Helga Bauermann takes off her cleaning gloves a few times more than planned every night. Not because she’s taking a break from work, but to pat the back of a despondent teenager who has come to the toilets for a cry.
“Especially the girls are sometimes very clingy and pour their hearts out to me, ” she says.
For eight years, Bauermann, 62, has worked at the nightclub Stars in Straubing, a town north-east of Munich, Germany. She’s paid to be the bathroom attendant, but she is also a therapist, relationship counsellor, fashion consultant and occasional teacher.
She took the job because of the good pay. But she has stayed for so long because of her colleagues and because of her love of meeting people. “In two evenings I earn what some people have to work a whole week for. And I have a lot of fun with the young people, ” she says.
Bauermann, who has three children and 10 grandchildren, originally trained as a childcare worker, and finds she is often able to apply what she learned while tending to the party crowd.
Aside from keeping the 12 toilets and 10 urinals in order, she also takes care of guests’ hearts.
“Most of them know me. The girls most often complain that the boy they like is dancing with someone else, ” she says.
“I take them in my arms and say, ‘Dry your eyes – you’ll upset him more if you pretend nothing’s wrong.’”
Simon Plechinger, who runs a cleaning company in Bamberg, confirms that often, the role of a toilet attendant goes far beyond the job description.
“Often, the activity goes far beyond the actual tasks. They’re pastors, marriage counsellors, help desk workers and style consultants for customers at the most impossible times in a wide variety of physical and mental conditions. This requires a very special sensitivity, ” Plechinger says.
“I think sometimes it’s these colleagues who keep half the business together, without even being really aware of it.”
Bauermann’s shifts start at 10:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. After checking the toilet paper, wiping down the mirrors and refilling the soap, she goes to the bar for a drink with her colleagues. And then it’s all about trying to keep up with the traffic.
It starts getting crazy around 1am. Cleaning up after the guests doesn’t bother her. “I’m wearing gloves, ” she says. Anyway, the work could be worse. She sees it as her role to educate the young people. For example, if she spots someone who has to vomit: “I tell them: Either you hit the bowl or you pay me €20 (RM98).” The vast majority make it happen.
Their aim is not so good when it comes to choosing clothes, Bauermann finds. “The skirts are getting shorter, the clothes tighter, ” she says. Now and then, she can’t resist making a comment. “The vast majority are grateful for the tip, ” she says. Bauermann has even written a book about her experiences called Let Me Through – I’m The Toilet Attendant.
The parties for people over 30 are particularly wild. She often encounters couples hoping to get some private time in the toilets. “Take it outside, ” Bauermann says. “We’re not a brothel.”
Her shift ends at 6am. Then, Bauermann drives home to neighbouring Feldkirchen and sleeps until almost noon. “Before I go to work again in the evening, I have a lie down in the afternoon, ” she says. But she has no problems surviving the night shift. “Usually at 2 o’clock – like most of my colleagues – I have a low, ” she says. “Then I drink a quick Coke at the bar and keep going.” – dpa/Elena Koene