Which civilization first used writing

history : The great latrine: 155 years of public toilet

Some stories are just repeated so often that you finally believe that it was so. The thing with the first public toilet, for example. For a long time, the year 1852 has been the year of her birth, almost unchallenged. It was then that the City of London came to the revolutionary realization that hygiene could possibly be linked to public health. In their quest for public purity, the city fathers set up a public lavatory in Fleet Street of all places, the island's newspaper mile. Presumably that's why it happened as it had to: Journalists, always on the lookout for exclusive stories and struck gold in front of their own office door, praised the toilet. And because the solemn opening of a toilet can only knock you off your feet to a limited extent, it became - drum roll - the first public toilet in the world.

So this year the British are celebrating the 155th birthday of the first public toilet. Congratulations, there's a catch. England is certainly the mother nation of important achievements, only, public toilets existed at a time when England did not even exist.

The public toilet is threatened

In Germany, too, the public toilet will be honored this year, the occasion is rather sad. Because the place is threatened, either it is privatized or closed. Which is why the artist Hans-Peter Feldmann has taken on the task of helping the locus, elevating it to an art object. The “Sculpture Projects Münster” - the second major German art event this summer after the Kassel Documenta - provides the perfect setting. In Münster, more than 30 artists dedicate themselves to the question of the “function of art in public space”. Feldmann has completely renovated the cathedral toilets in Münster and furnished them with large-format pictures. Because, says Feldmann, “I want to give the people there a positive, beautiful experience.” The effect is likely to be similar to that triggered by the first London model toilet in Fleet Street. There you must have been used to cruelty in questions of public hygiene.

Whoever actually constructed the very first public toilet in history will remain in the dark forever. But well-documented examples from bygone days are likely to shake the English self-image as an inventor nation. As early as 2400 BC In the north palace of Esnunna (Mesopotamia) there were seven holes carved in stone next to each other, for which the archaeologists only have one explanation: Here, whoever had to, and not alone. The ancient Greeks on Crete also ruled in 600 BC. BC via an establishment that offered space for 44 needy people. The only thing that the contemporary poets unfortunately cover in silence is how it came to the common bowls.

"Be careful not to poop on the street!"

It was not until the ancient Romans that the toilet moved a little further into the limelight. The Romans even had a veritable obsession with latrines, about which James Joyce was to write almost 2000 years later: “The Roman, on the other hand, brought ... every new coast he set foot on ... only his obsession with sewers . He looked around in his toga and said: It's good to be here. Let's install a water closet. ”And a public one, because only that was really worth exporting. The average Roman home was rather simple. The toilet system there consisted of a barrel in the hallway on the first floor, into which the residents of the multi-storey tenement houses put the contents of their chamber pots (unless they were tired of running down from the sixth floor every time, then they just dumped everything out the window, like the satirist Juvenal reports).

Carrying excrement down the stairwell in a bowl was too undignified for some, and those who could afford it took care of the matter outside of the home: when the money was loose, they went to a latrine when they had to skimp, the necessaria, a comparatively simple one Facility. In Pompeii, the tenants were not at a loss for advertising and wrote warnings on the walls of the houses: “Cacator cave malum! Aut si contempseris, habeas Jovem iratum! ”-“ Be careful not to poop on the street! Otherwise Jupiter's wrath will hit you! "

Urine was taxed

Using the public toilet was not made difficult either, because the network was tightly meshed. Around AD 400 there were 144 latrines and 254 Necessarias in Rome, most of which were washed away by a moat and the contents of which flowed directly into the legendary Cloaca Maxima. There were also extremely useful urinals at lucrative transport hubs. If the vases there were full, they were picked up by urine collectors, because at that time the clothes were washed not with water but with rotten urine (the ammonia excellently removed even the coarsest dirt).

Emperor Vespasian, who was in office and dignity from 69 to 79 AD, recognized this as a new source of income and taxed the urine. His son Titus found that disgusting and scolded his father. He then sniffed a urine tax gold coin and said: "Non olet" - does not stink, and while a questionable character from his predecessors Caligula and Nero is remembered, Vespasian's image was the pee emperor. Almost two millennia later, the headless and footless urinals in France were called "Vespasiennes" after the Roman emperor.

Doing business while sitting on the latrine

But Rome was famous for its magnificent latrines, a meeting place for high society. They enchanted the user with grandiose luxury, with columns, mosaics, underfloor heating and, as the Roman poet Martial reports, also with reciting poets. An average latrine offered space for 50 to 60 people; there was no question of a “quiet place”. In the toilets of the empire one sat happily next to one another, heard the latest gossip, one or the other business was done here, and so it can be assumed that the term “doing one's business” has its origins in the Roman latrine.

As everywhere, when it comes to business, there were also parasites here. Martial described a contemporary named Vacerra who wanted to be invited to dinner by latrine acquaintances. "Why", asked Martial, "Vacerra spends the hours all over the toilet and sits there all day?" And immediately answered: "Cenaturit Vacerra, non cacaturit!" - "Vacerra wants to eat, not poop!"

Toilet culture was over in the Middle Ages

The Vacerras of this earth got into trouble with the fall of the Roman Empire, because that was when the beautiful toilet culture was over. Everything that high cultures had built up in the past millennia was forgotten by the Middle Ages. People lived in draughty castles, looked for the holy grail and trudged through deep mud. There wasn't much time for personal hygiene, you emptied where it was needed. In the castles there were stepping corners where you squatted down and let your insides splash down into the moat using a downpipe.

In the cities, too, the faeces were simply transported onto the street by pipe. Those who didn't have a pipe dumped everything through the window. In France, therefore, the touchingly helpless order was issued to shout “Gardez l’eau” three times in the future before the contents of the chamber pot flew outside. Either way, the streets stank badly.

In such a civilizationally questionable environment, convincing people of the need to establish public toilets on a large scale was a difficult undertaking. Every now and then one can find reports of public lavatories in medieval history. There had been one in Frankfurt in 1348 (there was also talk of a Frau Hilla, her character "Schizhusfegerin"), in London in 1383, and in Basel in 1455 - but they were nothing more than flags in the wind of the medieval zeitgeist, and Mal time after time it was blown away from him.

Versailles had 2,000 rooms and only one toilet

The transition to modern times was fluid, because even in the lofty court of Louis XIV there were 2,000 rooms, but only a single stationary toilet. Instead, so-called poop chairs were used, and the king himself made it a virtue to hold receptions sitting on a particularly fancy specimen. At the pompous celebrations in Versailles, 10,000 guests came in one fell swoop, who used to relieve themselves in the Royal Gardens. In 1764 a contemporary complained: "The smell of the park and the gardens of the palace makes you sick." This absolutist mess was swept away in 1789 by the revolution. From now on: freedom, equality, brotherhood - even in the toilet. A handful of public toilets have been set up. Their number, however, was manageable: in 1820 there were eight in Paris.

The increasing sense of shame slowly created bizarre excesses. Independently of each other, around 1800 there were human Dixi toilets on the streets of various European cities, to which toilet science gave the beautiful name "mobile dispensing providers". Their work utensils consisted of two buckets and a flowing coat. If someone had to, the toilet man threw the coat around the customer's neck for a small fee, which could then be emptied into the buckets. This beautiful tradition points to a change in the matter of shame: It was - completely contrary to the ancient tradition - about not being seen anymore, of covering up the bare body.

Great Britain, the leading loo nation

However, it was only with industrialization and new knowledge about hygiene that the public toilet experienced a real renaissance. And so this excursus leads back to the British island for five millennia. As early as the end of the 16th century, Sir John Harington had tinkered until he was able to present the first pump-operated water closet. He proudly showed this to his aunt Queen Elizabeth I, who reacted piqued at the idea. Harington fell from grace. It was not until 1775 that Alexander Cumming applied for the patent for the first Water Closet (WC) with an odor trap - with the legendary double-curved drain pipe that is still used today.

Probably because of this invention, the British feel they are the leading toilet nation. But in the first half of the 19th century there was a public toilet movement across Europe due to the new hygienic standards. Of course, Berlin was at the forefront. In 1820 there was supposedly a first public latrine near the Nikolaikirche. From 1878 the legendary “Café Achteck”, known as cast iron houses, took over the place. In London, visitors to the very first world exhibition could look forward to numerous vacant toilets - as early as 1851, a year before the supposedly first public toilet in the world in Fleet Street. In Paris they built one Vaspesienne after the other until it was 4000 at the turn of the century.

Declining numbers of public toilets

But as with many other inventions, time took its toll, and the more private homes were equipped with a toilet, the more the importance of the public toilet decreased. Perhaps it had one of its last highlights in 1996 in Berlin-Marzahn. At that time, the "Berliner Zeitung" reported that the district with its 168,000 inhabitants, which was about to change, now had a corresponding facility for the first time.

In 2002 the British Toilet Association sounded the alarm. To mark the 150th anniversary of the toilet on Fleet Street, she warned that 47 percent of public toilets in England had closed over the past eight years. No wonder, the image of the public lavatories was badly battered. According to the general prejudice, it is a playground for all kinds of half-silky figures, is dirty and stinky.

It's great that contemporary art is now resisting this fatal trend. The catalog for the “Sculpture Projects Münster” says about Hans-Peter Feldmann's work: He confronts the unpleasant image of public toilets that we carry within us with its opposite. The aim of the endeavor: going to the toilet should become an "informal matter of course" again.

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