Hitler's Toilet Is in New Jersey

How did it get there?
The Aviso Grille, the first home of the toilet (Bundesarchiv)

Do toilets have a heaven? Have they an underworld? 

These are questions beyond our ken. We can, however, posit a place of Potty Purgatory: the great state of New Jersey.

In 1934, shipbuilders in Hamburg constructed a decadent new yacht for the recently installed Nazi German government. On this ship was a toilet. The toilet bore marks of its makers—its handle, according to Tablet, had words in the “old-looking” Blackletter font preferred by the Nazis. It was designed to be—and we’ll call it—“Hitler’s toilet.”

Named the Aviso Grille for most of its operational life, the ship was the largest yacht in the world at the time. It visited Norway, led training exercises in the Atlantic, and even steamed to England for the coronation of the new king and queen. More than once, the Grille even bore the seasick-prone Hitler.

Then war came, and the Grille found new uses. It laid mines. It ran patrols. At dock in Norway, it served as a command center for arctic U-Boats.

After the war, the Grille changed hands again and again. Eventually, it wound up in New Jersey, in a shipyard owned by a man named Harry Doan. The United States government and Doan himself were keen to keep the Grille from becoming a monument to the Nazi leader. The Grille was disassembled, its parts sold for scrap.

Except for one part. A car repairman named Sam Carlani was good friends with Doan. Carlani owned a shop in nearby Florence, New Jersey.

Carlani needed a toilet. There was a working one on the Grille. And so—according to the Burlington County Times, the local paper—it came that Hitler’s seafaring toilet came to live in a New Jersey auto shop. 

Florence, NJ, and the surrounding greater Philadelphia area (Google Earth/Landsat)

That toilet is still there. It worked for more than half a century. Day in, day out, flush, flush, flush. When Greg Kohfeldt bought the shop from Carlani in 1994, he didn’t remove the still-functioning commode. Kohfeldt didn’t care about the toilet’s origin.

“I kept it because I needed a working toilet,” he told the BCT in 2013. “Why spend $100 on a new one when I had one that worked?”

Anyway, the toilet had become famous. People came to see it. 

Then, in the fall of 2011, a British TV company got in touch with Kohfeldt, asking if they could spotlight it on a show. The toilet—and Kohfeldt—were removed from New Jersey, flown to the United Kingdom. 

The show, alas, never aired. Both potty and possessor were flown back to New Jersey. The toilet now resides in the basement of the repair shop it once so faithfully served. Earlier this month, Kohfeldt said that he’s still looking for a buyer.

But until then, it rests. In Norway and New Jersey, it did what it was built to do.

***

Except the story of the toilet never really rests. From time to time, the Internet's viral vacuumers stumble upon the tale of the toilet. A roadside guide to America has long noted the throne as a worthwhile attraction. In 2010, TIME ranked it among the world’s 10 most famous toilets. (Also on the list: Duchamp’s Fountain.) In early 2013, there was another flurry, when Tablet discovered it.

So the toilet’s tale splashed across the web: Gothamist covered it, as did Boing BoingNJ.com, and TIME, again. A celebrity gossip site distinguished itself by its use of the phrase “the Turd Reich.” Already, in 2014, the Daily Mail covered it again, revealing Kohfeldt’s desire to sell. That news prompted posts at Hypervocal and Haaretz.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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