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WC Blues (Restroom Challenges in Europe)

Updated: Jun 27, 2019

As some may know, there are some restaurants and kiosks in Berlin and Germany that only accept cash instead of credit cards. Because I needed some Euros and the nearest ATM was at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main train station), I biked there from my hotel.

After all the walking in the station with my bike searching for an ATM, I also needed to locate a WC (Water Closet or toilet). Two concerns about the WC, how much would it cost and did I have the right change?

A quick plan, I'd find an ATM and receive paper Euros and then find a kiosk or small bakery and purchase something small to get proper change. After a little more searching, I found both the ATM and then eventually the WC. Now I was in business.

Some may ask why I took my bike inside the train station. First, Europe in general and Berlin, in particular, is bike friendly so traveling by train with a bike was quite common. To get around such a spacious city like Berlin, a bike was preferable, especially in warmer weather. Second, as I finished completing the paperwork for the bike rental, the hotel employee said to be careful, as it's common for bikes to be regularly stolen in Berlin. Once I arrived at the train station, there wasn't anywhere to put my bike. Bicycle racks were full and all light poles around the station were occupied too. The only option, bring the bike with me.

As I wandered around the train station looking for my necessary services, the thought did occurred to me if some German cities and other Europeans countries played a game called "Hide the WC," or not provide it at all. While in Berlin, I walked over a mile down the Unter Den Linden (Boulevard of Linden trees) without seeing one WC. One sees many restaurants and kiosks selling coffee, beer, wine, pretzels, and Wienerschnitzel, but here and many parts of Berlin and elsewhere, WC's are uncommon. If it's your lucky day, you'll find one for 1 Euro. If you find one that's free, play the lotto that day!

Another example of a WC challenge in Europe occurred in Venice. A few years ago, I needed to use the facilities at St. Mark's Square. For those who have visited this square during the last 10 years, it indeed provides beauty and ambiance but lacks restrooms or resting places without creating a restaurant tab. During the "high season," tourism mushrooms and cruise lines dock there for a day; there are 10 times more people in that square than pigeons and there are hundreds of pigeons. BTW, there are two types of visitors to St. Mark's Square, those that love to feed the pigeons and create pictures to prove it and those who are annoyed by them.

Opposite St. Mark's Square, I saw a WC sign so I carefully followed. I walked the several turns and alleyways until eventually the signs no longer appeared. What happened? Is there a signage issue where planners and developers didn't finish connecting the dots? Perhaps I missed something so a day later, I followed the same signage and again the signage was discontinued towards the end of the square. How long had this been the case? Was the Venice tourism organization not concerned about being customer-centric? Or was this more of a business decision?

To digress a moment, I read now that Venice is trying to curb the number of visitors to its islands. To which I say, make up your mind Venice. A few years ago, it was encouraged to bring tourism money to Venice's economy but now you claim it's too much.

One other example in Europe of my WC Blues occurred near the Notre Dame in Paris about 5 years ago with my family. Adjacent to the cathedral, there was a WC available for tourists. When traveling with younger children, this was critical to know. I remember seeing a male and female queue and after a quick "look see," I was thankful being a male. There were about 50 women and girls waiting to use the only two female toilets available. I remember seeing a woman who appeared to be in dire need of relief as she begged those ahead of her in line to allow her to move up. My wife showed compassion by encouraging her to get to the head of the line as much as possible. At the same time, I thought it was pitiful of Paris to treat their visitors in such a demeaning and painful way.

One more comment (cynical ?), the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris means "Our Lady of Paris," ultimately, is that how any lady should be treated when the urge arises?

One more comment on European WC's. A few years ago, I visited Vienna and found a WC near a subway station called Opera Toilet mit Musik. I was not only amused by this but was intrigued to see the Willkommen (Welcome) and Auf Wiedersehen (Goodbye) signs at the exit. First time in my life I was ever welcomed to a bathroom. There was a slight charge to use their urinal but at least I was musically stimulated during the process.

Getting back to the capital of Germany, to ensure WC visitors don't use the WC for free at the train station, there are turnstiles that individuals need to go through one by one once you've placed your Euro in the slot. I don't agree with this process, but what are you going to do?

As I attempt to go through the WC turnstile with my bike, I realized the opening was too small so I had to maneuver my bike to fit - so I stood it up on its rear wheel to get it through. I surprised a male attendant as he came around the corner as most WC's in Europe are staffed by older women. BTW, I've never seen a beautiful woman in a WC (perhaps you need much work experience before working there). The attendant saw me with my bike and gave me that look that bikes are not allowed in the toilet area. It was too late. I had paid my 1 Euro and was going to use their facilities. Once in, I leaned the bike against the wall across from the stall and kept the door open to ensure that bike didn't leave my site. I'm not proud of this move but sometimes in critical situations, you do what it takes to get your needs met.

Addendum: I just read recently that a man peeing from a Berlin bridge injured 4 on a boat below. I've also seen men urinate in wooded areas just west of the Brandenburg Gate. With limited options, sometimes people get desperate when relieving themselves.


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