Liv Hambrett

Germany + Australia + Culture + Motherhood + Home

German Culture

On Intestines & Ids

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.


  1. Joanne Hambrett

    24 March, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Great article

  2. bavariansojourn

    24 March, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    This had me laughing out loud… Be glad that you don’t live down here with the daily grumblings about the fohn from the mountains to cope with too! 😀

    1. Liv

      26 March, 2015 at 10:01 am

      Oh God, what does the fohn do? Do I want to know?

      1. bavariansojourn

        20 April, 2015 at 2:52 pm

        Gives you a headache and makes everyone irritable and grumpy apparently! 😀

  3. Hemborgwife

    24 March, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    This is really interesting as I really like to analyze each sneeze and thought and then prescribe things and my paternal grandparents came from Kaiserslautern so I am thinking it is now more a genetic oddity than just a personal one!

    1. Liv

      26 March, 2015 at 10:00 am

      It is DEFinitely in your blood!

  4. Sonskyn

    24 March, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    I laughed so hard. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    1. Liv

      26 March, 2015 at 10:00 am

      You are so welcome!

  5. sarahstaebler

    24 March, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Best post ever. Seriously. These are exactly the things I think about most times.

    Ugh we had one of those toilets in our first apartment, too, and I do NOT miss it!

    Hörsturz: that’s one I haven’t heard, though! What’s that about?

    The other moms in my Geburtsvorbereitungskurs met yesterday to sit outside in the sun (it was still cold/windy but we had a picnic anyway) and then went for a walk. One of them told me that “her kidneys already hurt from the cold”. I’ve never heard such Quatsch in my life but, frankly, was not surprised. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel your kidneys unless you had, like, kidney stones or something!

    1. Liv

      26 March, 2015 at 10:00 am

      Hörsturz – when you are so stressed, you suddenly lose your hearing.

      The hurting kidneys is VINTAGE GERMAN!!!

  6. Janis Felidae

    24 March, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    What is this “inspection shelf”? I´ve honestly no idea what it could be. Are the toilets in Australia different? *confused ears*

    1. Janis Felidae

      25 March, 2015 at 6:54 pm

      Aha, the penny´s dropped, I think. I thought of it as a separate thing, best or worse even with some instruments for inspection LOL

      1. Liv

        26 March, 2015 at 9:59 am

        Hahahaha, oh my GOD, imagine!

        1. Janis Felidae

          29 March, 2015 at 7:17 pm

          I wouldn´t put it past them, otherwise I would´t have looked up on google what this “inspection shelf” could be 😉 in fact I think many Germans are downright obsessed with all things intestines and the older the worse. I could tell you stories … don´t worry, I won´t 😉

  7. Christie (A Sausage Has Two)

    24 March, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    Totally agree about the importance of keeping a happy soul and a healthy body… I just struggle desperately with those things being prevented and/or remedied with things like kidney warmers and prescribed medicines that aren’t made of actual medicine. I remember feeling a bit faint one day when I was about 7 weeks pregnant and had a colleague (not even knowing I was pregnant) shouting KREISLAUFKOLLAPS at me within seconds, pushing me into a chair and trying to shovel a packet of anti-Kreislaufkollaps powder down my neck. And I worked in a bloody hospital.

    1. Liv

      26 March, 2015 at 10:00 am

      Am in hysterics. ANTI-KREISLAUFKOLLAPS POWDER! What was it? Traubenzucker (another ridiculous thing)?

      1. Christie (A Sausage Has Two)

        26 March, 2015 at 3:57 pm

        Oh I have no idea. Probably. The mind boggles.

        This all reminds me though, an ex-colleague called in sick last week having had a massage after work the day before which triggered a lingering cold.

        I have no words.

  8. B

    19 April, 2015 at 10:11 am

    How about ‘Schwangerschaftsdemenz’ und ‘Stilldemenz’?

  9. MsCaroline

    24 April, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Oh, this is brilliant! I just spent the last 3 1/2 years teaching in a German school (in Korea, no less) and ongoing arguments about drafts in the Lehrerzimmer – and the illnesses caused by them – was the best entertainment. Add to that the Korean folk remedies, and it was quite an enlightening medical experience for me! Can’t believe I hadn’t read your blog before – found you through the BritMums expat roundup and am loving it!

    1. Liv

      24 April, 2015 at 11:47 am

      Thank you so much for stopping by! I can only imagine the hilarity of German draft superstition meets Korean folk remedies … the mind boggles.

  10. From 3 to 4 – Liv Hambrett

    9 June, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    […] of bread and cheese, Vitamalz bier, the omnipresence of breastfeeding tea, and the word ‘Kreislauf‘. The Germans take circulation extraordinarily seriously. My Kreislauf was asked after […]

Leave a Reply to Liv Cancel reply