After all that tea and coffee drinking, you’re going to be looking for the bathroom, or as they call it here–the WC!
We have experienced a vast range of public toilet options. At cafes there is almost always a decent one to be found; sometimes for free, sometimes for the standard €0.50 fee.
Wait – the standard fee? I have to pay to potty in public?
Yes–almost always*. And sometimes, it’s even more: €0.70 or even €1.00 at the train station (where in return, you get a €0.50 coupon to use at one of the participating train station shops).
But, there are great benefits to paying that we have come to know and almost love, or at least appreciate.
When you pay the fee, you’re paying for the attendant, who is constantly cleaning and restocking toilet paper and paper towels. That’s one major plus. I have never been in a dirty public bathroom, even at grubby train stations.
However the level of paid WC amenities does vary. On the deluxe end, we’ve experienced self-cleaning toilet seats (motorized cleaning). I’ve also recently seen dual stalls for families, where there are 2 toilets in 1 stall — 1 adult-sized toilet for mom and 1 appropriately sized toilet for a kiddo (see green toilet below). This makes so much sense!
Sometimes the bathroom’s designers have fun with the stall doors themselves. A couple times we’ve seen doors that are transparent until you lock them (remember that in Köln, Lori?).
In one of the photos below, there’s a thin strip of red light inside the stall along the door, indicating the door is locked (poorly photographed as mostly white light below). It turned green when the door was unlocked.
We’ve seen all kinds of interesting sinks too, almost always with flattering lighting, hot water, and good soap.
On the low end, there’s only cold water at the sink, and the lighting is not so nice.
Nowhere have we seen stalls that would accommodate a wheelchair.
Some things they all have in common — and I believe would be welcome in the States. For instance, the stalls are larger, have good hooks and/or shelves for your bags, and have floor length walls and doors, and a sturdy tumbler lock, which increases privacy and security.
One thing that would never fly in the States however is that often times the attendant is a male. It is quite disconcerting to walk into the ladies room and see a man cleaning in the stalls. At home you might see a male janitor, but the bathroom would be closed while he cleaned.
Another problem in this system is airflow. The Germans in general could use some tips from us on ventilation, not just in public WCs but residential bathrooms as well. I have yet to see 1 vent in any bathroom. To me this is very strange, as the humidity from bathing builds up and creates mildew and mold on the walls. It would be so easy to install a vent and it seems oddly remiss of the otherwise thorough Germans to not include this. I am constantly opening the widows in our home bathroom–even in winter, to let fresh air in and get the humidity out. But the public bathrooms of course have no windows. As a result, the WCs are very stuffy and even claustrophobic, especially in the hot summer months.
The other thing I’ve noticed is a distinct lack of piped-in music in public WCs. This is common in the States, especially in restaurants.
Still, I’m told the Germans have nothing on the Japanese who take public and private toileting to a whole new level. We do miss our fancy Japanese toilet seats at home in Camas – it’s still a shock to sit on a cold seat in the middle of the night!
Ah, my first-world problems.
So, being out and about often, and owing to having a kiddo who will likely need to pee at an inconvenient time, I have learned to always have small change with me to leave for the attendant.
About those coins: as in other Euro countries there is no €1.00 bill–these only come in coins. There’s a heavier reliance in general in cash (Fass or Bargeld) in Germany, and so it’s normal for people to have a handful of coins (Kleingeld) with them.
(Yes it felt weird taking photos in a public bathroom)
*The toilets are usually free for children; where there are gates or turnstiles that control entry, the attendant will just wave Dashiell around them. Where there is no gate, I ask him to pay anyway, as it gives him experience using money.