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November 2013

Celebrate toilets with a little bit of toilet tourism

P1010540In pursuit of a story on a chilly late-summer day this year, I descended into the warm bowels of a technical school in Vienna, Austria, where teenagers can learn to be plumbers, carpenters and locksmiths. There, Kurt Pant (pictured left), a teacher in the Sanitär- und Heitzungs Technik department (commonly abbreviated as SHT), has collected historical toilets, sinks, bathtubs, and whatever bathroom installations people will donate from their basements, sheds, and abandoned buildings. He is slowly constructing life-size dioramas to illustrate how people did their business in the past.

The collection has a dozen or so vintage toilets, including one that's more than 100 years old, which is made of the highest-quality ceramic and decorated with an chinoiserie lion. He also has an American toilet that was one of many donated by the United States to Austria after World War II. It's in mint condition, since it never could be installed thanks to different pipe diameters in Europe and the United States.

This is a big year for toilets. A toilet innovator won the Stockholm Water Prize, the United Nations declared November 19th World Toilet Day, and the Gates Foundation announced the first-round winners of the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Oh, and I wrote this story about toilets for Nautilus magazine. I suggest we all celebrate this Miracle Year of toilets by engaging in a little bit of toilet tourism. I found my visit to Vienna's Sanitation History Museum quite enlightening, and it turns out that there are many toilet tourism destinations around the world. Here are a few you could try:

WORLD MUSEUMS

(Courtesy Sulabh Toilet Museum)New Delhi, India -- Sulabh International Museum of Toilets 
This museum (pictured right) documents the sometimes weird history of how we go, with the noble goal of raising awareness of the importance of toilets, especially in India, and breaking down the taboos that stand in the way of progress. You can see plenty of photos in this story from the UK's Daily Mail. 

Suwon, South Korea -- Restroom Cultural Park
The newest toilet-themed museum, this complex is in the hometown of Samsung. I think the sculpture garden of squatting figures looks great. The BBC did a video report on it. 

AUSTRIA TOILET ATTRACTIONS (these came to my attention because I live here)

Gmunden, Austria -- Klo & So, the Museum of Historical Sanitation Ceramic 
This area was a center of ceramic production, and that included ceramic for toilets. Here you can see the rich decoration on early toilets. The decoration ultimately disappeared because people feared that it could hide dirt.

Vor_Graben_22-WC-Anlage-IMG_9261Vienna, Austria -- Graben Toilets
Vienna is home to one of the world's greatest public bathrooms, the 19th century Wilhelm Beetz loo in the Graben in the city center (photo on left from PictureObelix on Wikimedia Commons). I visited it for the first time while researching the Nautilus story, and wow. I will be taking all future tourists there. 

TOILET RESTAURANTS

City of Industry, California, USA  -- Magic Restroom Cafe
As I was researching and writing the Nautilus story, I came to the realization that toilet news is everywhere -- we just don't notice it most of the time. This gem came to me by way of Gina Pace, a former fellow fellow and hilarious food and wine writer for the New York Daily News. A Taiwanese chain is testing the concept of a toilet restaurant in southern California. The chairs are toilets, the plates are mini-toilets, and I assume the toilets are toilets. I'm not going to make a special trip, but I wish them luck. 

Do you know of other toilet tourism sites? Let me know and I'll add them.