Vienna: excreta

October 14, 2012 • 8:58 am

I’ve never posted pictures related to human excretion before, but Adolf Loos’s public toilets in Vienna, located near the cathedral, are what all public toilets should be—works of art. Loos (1870-1933) was an important Art Nouveau (in German, “Jugendstil”) architect in Vienna, and my guidebook called attention to his remarkable toilets. (It’s hard to find those toilets on the Internet, for you can imagine what you get when you Google “Loos toilets”.)

It took me a while to find the facilities (they’re not well marked), and even longer—several visits, in fact—to be able to photograph all the important parts when nobody was using them. So, for better or worse, here they are.

The sign above ground (“Herren” means “men”; there’s one for “Damen” as well):

I hope that pigeon is a male!

The underground entrance:

Art Nouveau urinals!:

. . . and toilet stalls (“besetzt” means “occupied”):

. . . and sinks:

And just to show how punctilious the Viennese are about the cleanliness of their city (it is remarkably neat and free of litter), the horses that pull tourists around the inner city have leather bags to catch their droppings:

35 thoughts on “Vienna: excreta

  1. So…have the Google hits dropped off from “cat penis,” and now you’re trying to drive up traffic again…?

    But, seriously…it says something about a society that builds beautiful things to last, and that it values beauty enough to even make (and keep) its public toilets beautiful.

    …almost makes one wonder what the underground sewers there are like…almost….


    1. It says something about a society that has public toilets at all. These are sorely lacking in most US cities I’ve been in, and then people complain about little kids and homeless people caught short.

      For anyone interested in more design and craft like this, albeit in a different style,journey to Liverpool, where you can have a nice pint in the Philharmonic pub. Last time I was there, women, too, could visit (although not make use of) the men’s toilets, which are a marvel of marble. The story is that the whole pub was fitted out by the same men who worked on the interiors of the luxury liners built in that city.

      1. These are sorely lacking in most US cities I’ve been in, and then people complain about little kids and homeless people caught short.

        What’s worse is that public urination is often classified as a sex crime, and even a single conviction can get you a lifetime on the sex offender registry with all that entails (restrictions on where you can live and work, being required to personally inform your neighbors, etc., etc., etc.).

        Yes, the US actually is that fucked up….


        1. That’s very interesting. We have a few of the JCDecaux ones in Boston, but not enough there and we have none I know of here in Cambridge. It would be great if these work well and are built in large numbers elsewhere.

        1. As Shuggy asks, are they for any member of the public, or only for customers?
          I don’t know if US federal, or different state, county, parish or municipality laws apply in different areas of that country, but it is perfectly normal in this country (UK) for signs to be posted in the windows of pubs, restaurants, fast-food joints, etc to the effect that “toilets are for the use of customers only”, often enforced by the key for the toilet being supplied AFTER an order is placed.
          And yes, the lack of public toilets is a pain in the excretory organs here too.
          I was originally going to comment that sub-tropical Aberdeen used to have a rather similar set of “Art Nouveau”-ish public toilets. Closed to the public 2 or 3 city-council elections ago, but they can’t be demolished due to (1) being a listed building (2) having a statue of some king or another sitting in the roof. Now … the nearest public toilets are … well hidden ; I had to think for several minutes to remember which multi-story public car parks had free toilets. There’s a pub over the road, whose toilets are for customers only, and whose bouncers enforce it.
          It’s not been enough years since I went into a McSludge or BurgerSlop. I assume they’re as horrible as ever? I’d rather go hungry. Or eat a white pudding supper.

    1. Only a very small section of Vienna’s sewers were featured in the movie. Very clever cinematography gave a different impression.

      There are public guided tours of the particular section of the sewers available and a 3rd Man Museum. The movie itself is screened daily at the Burg Kino.

  2. For more interesting Austrian-designed public pissoirs, see photos of the one on the main street of Kawakawa, New Zealand, designed by Frederick Hundertwasser. Photos by Phil at (note the grassy roof, seen in the second photo), Hundertwasser bio at

  3. In the 60s I was working in Germany. Commonly in the men’s rooms there were no urinals, but ceramic walls 15′-25′ wide on which males urinated.

    Not infrequently the cleaning women, would enter and do their work. Most unsettling to a young American Arbeiter.

    Have they done away with walls for urinals and installed individual stalls?

    1. At my workplace 20 years ago the men’s rooms were routinely cleaned by women and the women’s rooms by men. I never did work out why.

    2. They’re still pretty common in Britain ; often the “trough” is being replaced when repairs are needed by bent stainless (hah!) steel troughs, but ceramic ones are still common. Sic fonctionnatit, nil copulatum, as they don’t say in the rougher bars down by the docks.

  4. And just to show how punctilious the Viennese are about the cleanliness of their city (it is remarkably neat and free of litter), the horses that pull tourists around the inner city have leather bags to catch their droppings

    Or could it be that the coachmen are all rose growers?

  5. The, ah, loos (lower case) in Turkey can be pretty stylish too. They have attendants who enforce an admission charge, but in some cases it’s well worth it just to see the opulent decor.

  6. Every horse carriage I’ve seen (in America) has those bags to catch the horse dung. I imagine it’s kind of a requirement. Only the mounted police get away with leaving horse crap on the street.

  7. Interesting that ‘loo’ is an acceptable word for ‘toilet’ but ‘crapper’ is not when they are both apparently named after men involved in toilet production in different ways.

    1. Probably because ‘crapper’ has given rise to the back-formation ‘crap’, presumably because ‘crapper’ ends in ‘er’ and hence sounds like a verb. Whereas ‘loo’ doesn’t and hasn’t.

    2. “Loo” is not named after this man.

      Wikipedia says

      The origin of the (chiefly British) term loo is unknown. According to the OED, the etymology is obscure, but it might derive from the word Waterloo. The first recorded entry is in fact from James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922): “O yes, mon loup. How much cost? Waterloo. Watercloset”.

      Other theories are:

      That it derives from the term “gardyloo” (a corruption of the French phrase gardez l’eau! (or maybe garde l’eau!) loosely translated as “watch out for the water!”) which was used in medieval times when chamber pots were emptied from a window onto the street. However the first recorded usage of “loo” comes long after this term became obsolete.

      That the word comes from nautical terminology, loo being an old-fashioned word for lee. The standard nautical pronunciation (in British English) of leeward is looward. Early ships were not fitted with toilets but the crew would urinate over the side of the vessel. However it was important to use the leeward side. Using the windward side would result in the urine blown back on board: hence the phrases ‘pissing into the wind’ and ‘spitting into the wind’. Even now most yachtsmen refer to the loo rather than the heads.

      That the word derives from the 17th century preacher Louis Bourdaloue. Bourdaloue’s sermons at the Saint Paul-Saint Louis Church in Paris lasted at least three hours and myth has it that wealthier ladies took along “travelling” chamber pots that could be hidden under their dresses whenever the need arose to avoid the need to leave. Due to the popularity of the myth the bowls became known as Bourdaloues after the preacher and the name became corrupted to portaloos and sometimes just plain loos due to the habit of shortening words in slang.[citation needed]

      That the word comes from French lieu, short for lieu d’aisance (literally: “place of ease”), a common euphemism for lavatory.[38]

      1. That it derives from the term “gardyloo” (a corruption of the French phrase gardez l’eau! (or maybe garde l’eau!) loosely translated as “watch out for the water!”) which was used in medieval times when chamber pots were emptied from a window onto the street. However the first recorded usage of “loo” comes long after this term became obsolete

        I’ve heard that derivation reported with reference to Edinburgh specifically, with the narrow “closes” of the old town.
        It was specifically and deliberately used in the naming of “Guardyloo Gulley” (and associated buttresses, faces etc) in the cliffs of the NE corrie of Ben Nevis. When snow and ice climbing started there in the 1890s through to the first world war (by when there were route-guide books using the name), there was a weather observatory on the summit, manned 24×7 by two observers. Their “debris” was discharged down “Guardyloo Gully”. You can imagine that the delicate sentiments of mountaineers since then have eliminated such scatological references.
        The “leeward” derivation always made me wonder about the etymology of the Frisian town of Leeuwarden (I spent some months working nearby in the 1990s).

        1. Oh, this is just like a game of ‘My Word!’ (for those whose memories go that far back).

          My working hypothesis is that it’s a perfectly ordinary bit of rhyming slang for ‘Water closet’.

          The word ‘Waterloo’ is like many English place-names in containing one complete normal, common word and one obscure or nonsense syllable, that is begging to be assigned an English meaning. ‘Waterloo’ also entered the language with a huge bang and has ever since been a very popular concept for the English.

          I’m not sure exactly when ‘Water closet’ was first used, but a ‘plunger closet’ was patented in 1777 and I guess that the more general term was already in use. So, in the years after 1815 and before the introduction of upper-class Victorian euphemisms like ‘toilet’ or ‘lavatory’, anyone (British) wanting to refer obliquely to the WC would have another handy ‘Water-‘ word to recruit.

          Dropping the ‘Water’ and retaining only the ‘nonsense*’ syllable ‘loo’ is in the spirit of rhyming slang, even though in this case it’s the onset, not the rhyme that’s dropped. (*Similarity to French lieu would easily be noticed and could only help in this process)

          BTW, Wikipedia’s article on the flush toilet claims that “The similarity between Crapper’s name and the much older word crap is a coincidence.” Whether that be the case or no, it’s a fine example of nominative determinism.

          1. Actually, the word ‘loo’ entered the English language as a result of the Norman invasion, which meant that many french words were integrated with the existing (and continually expanding) mish-mash of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Indic, Nordic, etc. resulting from the habit of other countries occupying the British Isles and, more recently, the British invading occupying other countries. The fact that modern English is an amalgam of several older languages is why it has so many words, more, I believe, than any other language, and, usually, many synonyms for anything, and why English so readily incorporates words and phrases from other languages to this day (‘schardenfreude’) being a recent example. British English even use words and phrases from the US bastardisation of our fair tongue:)

            ‘Loo’ is derived from the French ‘gardez l’eau’ (watch out for the water), as hinted at by the “Guardyloo Gulley” mentioned above, and refers to the pre-sanitary plumbing habit of chucking toilet waste out of the window overhanging the particular burbage that one’s house was on. ‘Plumbing’, again comes form the French ‘plomb’ (lead), as do ‘plumb line’ and ‘plumb-bob’.

            I daresay that we’ll see even more Chinese enter English’s lexicon in the coming decades.

            Going back to ‘toilet’, ‘crapper’ and ‘loo’, my personal favourite synonym is ‘khazi’, the etymoolgy of which is uncertain, but is not, as one might think from and Indic language, but possibly stems from the Italian or Spanish ‘casa’ (house), referring to a time when most domestic UK toilets were located in a small outhouse.

            1. Khazi’s good, but my favourite is the Aussie term ‘dunny’, which has further given rise to the delightful phrase ‘bangs like a dunny door in a hurricane’, being a term of approbation conferred upon ladies of legendary amatory achievements.

              Returning to things lavatorial… I recall visitng Beaumaris Castle in Anglesey, north Wales, decades ago and seeing the garderobes, chutes built into the outer walls which functioned as loos. At the bottom they discharged into the moat, which must have made attacking such a castle even more hazardous and unpleasant. The term ‘garderobe’ apparently arose from the custom of hanging ones coat in there, in the belief that the smell would discourage moths.

              1. A justified true belief, actually: moths hate ammonia.

                It also suppresses other smells generated by organic decay pretty effectively, but I’m not sure if that’s more a chemical reaction in the air, or a neurological effect in the nose.

          2. Nominative determinism : a while ago I commented to Jerry on the suitability of Anne (?) Gibbons for her post as Science magazine’s anthropology correspondent.
            Locally, out City Archaeologist (if she hasn’t been laid-off yet) is Ms Stones, who should have been a geologist.
            (replying through WP’s “Notifications” feature seems to have stopped working)

  8. Loos is pretty famous for his essay “Ornament and Crime”.

    Today, it is cited as one of the influences of the new look of Windows 8 and some of the design principles like “content before chrome”.

    Us Windows programmers are actually reading Loos these days.

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