Free to Pee, You and Me

I’m visiting your city, seeing your sights, eating in your restaurants and staying in your city’s accommodations (frequently paying a visitor tax). The least you can do is provide me a few free places to piss.

I’m talking to you, Venice, with a visitor tax and seemingly one pay toilet in the entire old part of the city, despite posting 500 signs for it. You can’t provide free toilets on the Venetian island of Murano, yet you can pay someone to collect toilet tolls? I’m talking to you Berlin, which had public facilities where you wanted to charge me 1 euro.

I’m talking to any bus or train station with pay toilets. I’ve paid for my ticket, which helps finance your operations, so give me someplace to go (literally). In Prague, you had to pay to pee even in places you had to pay to enter. We paid the equivalent of 20 euro to climb the Petrin Tower yet had to pay another 10 crowns (about 40 cents) for the pleasure of pissing there.

Toilet.jpgThere also are places that deserve praise for their potty policies. Lyme Regis has free public toilets about every 100 metres along the waterfront. Marilynn said there were no toilet seats in the bathroom, but, hey, it was free. Failing public facilities, many cities have McDonald’s, what I call America’s Pit Stop. But, in Prague, you had to pay 10 crowns there, too.

What is it with the French and public peeing?

It’s no wonder that cities like Paris have a problem with what they delicately call les pipis sauvages, or wild peeing. We didn’t experience this (fortunately), but there apparently are places in the City of Light that stink to high heaven, especially in summer. They’ve installed 400 free, self-contained WCs in Paris that are free, but we also saw a pay one in Prague.

The latest French advance against a tide of urine is the uritrottoir, basically a colorful box over sawdust, straw or woodchips on a public street for people to place “deposits.” When full, the device signals that it needs to be collected, and the bedding is later used as compost in city gardens.

In the 19th century, the French came up with the concept of the pissoir, which you can figure out from the name. We saw several of these between the Olympic stadium subway stop in Berlin and the stadium, basically covered places to take a leak. But since we saw just as many people pissing in the woods along the same route, I’m not sure they are working.

Up-close encounter with les pipis sauvages

I knew this would be a blog topic in the early days of the trip, and I’d written a rough draft on the train from Prague back to Berlin, from where we’d fly back to Belfast. After eating at a great new sushi restaurant and visiting the DDR Museum, which documented life in East Germany under Communist rule, we were walking back to the Alexanderplatz train station along the main avenue at about 9 p.m. Alexanderplatz has wide sidewalks, at least four driving lanes and room for a tram. This ain’t no alley.

And then we saw it—a German punter taking a leak on a small bush along the sidewalk, beer in one hand and I’m not sure what (but have a really good idea) in the other. Fortunately, he had his back to us, but his front was on view to anyone driving by or on the tram. Judging by the fire-hose strength of the stream, this guy really needed to pee.

I can’t remember ever peeing in the street, but I understand the overwhelming urge to go. We will go to great lengths to avoid pay-as-you-go policies. I’d rather stop in a restaurant, order a meal or a drink and partake of their facilities rather than outright pay to pee someplace else. I’ll cross my legs and think dry thoughts for an hour, rather than flip a train station attendant 50 cents to partake of the plumbing.

This must stop. I call for a Urination Declaration, demanding free public toilets for tourists. Because peeing (and pooping, for that matter) are fundamental human rights. We all gotta go sometime, and it oughta be free. Our motto is, “Free to Pee, You and Me.”

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