Hold Your Nose Toilet Shelf on Trial

It's a shock for many visitors to Germany. Open up the pot and you may find a porcelein shelf perfectly placed to intercept your effluent.

Flip open the toilet lid in older German hotels, homes and apartments and you may find yourself confronted with a rather odd porcelain construction: the so-called toilet shelf  perfectly placed to catch whatever may be deposited. The results are predictable. Whereas normally, the excretor, mounted on his throne, is offered proof of success in the form of a satisfying plop, in Germany, the plop is replaced by a perturbing splat. And there the turd stays, high and dry, until flushed away.

It's a design oddity so disturbing that American author Erica Jong saw fit to remark on it in her 1973 erotic novel "Fear of Flying." She writes: "Just go into any German toilet and you'll find a fixture unlike any other in the world. It has a cute little porcelain platform for the shit to fall on so you can inspect it before it whirls off into the watery abyss, and there is, in fact, no water in the toilet until you flush it. As a result German toilets have the strongest shit smell of any toilets anywhere."

Indeed, taking care of your morning business in Germany often involves the type of twisting and turning normally reserved for Chinese contortionists. As you hear that tell-tale thunk of feces on porcelain, you must immediately twist your arm around behind you to push the flush lever. The rapidly rising odors are otherwise instantaneously debilitating. When finished, throw open the window as wide as it will go. If you have to go into the bathroom after someone else, it's a good idea to carry a book of matches or a bottle of air freshener to rid the WC of any unpleasant odors. In lieu of that, there's always a good, World War II gas mask. Head to Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. The souvenir stands are well-stocked.


Editor's note: We spent hours researching the history of German toilets without any luck. But some readers have done their own field work  .

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