Free the toilets!

Berlin needs to fix its undignified public toilet situation.

Declaration of love on a robo-WC on Helmholtzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg.
Declaration of love on a robo-WC on Helmholtzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg.imago/R.Price

Berlin-It's summer and they're back: in the parks, in roadside bushes, next to the playground: scrunched up little balls of toilet paper.

The amount of peeing and pooping in public spaces in Berlin increases with the temperature. It's a miserable use of green space, not just for aesthetic reasons. It's a matter of human rights.

“Human dignity is inviolable. It is the duty of all state authorities to respect and protect it.”

Okay, maybe I'm overdoing by bringing up the first line of the German constitution. Nevertheless, the toilet situation in Berlin - and everywhere in Germany - is undignified.

Berlin's idea of a public toilet.
Berlin's idea of a public toilet.imago
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No, I'm not talking about the shelf toilets that you still see in homes across this country, where one is directly confronted with their excretions. Having previously lived in English-speaking countries, I found this kind of toilet bizarre and slightly traumatising when I first encountered it 20 years ago.

No, I'm talking about the fact that there are hardly any public toilets in Berlin and Germany. And for the ones that there are, you have to pay. Like the Tardis-esque robo-WCs operated by the advertising firm Wall you see around town. Using them is usually a pleasant enough experience. If they're not out of order, you find them in relatively clean condition.

Men free, women €0.50

During your stay, you can enjoy some elevator music and marvel at German technology at work. But the fact that you have to pay for it, even if it's only 50 cents, I find undignified - and just plain stingy on the part of the state. On weekends, long queues of women form in front of the pay toilets - while men pee in the bushes or in the free-of-charge urinals that are part of the new Wall toilets.

This is not what gender equality looks like.

In the mid-19th century, the first public toilets for women were built in London. Until then, women living in Europe's cities rarely ventured further than where family and friends lived. Historians called this the "urine leash", as women could only go as far as their bladders would allow them. Of course, we're further along today. But in 2021, no one should feel compelled to pee or crap behind a bush because they don't have the correct change on them.

Here today, flushed tomorrow

Last year there was a sign of hope near my flat, in the new section of Mauerpark. For some inexplicable reason, a toilet trailer, like the ones you find at festivals, was set up. Here, we were allowed to use a clean toilet and wash our hands for free - as is completely normal in many other world cities. Was this the dawn of a new era in German hygiene history?

In spring, the trailer disappeared without a trace. Sigh.

The situation in autobahn rest stops, train stations, shopping centres, department stores and even in some clubs is similarly dire. Can the luxury department store KaDeWe really not afford a free customer toilet?

Thank god for, which has a map all the free toilets in Berlin, like in the ground floor at the Humboldt University (Unter den Linden) or at the Modulor store on Moritzplatz in Kreuzberg.

Berlin, it's time you joined the civilised world. Free the toilets!

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