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There's no business like toilet businessImage: Toifor

Flushed With German Pride

Toma Tasovac
February 27, 2006

When American GIs in Iraq get the call of nature, they politely ask to be excused and tiptoe off to the ladies' room. No matter when and where, because their German toilets are like flying carpets: They go everywhere.


Two Germans called Karl-Friedrich Krause have been immortalized by history. One was a famous 19th-century anatomist who revolutionized his discipline by using the microscope in his investigations. He gave us names for the accessory tear glands (Krause's glands) and the transverse perineal ligament (Krause's ligament).

The other Karl-Friedrich Krause is our contemporary, living happily and prosperously in the southern German town of Regensburg. Several times a day -- come rain or snow, sandstorm or drought, bombs or grenades -- this Karl-Friedrich Krause puts a smile on the faces of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers around the world.

He delivers mobile toilets. And they sell like hot cakes.

Classified information

He can't really talk about the details. Regulating the gastrointestinal discharge of the US forces is part of "life support" and therefore -- quite understandably -- a top secret mission that only top Pentagon officials are privy to.

"Americans are very sensitive about that," Krause recently told the German magazine Der Spiegel.

Weiberfastnacht in Köln Darth Vader
Mobile toilets in Cologne saw many celebrities during Carnival, including Darth VaderImage: picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb

In fact, Americans are sensitive in general. After Germany refused to be part of Gee Dubya's mission in Iraq, German companies had to kiss goodbye a number of get-rich-quick schemes that euphemistically pass for postwar reconstruction effort.

Krause, however, is the George Clooney of the mobile toilet business. He is the chamber pot deliverer of choice to everybody from the Pentagon to Afghanistan. And he's been around since the '90s, when he brought the joy of mobile toilets to the international forces in Bosnia and gave a new twist to the phrase "relief work."

It also didn't hurt him that his company has a Hungarian subsidiary. The US forces swallowed their hard-earned pride and magnanimously let a Kraut be responsible for an important and fun part of their lives.

So, after Krause's glands and Krause's ligament, we are now blessed with Krause's toilet as well.

But would you want one?

The esthetics of the portable john leave something to be desired. Krause's company Web site describes their toilet styling as "contemporary" with "an eye-catching exterior and roomy interior," but you would never mistake a plastic booth in the middle of the desert for a giant iPod.

Der größste Toilettenschüssel der Welt
It's a toilet all right, but is it art?Image: AP

And although you'd wish the portable cans had been designed by Apple's Jonathan Ives, you can't deny how practical they are. The wash basin has a capacity for 24 liters (6 gallons) of fresh water; the seats have a spring mechanism which always returns to upright position, providing extra hygiene. A large ventilation pipe lets the bad odor escape into the desert.

Which means you definitely don't want to be caught hanging out anywhere near the places where American heroes leave their unmentionables: A portable toilet is a get-in, get-out and run-as-far-as-you-can kind of venue.

But desert lavatories also have a couple of surprise stored for you. For example, they offer bigger-sized toilet paper -- not because Herr Krause wants to make a statement about the size of military bottoms, but because his toilet vision is that of a comfortable place for relaxation and meditation.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

US-amerikanische Sodaten beim Waffen reinigen in der Wüste von Kuweit
They know where to go when nature callsImage: AP

And while the wash basin in the desert bathroom is rather tiny, it has a decent-sized mirror hanging above it.

You may wonder why you'd need a mirror if you're wearing full combat gear in the middle of the desert. But GI Joes and GI Janes are apparently no different from the rest of us. They like to apply Clinique's "All About Eyes" -- a visibly rejuvenating drop of liquid silk -- to magically wipe away those nightwatch-induced dark circles. They like to fix their hair and check on their highlights -- to decide if it's time to hop into the tank and drive over to Baghdad to see that new hair stylist that everybody's been raging about. And they like to experiment with desert-proof mascara, just for the fun of it.

And all that thanks to an entrepreneurial German who made light work of life support delivery, and lived to tell about it.
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