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Lifestyle

Berlin 24/7: Unisex toilet training for the entire city

Berlin wants to introduce unisex restrooms - but not without controversy. DW's Gero Schliess agrees with the plan - but only after some initial objection and nostalgia about the good-old men's room.

My first time was during Berlin Fashion Week just a few days ago. Totally unexpectedly, I found myself in a unisex restroom. There was a very long line trailing out the door, comprised of, upon closer inspection, more women than men. The women seemed well practiced in patience, while the slightly annoyed men played incessantly on their phones. 

Take a seat

A glance at the cardboard sign over the door to the restroom left no doubt: This was one of the hotly discussed unisex restrooms that Berlin's new Senate wants to require in every public building. The sign showed two minimalist stick figures, apparently male and female, side by side in peaceful harmony.

Unisex restrooms in Berlin (DW/G. Schließ)

Unisex restrooms in Berlin

Inside, though, it was a different story. "Only peeing while seated!" someone shouted as I squeezed past two ladies applying makeup in front of the sinks, made my way to a cubicle and locked the door behind me. 

I accidentally nudged one of the makeup women, who blurted an unambiguous complaint at me.

Nostalgia for the same-sex loo

It should really come as no surprise at this point to hear that I don't really like using these unisex facilities. As a man, there are only disadvantages attached to this new way of going about one's business: long lines, limited space to move, the abolition of those ever-so-convenient urinals.

Gero Schliess

Gero Schliess' Berlin 24/7 column appears every Sunday

Instead I will have to learn to bear ladies gossiping about designer bags, lipstick and men. Yes, women have come and conquered the last remaining bastion of male domination, I realize reluctantly. No longer will we be among our own kind.

While it may be difficult to let go of this cherished habit, I am nevertheless a supporter of inclusive restrooms for all genders. You might think I'm being politically correct, but that's not the point.

Have you men ever accidentally stepped into a women's restroom? Or have you women ever used the men's room when you were in a hurry because there was no line? If you have (and most of us have), you'll remember feeling not particularly welcome. And this is exactly how transgender people, or those who don't identify with the social role assigned to their biological gender, must feel all the time.

All-gender restroom sign in New York (picture alliance / Photoshot)

New York was a pioneer in inclusive restrooms

From New York to Berlin: no more discrimination

New York was the first major city to realize the need for change. Last year, New York's city council decided with a 47-2 majority to mandate unisex bathroom across the city. The declared intention behind the scheme was to create a "welcoming environment" for transgender people and those who don't identify with a particular gender category. By the beginning of 2017, thousands of restaurants and bars across the city had revamped their facilities. Bravo!

Of course this doesn't solve all the world's problems. I'm sure that some of you might wonder why, while the world is going downhill with Trump in the West and Putin in the East, we are failing to focus on some of the big issues - or even the smaller ones. Berlin also has its own long list of pressing issues from housing shortages to low education standards that won't be solved with the introduction of this toilet reform.

Unisex restroom in Berlin (Getty Images/S. Gallup)

In Germany, unisex restrooms are still the exception

Yet this is not a minority policy or proof of clientele politics at the expense of the majority, as was implied by the weekly German newspaper "Die Zeit." Our way of living together, of coexisting peacefully in a society that is made up of differences that all deserve to be respected, is ultimately determined in small places like this - the unisex room.

The fight against discrimination of minorities begins here. There's no other way around it: "Yes we 'can'!"

 

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