A Victory for the Right to Pee Standing Up

Renters cannot be held accountable for urine-related damage to their bathrooms, a German court has ruled.

Stick-figure guidance in a German bathroom (yasmapaz & ace_heart/Flickr)

Thursday brought an advance in the cause of standing up to pee. A judge in the German city of Duesseldorf ruled in favor of a man suing his landlord for a full refund of his security deposit, which had been partially withheld because the marble floor of the tenant's bathroom had been damaged by uric acid, presumably from the errant urine of an upright person relieving himself.

"Someone who still practices this previously dominant custom is regularly confronted with significant disputes, particularly with female cohabitants," Judge Stefan Hank observed, according to AFP. "However normally he must not reckon with damage to the marble floor of a bathroom or guest toilet."

"Despite the increasing domestication of men in this area, urinating while standing up is indeed still common practice," Hank added.

Why, you might ask, is the judge referring to men urinating while standing up as a fading social phenomenon—a "previously dominant custom" undermined by the "increasing domestication of men?"

The dispute in Duesseldorf is actually part of a long-running debate in Germany over whether men should be encouraged to sit down when urinating. The controversy pits stehpinklers (men who stand up to pee) against sitzpinklers (men who sit down), and it has taken some bizarre twists over the years. In 2004, for example, The Telegraph reported that sitzpinkler had become a synonym for "wimp," and that a company had invented a gadget that attached to toilets and scolded stehpinklers when they lifted the seat. One admonition, in a voice mimicking that of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, declared, "Hey, stand-peeing is not allowed here and will be punished with fines, so if you don't want any trouble, you'd best sit down." Millions of the devices had been sold in German supermarkets.

As has been the case with similar campaigns in countries ranging from Sweden to Taiwan, proponents of seated male urination in Germany typically cite its hygienic and health benefits. The University of Chicago law professor Mary Anne Case has elaborated on the argument:

[E]fforts to encourage men to adopt urination methods associated in the western world with women have also been seen as threats to masculinity. Feminists in Germany have been urging men to accustom themselves to urinate while sitting on a toilet seat by posting signs in restrooms with the imperative “Hier wird sitzend gepinkelt” (Here one pees sitting down) and by explaining that such a practice would be more sanitary and create less work for those responsible for cleaning toilets, who are most often women. While some men have taken pride in accommodating this demand, others have vehemently resisted, going on talk shows, publishing editorials and cartoons, and forming Facebook groups of “Stehpinkler” (“Those who pee standing up”). So vehement was the resistance that academic Klaus Schwerma, a proponent of Sitzpinkeln, could write an entire critical book entitled “Stehpinkeln—Die Letzte Bastion der Maennlichkeit?” (Peeing Standing Up—the Last Bastion of Masculinity?).

Case herself is on a toilet crusade, but of a different sort than that of the good landlord from Duesseldorf. In a 2010 essay, she explored the benefits and drawbacks of abolishing "the laws of urinary segregation" in public restrooms, which, she observed, are "among the very few sex-segregated spaces remaining" in the United States.

"Urinals lead restrooms equal in square footage to offer more excreting opportunities to men than to women," she explained, causing longer lines for women's bathrooms and other inequities. "When such features as fainting couches, full length mirrors, and vanities are added—as they sometimes are—to women’s but not to men’s rooms, the ratio of excreting opportunities given equal square footage gets even worse for women." Case, for her part, endorsed the model of the single-user, unisex airplane toilet for public places. She didn't address excreting opportunities in the privacy of one's home. That, after all, is a matter best left up to the excretor and his or her family—and the German courts.