On my last blog I promised to tell you all about Berlin’s grocery stores and bathrooms. However, after thinking about it, I realize that I could never fit both subjects into one blog. So I think I will start with the bathrooms first and cover grocery stores in the next one. Besides, those two subjects hardly go well together.
Here, in the States, a public bathroom usually consists of several stalls. You might, or might not, have toilet paper. But if you do, it will be one-ply and thin enough to read the newspaper through. The toilet might, or might not, automatically flush. There will always be a crying baby, the smell of diapers, and someone talking on their cell phone. You can pretty well guarantee trash on the floor – usually shreds of the nearly transparent toilet paper. And it is free. All of it.
In Berlin, you have to pay to go to the bathroom. That is because there is a bathroom attendant sitting in the corner. At the time I went, it cost me a Mark each time I needed to go. If you didn’t have the correct change – bathroom attendants aren’t expected to make change, or, indeed, cooperate in any way – you had to recycle your urine until you got home . . . unless you did like my grandmother and used convenient potholes.
Bathroom attendants were there to make sure there was toilet paper and that the toilet was flushed for their next customer. They kept the bathrooms clean and disinfected. They kept lost items left behind until you showed up to pay them a ransom.
Bathroom attendants came in all shapes and sizes. The bathroom attendant for the woman’s bathroom at the East Berlin Opera House was a middle-aged man in a lab coat. He looked like medical personnel. He was efficient in that way that Germans are known for. Once a stall became free, he was in there with his brush, rag, and spray bottle before the toilet could gurgle into silence. Then, in a nano-second, he was back out and selecting the next patron. I found it somewhat disconcerting to be in the woman’s bathroom and have Dr. TidyBowl yank me out of line and roughly shove me into the stall of his choosing. I was afraid he was going to come in after me and help.
Toilets in Germany are different as well. America has laid-back toilets. . . toilets with plenty of water and bowl. . . toilets with an easy-going flush. German toilet bowls are nothing but dry platforms, rather like altars, that hold your offerings in readiness until you flush. Then a spray hits you like some hygienic pressure washer and darn near lifts you clean off the porcelain. The first time I used one, I thought I had sat on a hand grenade.
Once my mother and I were on an outing with Uschi, my mother’s first cousin. We all had to go to the bathroom very badly, but the only bathroom we could find had coin slots on the stall doors. Put in a coin (1 Mark), turn the handle, and you’re in.
Unfortunately, we only had 1 coin between us. I had 5 Marks in paper money, but the bathroom attendant was nowhere to be seen. So my mother’s cousin inserted the coin and went first. Then she held the unlocked stall door open for my mother to go after her.
Still no bathroom attendant.
Then my turn came. Uschi let me in on her coin – 3 time’s a charm – and the elderly bathroom attendant suddenly showed up. She took the situation in at a glance, and while I was relieving myself, decided to attack my mother and cousin. It was so disconcerting to hear the screaming outburst and the sounds of slapping flesh, I nearly sucked it all back in.
But, alas, I do not have any pictures of a Berlin bathroom. I would probably have had to pay the bathroom attendant to take one. But I have pictures of other things, so I will leave you with a few photos.
The views from a double decker bus:
So, until next time, when I tell you how to offend people by going to the grocery store. . .