On the Ledge: German toilets

letzte-februarwoche-004Today, we’re going to talk about toilets in Germany. Again. Now, since I’ve already blogged once for you guys about German attitudes to toilets, you’d be well within your rights to ask whether I’m some kind of faeces-freak: and the answer is no, I’m not crazy about toilets; but the Germans certainly are.

So, you’ve been warned. If you’ve got a weak stomach, you may want to stop reading now. If, however, you don’t want to be surprised and confused when you use a German toilet for the first time, then you might as well sit tight and read on while we, er, plumb the depths of everyday German living.

Not that we’re going that deep. The subject of today’s toilet-related excursion is in fact quite shallow: we’re talking what’s known in waste management as “reverse bowl design”. Reverse bowl design – or, to save my wrists, RBD, is where the toilet bowl contains a ledge onto which faecal matter lands before being swept down into the drain by the flush. Can’t quite imagine it? Never seen one before? Don’t worry, that’s normal.

After all, this toilet shape is unknown in almost every part of the world except Germany and, so I’m told, the neighbouring Netherlands. I’d certainly never come across it before living here, and whenever I get visitors from back in the UK, they always ask the same question after their first trip to our flat’s lovely green porcelain receptacle: “So Brian, tell me: what’s going on with these toilets?”

letzte-februarwoche-005It’s a valid question. For those of us brought up in countries where we, ahem, drop our kids straight off into the pool, it’s quite a shock when we realise that the little blighters are still splashing around in the changing rooms after we leave. Not only a shock, it has a mildly unpleasant fascination: “So that’s what my crap looks like?”

The unpleasant fascination is, in most cases, immediately followed by an even more unpleasant realisation: “My crap really stinks that bad? I mean, I knew I didn’t smell of roses or nothin’, but goddamm!” Don’t worry, it’s not that you’re suddenly very ill and in need of a colonic; the problem is pure physics: when shit doesn’t immediately hit water, it hits the fan and smells monolithically disgusting. For a country that produced Einstein, this is a surprising lapse in basic knowledge that has horrific consequences on a day-to-day level.

Then again, if you talk to Germans about their RBD-toilets, they’ll point out the advantages in that matter-of-fact and direct way that only Germans can manage when talking about excretion. What are these advantages? Well, if you’ve got kids and they’ve swallowed something, you can check their “leavings behind” (this is a loan-translation of one of the best German words for poo: Hinterlassenschaften) to see whether it came back out. Or if you accidentally swallow your wedding ring, you’ll have ample opportunity to search for it. At this stage I would like to briefly point out that my acquaintance does not, to my knowledge, contain international drug runners.

The main reason, however, as far as most of my German friends are concerned, is that you get to have a good look at your faeces before they go down the hatch. “Why would you want to do that?” I ask; the answer is, typically in this country that gave the world Aspirin and the idea of employee health care, “so you can keep an eye on your health.”

letzte-februarwoche-006Now, as a regular consumer both of beetroot and of German delicacies involving pigs’ blood, I’m quite used to slightly abnormal faeces; but I have to say that they have a point. When things really don’t look ship/t-shape, you’re generally ill. I know what my stuff mostly looks like, and when it’s not quite the same as usual, it often tallies with a slight cold or a bit of stress or similar. I can also recognise other afflictions – like hangovers, for example.

Having said that, I could do that back in the UK without having to render the toilet utterly unusable for several hours: you can just feel whether you drank too much or not. You also know when you’ve got a stomach-bug quite well enough without RBD (or, as I like to call it, “the ledge”).

So although I generally salute Germans’ interest in their health – and their no-nonsense relationship with the toilet – this is one area of daily life out here that I’m just not convinced about.

By | 2017-03-21T23:17:40+00:00 February 25th, 2010|General, German Culture, Living in Germany, Lost in Deutschland|23 Comments

About the Author:

Born Londoner Brian Melican studied Modern Foreign Languages at University in the U.K. and, somewhere around the third year of his degree course, realised that the low cost of living (i.e. the price of beer) in Germany would make his idea of being a journalist and writer somewhat easier to execute. Now, he writes and makes videos about life in Germany, both in German and in English. In his spare time, he likes to meet friends and relax, usually over a - yes, you guessed it - nice, frothy German beer. Occasionally, he enjoys other great aspects of German life - galleries, museums, pork products...


  1. Alexander Fallier February 25, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    haha 🙂 Brian – you made my day!

  2. Brian February 25, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Always a pleasure, Al!

  3. Julian Medina February 25, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Just an awesome entry (y)

    i’m in bochum right now, and i always wondered this xD

    thanks also for the new word! (hinterlassenschaften) LOL

  4. Aamir February 25, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Ewww… gross!!!
    By the way, I have not seen any RBD in Munich and Stuttgart. Only encountered it once in Aachen.

  5. Brian February 25, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    @Aamir: What with all the beer and pork knuckles down that way, I should think it only sensible to steer clear of odour-encouraging ledges…

  6. klima servisi February 25, 2010 at 7:48 pm


  7. Morse Lives February 26, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Well observed , in more ways than one.

  8. Brian February 26, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    @Morse Lives : Thanks; although – on the subject of observations – the pictures are a little tame, really, aren’t they? 😉

  9. uberVU - social comments February 26, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by young_germany: YG blogger @melican discovers the fascination of reverse bowl design of German toilets http://ow.ly/1b7Lt #wc #poo…

  10. bayrak March 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing. eine Seite ist entworfen worden, very nice Glückwünsche;)

  11. bayrak March 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing. a site has been designed, very nice congratulations;)

  12. nikki March 2, 2010 at 10:37 am

    heh. love the dropping the kids off at the pool metaphor. 🙂

  13. Twizzle March 6, 2010 at 10:38 pm


    Great writing style, love the post…

  14. Twizzle March 6, 2010 at 11:35 pm


    Excellent content, great read…

  15. Evenlope March 7, 2010 at 4:53 pm


    Superb post, 10 out of 10 from me…

  16. Hehe May 19, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    The reverse toilet design prevents the occurrence of any splash-up which commonly happens when fecal matter plunges into the standing water in standard designs.
    I find sickeningly disgusting the US/UK loos, as splash-up almost completely unavoidable, even if you put a ton of paper in it in advance.

  17. LingLing September 19, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    I agree with Hehe. If I had to choose, I’d probably go for the RBD although I do appreciate the smell-reducing “British” toilet style. It’s not only that you get your wedding ring back without having to go for a dive or being able to detect abnormalities of whatever kind.
    I was living in the UK for some time and I was always sharing flats with people. Due to the fact that the walls there were far from being sound-proof, I always had a hard time “doing my business” because of the audible splashes (might only be me, sort of psychological matter) and I don’t like the splash-ups either.
    Plus you don’t *have* to examine your Hinterlassenschaften on the ledge, just flush, spray and leave ;-).

  18. Anvil! | Bill Chance August 2, 2011 at 5:02 am

    […] shows some talent as a painter. I like his landscapes… but am not a big fan of his study of a German ledge toilet. Lips tries to make as a telemarketer at a shady sunglass company run by a fan of the band, but he […]

  19. Toilets in Austria « My Viennese Adventures January 21, 2012 at 10:40 am

    […] in Austria, and apparently Germany, too, are a different shape to those in other parts of the […]

  20. Eric March 7, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    I always thought the Germans were all about Energy efficiency and the shelf was another novel way to keep the bum warm while sitting on the shitter. Great post, I have echoed my sentiments in a similar manner.

  21. […] whether it’s prudent vomiting or another step in the gastrointestinal cycle, the mechanics of loo etiquette are not to be toyed with. Now I am not one to get into specifics, wait a minute, who am I fooling, […]

  22. Georgia July 9, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Just sharing that we’ve got one of these toilets in Budapest, Hungary. We’re British so it was a bit of a mystery, thanks for the history of the German loo!

  23. :] February 7, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Mmm, a perfect post to send everyone you know as a nice morning breakfast read!

Comments are closed.