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Q: When I first got to Germany, one of the things that struck me right away was how different, and sometimes odd, the toilets are here. What’s up with that?

A: People do pay close attention to foreign bathroom fixtures, as a simple Internet search of German toilets can attest. There are dozens of entries on the odd shape and behavior of the local loos. I won’t say the subject gets as much ink as Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, but it comes close.

My first bathroom shocker was the toilet with the rotating seat. Once the user stands up, the seat rotates clean around, all the while being washed by some mysterious reservoir of water released near the tank. (Warning to the next female user: Wipe the seat before you sit.) Sometimes the process is topped off by the insertion of a clean, plastic cover on the seat. Nice.

Of most interest on the Internet, it seems, is what one contributor called the “Poo-Shelf Toilet,” that’s common on older German homes, hotels and restaurants. It’s designed with a porcelain shelf jutting into the bowl, far above the water line. The shelf catches anything that drops, allowing it to sit odorously until the user flushes. And flush he must, several times, to clean off the shelf. And, for the male user going “Number One” often means some serious splash-back off the shelf — so much so that some public restrooms admonish men not to go standing up. According to a couple of online blogs on the subject, this is a serious assault on one’s manhood.

The exact reason such toilets were developed is murky, according to an online entry in the German magazine Spiegel. Explanations range from water savings (which seems to be moot, given the number of flushes needed) to a profound interest in studying one’s own waste — presumably for some evidence of disease. Thankfully, the shelf toilet seems to be on the wane — though you’ll never find a toilet here that could give the neighborhood bully a proper swirlie.

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