City’s best kept secrets facing final flush

Budget cuts could close the cleanest restrooms in town and replace them with automatic loos

Over the course of a lifetime the average person spends at least one whole year using a toilet. So the question arises – how would you like your 12 months of lavatory dwelling to be spent? In a small, cramped cubicle with a distinct lack of toilet paper and a pungent smell of Shrek’s swamp, or in an elegant, well serviced room with four-ply paper and soap that smells like grandmother’s rose garden?

Each year millions of people in Copenhagen choose the latter option by visiting one of the six city-run toilet facilities. Located at Amagertorv, Israel Plads, Vesterbrotorv, Nyhavn, Rådhuspladsen and Trianglen, these staffed toilets can boast being the cleanest and best serviced loos in the city, not to mention the most historic.

As with all good things in life though, four of these distinctive landmarks may soon be closed and replaced with a few automatic toilets in a bid to help the city’s Technical and Environmental Committee save 20 million kroner. 

Amagetorv toilet service attendant Latfre Bakir feels the money issue could be approached through raising the cost of using the toilets.

Officially it already costs two kroner to use the toilets (although men don’t need to pay to use the urinals), but Bakir said people are willing to pay more.

The urinals, still gleaming after a century's worth of visits (Photo: Emily McLean)

“I’ve been asking people if they’d be prepared to pay five or six kroner instead and everyone has said ‘yes’.”

One such patron of the toilets was Inge, who felt that money shouldn’t be an issue. “I would pay five kroner to relieve myself here. There are no other toilet facilities nearby and certainly none as clean and nice.”

City councillor Lars Dueholm (Liberal Alliance) argued closing the toilets would be a loss for the city.

“Without the toilets people end up relieving themselves on street corners and other inappropriate places, creating a terrible mess and a horrible smell. Additionally the toilets are crucial for the city’s tourists, many of whom come off cruise ships and spend the whole day here.”

Those opposed to the proposal have begun a petition in order to keep the flushing treasures. Emerging from the underground Amagertorv restroom, two teenage girls who said they used them on a regular basis agreed that the petition was “a great idea and it would be extremely sad to see these wonderful facilities closed”.

Officially, the toilets are pay toilets, but paying is on visitors' honour (Photo: Emily McLean)

Through the other side of the wall, a men’s toilet attendant, who asked to remain anonymous, said replacing the toilets with a modern automatic alternative won’t save money. “It’s unlikely people will even use the automatic toilets because they are scared they’ll get locked in,” he said.

Dueholm emphasised the fact that the toilets have become a tourist attraction, as well as a part of Copenhagen’s cultural heritage that should be preserved. “Take the one that’s on Amagertorv, for example. It was built in 1902 and tourists regularly drop by just to admire the wooden interior and brass locks,” he said.

Dueholm added that the toilets are also an important part of the city’s image.

“If tourists find the city has clean public restrooms they’re more likely to remember Copenhagen in a positive light, which is great for the city’s image abroad.”

The issue of the public restrooms is likely to be on the city council’s  agenda at their meeting on 12 December. Until a decision is reached, though, residents and tourists alike can continue to spend part of their ‘toilet year’ using one of the city’s luxurious lavatories.

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