Here’s a culture lesson for you: The Pooh Shelf.

ONE THING YOU would notice if you visited our house is the toilet features.  This house has a full cast of toilet equipment.  The urinal, and the bidet are star players in the cast,  but the headliner is the poop shelf.   

Consider for a moment the nuance of the US toilet (and most German toilets for that matter). The simple design consists  of a bowl that contains standing water.  You probably haven’t stopped to appreciate the mechanics of that toilet design, but the benefit of standing pool of water is that  it immediately isolates anything that should fall into the pool from the breathable air around it.   Maybe that doesn’t seem like an important peice of the operation…but that’s one of those things where the saying is true: You don’t miss it until it’s gone.

The Poop shelf toilet (I did not coin that name) is a relic of Germany and some other regions in Europe that isn’t in circulation so much anymore, but since our house happened to be built a long time ago 2 out of our 3 toilets are of this variety.  It  works completely differently than a standard toilet. Instead of having a standing pool of water, the toilet is essentially dry (except for a very thin pool of water) and the bottom of the toilet is flat – like a shelf.  When you flush the toilet, a torrent of water rushes from the back of the bowl towards the front, sweeping everything in its path like a tsunami into a drain in the front.  On the plus side, it works…you’re not going to clog a poop shelf toilet no matter how matter how many kilos of hard cheddar you ate before bed last night.

But the one fatal flaw of the poop shelf is that anything that should happen to ‘settle’ on the poop shelf  remains exposed to open air. Some expats have come to describe this as the “lay and display” method.   It’s all fully and completely exposed, able to breathe into the air like a spring bouquet of roses…

Now I, for one,  happened to be in the habit of taking a few extra minutes on the pot every now and again to catch up on the daily news (when you have a house full of five kids, you’ll take all the quiet time  you can get).  But with the poop shelf toilet you can get rid of your dog-eared copy of Uncle John’s Reader, because believe me – you’re not going to want  to spend a second more time in there than you absolutely have to.   It’s a little bit like a campground latrine experience, except the latrine happens to be located adjacent to your kitchen. 

Flushing isn’t the end of the matter either. Although the flush is powerful, it never seems like the porcelain washes entirely clean. Thanks to the poop shelf I was able to expand my German vocabulary: “Bremsspuren“, Loosely translated, it means you have to keep a toilet brush handy.  Fortunately our toilets come equipped with a convenient holder.  (Uh…now who’s going to wash out the brush?)

As if that weren’t enough, our family adds a twist.  Every child growing up has their little idiosyncracies.  Of course, among Camden’s is this: He is occasionally reluctant to flush the toilet.   In the US, that was a little bit annoying.  Now, in our bathroom now it’s not just annoying, when you open the door to the bathroom  it borders on a  medical emergency.

I’ve asked around from time to time on why the design of the poop-shelf toilet is still in circulation.  The only thing I’ve ever heard as a rationale is that it’s an easier design in which to collect a stool sample. And no doubt, that it is.  We’ll post a photo journal of that as soon as we’ve had an opportunity to test that out.