarah

    An excellent piece of er, investigative, journalism. As an aside, my German partner has long countered my diatribes about the shelf with the question: “Sure we look at it, but at least we don’t put it on a water carousel and watch it spin round and round before it disapears, like the Americans do.”

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  17. MrProzaic

    I am in the US Army presently serving in Kosovo. It is a near inevitability that the German toilet experience come up when we share stories of our assignments to Deutchland. Topics included air fresheners (I prefer to strike a match), different approaches to the “leaner”, the ill-advised “courtesy flush”, inappropriate water pressure, and how clean can that brush handle be after all.
    In the end, I point out that any indoor plumbing is better than the alternative, and we get back to Octoberfest stories.


  18. K. O.

    I was stationed in Germany for three years while in the American Army. I thought the toilet was efficient and good. In the barracks and the apartment that I lived in (in Hessdorf by Erlangen) we did not have tanks that held the water. There was a valve shut-off on the pipe coming out of the wall. You pressed and held until your flush was complete. I never had a problem in the full three years that I was at Herzo Base or Hessdorf.


  19. Sine

    It’s been a little while, but since you inspired a recent blog post of mine, The Expat Toilet (http://www.joburgexpat.com/2013/01/the-expat-toilet.html) I felt like I should quote yours there. Go check it out:-)

  20. I would call this a “look at what you did” toilet.

  21. DennisM

    Because not only German toilets have the “trophy shelf,” but also older Austrian, Czech, Dutch and Polish ones too, Mary Roach – in her entertaining and educational book GULP – concludes that these “sausage nations” had them because prewar pork products caused regular outbreaks of intestinal worms. I think that as Trichinosis declined other applications developed.

  22. KT

    I thought northern europeans had a much more matter-of-act attitude to bodily functions and the body itself (nudity, sex etc) and the shelf’s part and parcel of that no? Smelly though..

  23. Nan

    “Ich muss on the shelf Ein plop geputten”. These toilets used to freak me out until I discovered the “squat over a hole” in Sri lanka

  24. Bootlebarth

    The inspection shelf toilet can also be found in Hungary. I once ‘laid a cable’ in Budapest so sticky and massive that resisted half a dozen attempts to flush it away. In the end I had to push it down the hole, protecting my fingers with multiple layers of bog roll.

  25. Fred

    I have lived a life of toilets without shelves, and have not once been splashed by toilet water. It is not a normal thing to happen. I worry about these German diets that result in the ejection of such broad stools with so much velocity.

  26. dutch west

    I grew up with “the shelf” and never saw it as a problem. I also have quickly raised myself on an U.S. toilet hoping to outwit the coming splash. However one may think about these two options, there is also the French squatting hole and, worse, the Indian toilets. Indians ONLY eat with their right hand and there is a reason for this: no paper is used for toilet duty as one does have (usually) a left hand…..

  27. Van

    LOL…oh the Germans

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