Music should be played in every public toilet

Toilet and toilet cultural history The career of the quiet place


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Everyone uses it and yet one doesn't like to talk about it: the toilet. But it wasn't always as quiet as it has become around the village. At times, going to the public toilet was even a social event. The history of the toilet reveals a lot about humanity.

Status: 20.11.2020 | archive

When archaeologists search for the remains of bygone cultures in the dust, they do not always come across valuable jewelry or sophisticated weapons, sometimes they just find a toilet. After all, thanks to grave researchers, we know that our toilet has ancestors that are thousands of years old. Finds from Scotland show that there must have been toilets on the British Isles 5,000 years ago. The Sumerians in Iraq today are said to have already had flush toilets. And the ancient Indians, Egyptians and Cretans are said to have been very clean too.

Romans built toilets with style

Public lavatory in ancient Rome

The high culture of the toilet prevailed in ancient Rome. While the average Roman home was rather simple - the toilet consisted of a barrel into which the residents dumped the contents of their chamber pots - the wealthy even had real private toilets. Most people, however, used the public latrines, which were quite sociable. The hygiene facilities without partition walls and privacy offered space for 50 to 60 people, so it was easy to get into conversation. Above all, the magnificent Roman latrines with mosaics, underfloor heating, ornate columns and marble seats invited to linger and chat. At the same time, one relieved himself of the need, which in the best case flowed into a moat and from there directly into the Cloaca Maxima, the large sewer.

However, the Roman latrines did not cause fewer diseases - on the contrary, said the anthropologist Piers Mitchell from the University of Cambridge in January 2016: Mitchell examined the fossils found in ancient communal toilets. He found remains of lice, fleas, ticks and intestinal parasites such as the fish tapeworm. Mitchell suspects that in many public latrines the water was rarely changed and a thick layer of mud formed. To prevent them from overflowing, they had to be dug up. The dirt ended up in the fields, the parasites on the crops and back on the markets. Pathogens spread throughout the Roman Empire via the germ-throwing toilet.

"Compared to the Middle Ages, however, the Roman Empire was a haven of hygiene."

Karl-Wilhelm Weber, historian, University of Wuppertal

A little history of toilet paper

In the past and now annoying in an emergency: an empty toilet roll

The Romans used their fingers and later a stick to which a small sponge was attached. In the Middle Ages, scraps of canvas, straw or leaves were often used. The sister of the French Sun King reached for sheep's wool. Newspapers were not used for wiping until later. The first commercially available toilet paper did not appear until the end of the 19th century. In the 20s of the 20th century it became a branded product. The paper became lighter and got a guaranteed number of sheets.

In the Middle Ages, toilet culture was no longer there

Medieval bedchamber of the Salzburg Fortress Hohensalzburg with private toilet

With the collapse of the Roman Empire, the more upscale toilet culture was gone. In the Middle Ages, people had better things to do than take care of their hygiene. The people put back into the chamber pot, which they emptied with impunity in the street. Anyone who went for a walk at night hired a companion who went ahead and warned loudly about stinking piles. After all, around 1500 in Munich it was decreed that everyone had to remove their dung from the street on the same day. Public toilets were few and far between, only in London, Basel and Frankfurt am Main there should have been a few. Private toilets were even rarer. The city of Nuremberg even reprimanded the painter Albrecht Dürer for secretly installing a toilet in his kitchen. As a famous citizen of the city, however, he was generously waived the fine for the structural offense.

Poop under the black cloak

You had to protect yourself ...

Those who couldn't go to the loo at home, like Dürer, were happy to use human "Dixi toilets". In Edinburgh, Scotland, but also in Frankfurt am Main, at the end of the 18th century, men and women with long cloaks are said to have offered passers-by to slip under their coats for their business. There, the "mobile transfer providers" usually had a bucket ready for their customers. The castle residents also behaved reasonably discreetly in their business. They retired to a toilet niche by the castle wall, through which the poop fell into the moat.

The toilet culture did not really improve in modern times either. Not only did the common people sit in the fields or in the stables to relieve themselves, the nobility had hardly learned anything either. There were 2,000 rooms at the court of Louis XIV in Versailles, but only one built-in toilet. Instead, poop stools were used, on which the king would even sit unabashedly at receptions. At pompous celebrations with many thousands of visitors, the guests relieved themselves in the castle park. Plastic bags, as they are now available for dogs in almost every public park, were unfortunately not yet invented at the time.

British poet invented modern loo

Wilhelm I's toilet is measured

It was only later that the practical invention of Sir John Harington was remembered again. The British poet had invented the water closet in 1596, but had met with incomprehension from his compatriots. And that although he had written a book with the exact instructions for his invention. It was not until almost 200 years later, in 1775, that the English inventor Alexander Cummings applied for a patent for a water closet. We have Cummings to thank not only for the water flushing, but also for the double-curved drain pipe, the siphon. This also solved the odor problem. It was not until the 1860s, however, before houses with such toilets were built in Manchester.

From flat and deep flushers

The "Pee-Tree" by design student Joa Herrenknecht ...

Little has changed in the Cummings model. Today in Europe and the USA we mainly know three types of toilet: the flush toilet, the flush toilet and the suction toilet. With the flat washer, the pile remains clearly visible and is first pressed against the front of the bowl with the flushing process and then flushed into the siphon. The washdown has the advantage that the poop falls straight into one and a half liters of water and is therefore hardly visible. However, the model has the disadvantage that it can splash upwards when plopping. The typical American suction toilet has hardly caught on in Europe. With this type of toilet, a vacuum is created in the narrowed siphon, which jerks the bowl empty. The model can be found in modern trains and airplanes in this country. However, it uses 15 liters of water, four times as much as a conventional toilet.

World Toilet Day on November 19th

The global day of action was launched in 2001 by the World Toilet Organization, and World Toilet Day has also been officially held at the United Nations (UN) since 2013. On November 19, it will draw attention to the fact that, according to the World Health Organization, 2.3 billion people live without basic sanitation. According to Charity WaterAid, Ethiopia has the worst toilet facilities: According to this, 93 percent of the people there have no access to clean or locked toilets. (As of November 2018)

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development points out that 80 percent of all diarrheal diseases in developing countries are caused by poor hygienic conditions. Every 20 seconds a child dies as a result of illness caused by poor hygiene, food contaminated with faeces or contaminated drinking water.

  • The toilet and us - hygiene, high-tech and culture. Planet Wissen, November 29th, 2020 at 1:00 p.m., ARD-alpha
  • Cultural history of the toilet: radioWissen, November 23, 2020, 3:05 p.m., Bavaria 2.
  • History of toilet paper: nano, March 27, 2020, 4 p.m., ARD-alpha
  • Taboo toilet: 08.01.2019, 5 p.m., odysso, ARD-alpha.
  • World Toilet Day: What happened to the "Nice Toilet" project? 11/18/2017, 9:05 a.m., orange, Bavaria 2.
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