Friday, April 24, 2009

The Emperor's New Throne

It just occurred to me that I left the most notable, potentially horrifically embarassing example of German design encountered in Berlin, the capital of Prussian functional design: the Park Inn Hotel.

Okay, the hotel itself is actually very nice with multiple stars to its name and a prime location near the center of town. The morning continental breakfasts were lavish (we are on The Continent you know), dinners filling, and the facilities Prussian-ly clean.

To stay in an establishment far beyond my Fulbright stipend's price range, the Fulbright Commission put us up with roommates. Several months ago Keith and I decided to room together. Keith is studying vocal performance in Mannheim (I forgot to ask about the steamrollers). Keith is the kind of person it’s difficult not to get along with. Easy going, clean, rumbling baritone laugh; ideal roommate. But regardless of our flexible or otherwise accommodating natures, nothing prepared us for our encounter with the room itself.

Here I have presented a schematic of the room: As is the case in nearly every double room I’ve encountered in this country, there are two beds slid next to each other. Each bed is allocated a duvet and a prime viewing position for watching the TV bolted to the wall. Out the window offered a spectacular view of Berlin that stretched to the horizon, punctuated by towers, domes, and urban sprawl. The sink was located next to the beds so either party could use it while the other was occupying the shower or toilet space. You were assured knowledge of the other person’s activities in these other facilities by the glass walls.

Yes, glass walls around both the shower and toilet. This wouldn’t immediately seem like a terrible problem as the glass was fogged, but only on the lower two thirds of the wall, and even fogged glass offers outlines. This would have been awkward on its own until you notice the door for each facility. Or rather, the door for the facilities (Door B). It operates on a single 180 degree hinge. If someone has shut themselves into the toilet, the other person cannot simultaneously use the shower without asking permission to open the door on the guy sitting on the pot. Not that this would be a difficult operation as the door is completely clear, as in you-can-see-every-detail-of-the-person-on-the-other-side clear.

Like I said, Keith is a great guy, but I really don’t need to know a single detail about his life on the other side of the bathroom door. The bathroom’s designer apparently thought otherwise. To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to know any more details about my own activity on the commode than Keith, but again, the designers thought otherwise and placed a mirror directly opposite the toilet so you can watch yourself in all your vulnerable glory. If you really have an exhibitionist streak you're sure to get a kick out of Door A which opens to the hall. At the right angle, you could share a coy wink and wad of toilet paper with anyone walking down the hall.

Needless to say, Keith and I worked out a system of boldly announcing our intentions in the glass-enclosed portion of the room, suggesting the other person turn on (and up) the TV every time the clear door became necessary.

Then, beyond the embarrassing scenes that the door might induce, the arrangement isn’t even Germanically functional. The floor is flush to the lower edge of the double-duty door with a kind of squeegee liner, theoretically rendering a bathtub unnecessary for the shower. Instead, the shower has an unsunken drain on the floor and you step directly from the tile of the foyer to the tile in the shower. As you clean yourself up, the walls steam up and the water is contained by the sealed door and fogged walls. But then you open it. All the accumulated condensation on the door slides to the floor and the entry way quickly sprouts a puddle.

What were they thinking? Well Ben, another fellow Fulbrighter, tracked down this article from the New York Times .

To summarize, glass bathrooms are becoming luxury items in hotels. Theoretically I could have gazed out across the city of Berlin if I kept the water a little chillier and I wanted to make Keith feel particularly awkward. The clear shower or bath walls are seen as sexy lures for couples who can’t enjoy designer facilities and a little more insight into their partner’s hygienic life at home. I can see the appeal, but Keith and I don’t fit this description. Neither would any other business associates or coworkers who might be attending a conference and want to split the cost of sharing a room.

Regardless of the potential awkwardness surrounding the shower's arrangement - call me naïve or prudish (I am from the Midwest you know) - I don’t think couples would want glass around the toilet. Somehow the sexiness of that room seems reserved for a very limited percentage of the population.

Keith and I, along with all the other Fulbrighters, managed to make it through the week without any traumatizingly embarrassing moments, but the potential for them was lurking around every corner and behind ever closed (but clear) door.

1 comment:

Charity said...

Omigosh, the glass bathrooms, one of the funniest moments I have had this year. My shower was even better, it was completely transparent, no foggy part for me. Oh...and the mirror was right across from the shower so you could watch yourself bathe...But I was terrified for the first day and night... halfway expecting a roomate to enter while I about awkward first meetings... Thankfully (?) the hotel messes up my room request and I ended up with a private room.