German toilets and Bremsstreifen shitstains

The squat‘n’squit holes-in-the-ground of French beaches grossed me out. Méxican plumbing being too weak to flush toilet paper left me apologizing to my Airbnb host and running to the store to buy a plunger. But Germany threw the ultimate curveball: on the one day of my life I’ve thus far spent in the fine city of Magdeburg, I lifted the lid and found myself face-to-face with a lay-and-display shelf.


That’s right. In Germany, your kids don’t get dropped off at the pool. They get left at the top of a cliff. I took a picture, sat down to (nervously) drop some bars, and posted the photo to /r/whatisthisthing. Within minutes, an enlightened soul had chimed in telling me that the shelf was for faecal inspection. How about that! A stranger on the Internet identified something while I was pooping on it.

Indeed, the shelf is there to grab your grub, making it easier to take medical stool samples or use a color swatch to identify whether the shade of your shit is in vogue.

Another commenter posed the important question, “does the shelf get stained brown, and do I need to spray it with non-stick cooking oil?” Someone replied that the porcelain is almost always smooth and moist enough to carry the bricks around the bend, but if a toilet is getting a little old and its enamel is wearing away, yes, the stains appear. There’s even a slang word for them: Bremsstreifen. German for ‘brake marks’.

Yet another user suggested laying down toilet paper to reduce friction, like a magic carpet for crap.

Shelved toilets also use way less water. The classic splash‘n’dash design unleashes a tidal wave of two or three gallons — roughly seven to 12 liters — every flush. That’s why Walmart in Florida is full of people shitting on the floor during drought season. German toilets, meanwhile, just need a quick motivational one-on-one with your dumps to get ‘em making the leap to the sewer. Those brave little turtleheads.

Germans are a very environmentally-conscious people, in part due to high energy costs in Europe. They even pioneered the button-within-a-button mechanism that’s become moderately commonplace worldwide. Press the big button to activate a full flush, or press the smaller button embedded within it to lessen the intensity. Small button for #1s, large button for #2s.

Yes, the defecation station smells kinda funky, but you don’t get that awful butt-drenching splashback, and you can stick a little flag in one of your logs to claim the toilet shelf as your territory.