Public needs and good intentions.

Bauplan Pissoir-Häuschens Franziusplatz 1919
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About public toilets in Frankfurt am Main

Hilla had a job which, were she doing it today, she would definitely get a bonus for: she cleaned the Frankfurt cesspits in which Frankfurt’s residents relieved themselves. Thankfully, we are now several centuries on and Hilla is now a historical figure: in 1330, she was mentioned in documents as a ‘schizhusfegern’, Germany’s first toilet attendant. There is also evidence that Frankfurt had public toilets as early as 1348 – that is, if you can call benches above cesspits public toilets.

Toilets: yes please, but not here – public opposition in 1866

In times when it was common for people to relieve themselves in the open air, there was a great need for public toilet facilities. However, this is not to say that the construction of such facilities was always welcomed with open arms. When the senate of the free city of Frankfurt decided to construct 20 urinals in 1866, there were protests. In locations that had the greatest need of such facilities, such as some highly frequented streets and squares, they were considered an eyesore. This is why wooden huts were preferred instead of permanent buildings – so if there were protests, they could simply be moved to another location.

Let the water flow – greater comfort and convenience thanks to flushing

The increasing popularity of the toilet as we know it today is closely linked to the construction of sewers. In 1882, Frankfurt was the second city in Germany to get a sewer system, which was – as we say today – a real innovation. It represented a major step forward in terms of hygiene standards for the city of Frankfurt. In 1888, the first three modem ‘comfort stations’ were opened for men and women. These comprised first-class (with washing facilities in the cubicle) and second-class WCs.

But these facilities were not yet completely accepted by the public. From 1906 onwards, more and more toilets were hidden away underground – facilities that no one could see or smell were the order of the day. But regardless of whether they were underground, on squares or at tram stops, the once unloved facilities gradually became an intrinsic part of city life.

Between 1904 and 1930 alone, 24 comfort stations and 40 urinals were opened. This is a modest number compared to Paris in the same era: at the turn of the twentieth century, there were around 4,000 urinals in Paris – the legendary ‘vespasiennes’.

Öffentliche Toiletten heute
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High tech and challenges – public toilets today

Since then, many of those facilities have been pulled down or have become redundant because the location and equipment are no longer suitable for today’s use. Some, however, have listed status and are now used in new and different ways, such as the pretty buildings in Friedberger recreational area, where there is now a café.

One thing is for sure: public toilets are still very much in use today. Sanitary facilities are one of the most important services that a city can offer its citizens and visitors. Modern facilities, such as those at the Römer, are highly frequented and have high hygiene standards. But even today, Frankfurt still experiences opposition:

vandalism and the misuse of these facilities are a source of annoyance for the city. Maintaining and cleaning them costs a lot of money. This is why modem facilities cannot be operated completely free of charge.

But it is important to look at our city’s sanitary situation in relative terms: according to data from the German Toilet Association, around 2.6 billion people across the world have no or insufficient access to toilets. That is 42% of the world’s population.