In my first apartment in Germany, a bright, warm gem of a place, we had one of those toilets. People familiar with German plumbing will know precisely to what I am referring; a toilet with an inspection shelf. Such a thing exists to, as the name suggests, enable inspection of your intestinal goings on, and has been cause for much discontent among the non-Germans-in-Germany population I am a member of. It is, to those of us unaccustomed to being intimately acquainted with our own waste product, fodder for endless discussion and blog posts. A foreigner’s first encounter with a shelf toilet is simply part of the initiation process, quite like their first nude sauna (themselves designed to sweat out the nasty toxins), or run-in with bureaucracy.
Much can be gleaned about a nation that designs toilets that allow for inspection of their own excrement. Of course, they aren’t inspecting it for a laugh – things aren’t that dire over here – but instead to ensure their inner machinations are in fighting form. Once one recovers from the more squeamish aspect of the whole thing, one is forced to consider how seriously the Germans take – and how open they are about – their health. This is a country that, during Spring, has an allergy tracker as part of the nightly weather report. In fact, allergies have some sort of deified status here in the realm of banal illnesses. They might just be the one thing you won’t be prescribed a tea for as the first port of treatment call, although there is no shortage of homeopathic hurdles to leap before you get given the hard drugs which are, truth be told, about as hard as a cup of tea anyway.
Germans speak often about circulation, in tones of great earnestness, and the dire situation one can find themselves in if their circulation is not up to par. Poor circulation, which can culminate in the completely fatal sounding circulatory collapse (Kreislaufzusammenbruch) can be blamed for all manner of problems, but is most often turned to as the reason you simply may not want to get out of bed and go to work. Despite being a condition no one else in the world seems to succumb to, and despite being quite obviously a synonym for what the Australians would call ‘can’t be arsed’, Kreislaufzusammenbruch is completely legitimate. It takes its place alongside other such deathly sounding syndromes as Frühjahrsmüdigkeit and Hörsturz. And it, like absolutely every single illness in Germany, can be caused by drafts.
It isn’t only their physical health they keep a keen, analytic eye on. Germans are also deeply in tune with their mental and emotional wellbeing. The Teutons are, after all, the people who gave the world Freud and Jung and thereby psychoanalysis and dream interpretation. The German language is awash with words that describe, with searing accuracy, numerous elements of the human condition you were hitherto unable to put your finger on. Deeply emotional concepts that ordinarily leave you groping for words, and can result in an essay of a thousand words, have a single word here, one that, when uttered, is greeted with nodding heads and faces of great sympathy.
Springing from a culture wherein one conceals their true feelings for fear of being labelled soft, weak, a navel gazer or self indulgent, and wherein phrases like ‘chin up’ and ‘get over it’ and ‘you’ll be right mate’ are as deeply respected as the notion of Frühjahrmüdigskeit is here, I find the Germanic openness about emotional trials to be extraordinarily refreshing. Here, if you are burnt out, or need help, or have some internal things you need to deal with, no one tells you to chin up and push on. They tell you to consider getting a prescription for a wellness Kur, periods of weeks you spend at a facility designed to holistically restore your mental and physical health.
After four years of living here, I am only really just beginning to understand how seriously the Germans take their insides, from their intestines to their ids. For the most part, I am completely on board with how they do things here – I think the idea of maintaining a happy soul and a healthy body simultaneously, is an excellent one, and there are many leaves other countries could take from Germany’s book. But the day I decide I am on board with a shelf toilet, I grant you full permission to deport me, and my house shoes.