"Plumbers," Adolph Loos, 1898

as translated by Jane O. Newman and John H. Smith, in the collection of essays entitled Spoken into the Void

It would be quite easy to imagine our century without carpenters; we would simply use iron furniture. We could just as well do without the stonemason; the cement worker would take over his work. But there would be no nineteenth century without the plumber. He has left his mark and become indispensable to us.

We think that we have to give him a French name. We call him the installateur. This is wrong. For this man is the pillar of the Germanic idea of Cultrue. The English were the keepers and protectors of this culture and therefore deserve to take precedence when we are looking around for a name for this man. Besides, the word "plumber" comes from the Latin - plumbum means "lead" - and is thus for the English as well as for us not a foreign word, but a borrowed word.

For a century and a half now we have been receiving our culture secondhand: from the French. We have never rebelled against the leadership of the French. Now that we realize that we have been duped by the French, now that we realize that the English have been leading the French around by the nose for a long time, we are setting up a front of German culture against the English. We did not mind being guided by the French; it was very pleasant. But the thought that the English are really the leaders - that makes us nervous.

And yet Germanic culture has extended its victorious campaign over the entire globe. Whoever cooperates with it becomes great and powerful... Whoever stands against it remains backward... We must accept Germanic culture despite the fact that we Germans still very much resist it. It does us no good at all, even when we raise a hue and cry against the "English disease." (1) Our prospects for life, our very existence depend on it.

The English have remained somewhat apart from the great hustle and bustle of the world. And as the Icelandic people have preserved the Germanic myth for us down through the centuries, so too the Roman waves that broke upon the English coast and the cliffs of Scotland washed away the last traces of Germanic culture from the German soil. For the Germans had become Romanized in feeling and thought. But now they are reacquiring their own culture back from the English. And as the German always holds on with his well-known tenacity to that which he has once obtained, he now struggles against English culture because it seems new to him. Even Lessing had quite a time trying to make the great Germanic mode of thinking accessible to the Germans. Step by step one stand after the other had to be made against the various Gottscheds (2) who arose. And just recently the same battle raged in the studios of the carpenters.

Our Gottscheds and with them all the imitators of French culture and manners are fighting a losing battle. We no longer fear the mountains or shy away from danger; we no longer flee the dust of the road, the smell of the forest, or fatigue. Gone is our fear of getting dirty, our solemn awe of water. When the Roman view of the world still prevailed, around the time of the great Ludwig (3), no one ever got dirty, but of course no one ever washed either. Only common people washed. The upper class was enameled. "He must be quite a slob if he has to wash every day," they said in those days... In Germany, they probably speak the same way today. I read this answer as a matter of fact just recently in the fliegende (4). It was a father's response to his young son who relayed the message from his teacher that he should wash daily.

The Englishman is unacquainted with the fear of getting dirty. He goes into the stable, strokes his horse, mounts it, and takes off across the wide heath. The Englishman does everything himself; he hunts, he climbs mountains, and he saws up trees. He gets no pleasure out of being a spectator. Germanic knighthood has found a refuge on the English isle and from there has conquered the world again. Between Maximilian, the last knight, and our epoch there lies the long period of the Roman occupation. Charles VI on the Martinswand! (5) Unthinkable! Full wig and Alpine air! Charles VI would never have been allowed to climb to the top of the mountains like a simple hunter! He would have had to be carried up in a sedan chair - if, that is , he had ever even expressed what would have been a strange desire for the times.

In such times the plumbers had nothing to do and this is how they lost their name. Of course there were water supply systems, water for fountains, water for looking at. But baths, showers, and water closets were not provided. Water for washing was very sparingy rationed. In the German villages that preserve the Roman culture, you can still today find washbasins that we Anglicized city dwellers wouldn't know how to begin to use. It was not always like this. Germany was famous for its water use in the Middle Ages. The great public baths (of which the so-called bader, the barber, is the sole vestige today) were always crowded, and everyone took at least one bath a day. Although there are generally no baths to be found in the later royal palaces, in the house of the German burgher the bathroom was the most splendid and sumptuous room. Who has not heard of the famous bathrooms in the Fugger house in Augsburg (6), that crowning jewel of the German Renaissance! When the German veiw of the world was standard, it wasn't only Germans who indulged in sport, amusement, and hunting.

We have remained backward. Some time ago I asked an American lady what seemed to her the most noticeable difference between Austria and America. Her answer: the plumbing!! The sanitary installations, heating, lighting, and water supply systms. Our taps, sinks, water closets, washstands, and other things are still far inferior to the English and American fittings. What must seem most remarkable to an American is that in order to wash our hands, we must first go down the hall for a jug of water since there are toilets that do not have washing facilities. It will be objected that we too already have such accommodations. Certainly, but not everywhere.

A home without a room for bathing! Impossible in America. The thought that at the end of the nineteenth century there is still a nation with a population of millions who inhabitant cannot bathe daily seems atrocious to an American. Thus even in the poorest sections of New York it is possible to find dormitory accommodations for ten cents whiah are cleaner and more pleasant that our village inns. This is why there is only a single waiting room for all classes in America, since even in the largest crowd the slightest odor is not noticeable.

In the thirties, one of the members of "Young Germany" (7) - it was Laube in the krieger made a great statement: Germany needs a good bath. But let's consider this seriously. We really do not need art at all. We do not even have a culture yet. Here is where the state might come to the rescue. Instead of putting the cart before the horse, instead of spending their money on the production of art, they should first try to produce a culture. Next to the academies we should build baths, and along with the professors we should appoint bath attendants. A higher standard of culture will have better art as its consequence, an art that, when it comes to the fore, will do so without the help of the state.

But the German - I am thinking only of the great majority - uses too little water for his body and in his home. He only uses water when he has to, when someone tells him that it is good for his health. A clever peasant in Silesia (8) and a clever priest in the Bavarian mountains (9) each prescribed water as a medicament. It helped. People with the most severe hydrophobia splashed about in the water. And they were cured too. This is perfectly natural. Who does not know the story of the Eskimo who complained to a traveler of an old chest ailment? The traveler put a plaster on his chest and promised the disbelieving patient that he would be healed by the following day. The plaster was removed, and the pains had disappeared along with a thick layer of dirt that clung to the bandage. A miricle cure! It is sad that many people can only be moved to clean, wash, and bathe by such means. If the need existed generally, the state would have to build huge baths next to which the Thermae of Carcalla would look like a powder room. The state does have a certain interest in increasing the desire for cleanliness in its people. For only that people which approaches the English in water use can keep step with them economically, only that people which surpasses the English in water use is destined to wrest from them the sovereignty of the world.

But the plumber is the pioneer of cleanliness. He is the state's chief craftsman, the quartermaster of culture, that is of today's prevailing culture. Every English washbasin with its spigot and drain is a marvel of progress. Every stove with its fittings for frying and roasting is also apparent on Viennese menus. The consumption of roast beef, grilled steaks, and cutlets increases constantly, while that of wiener schnitzel and roast chicken (those Italian as well as of stewed, boiled, and steamed French specialties) constantly decreases.

Our bathroom fittings might well be our weakest point. Instead of covering the bathtub with white tiles, people in this country would rather use colored tiles so that - as one manufacturer naively assured me (he is not in the exhibition) - the dirt will be less visible. Tin tubs too are enameled in dark colors instead of in white, the only suitable color. Finally, there are tin bathtubs that aim to look as if they are marble. And there are people who believe it, since these marbleized tubs also find their purchasers. There are Rococo flush valves, Rococo taps, even Rococo washstands... Thus at M. Steiner's we see excellent American style overhead showers, a new invention, all smooth and thus very elegant. H. Esders produces fixtures that are efficient and correct in both form and color. It is still worth mentioning from a purely technical point of view that the continued use of the crank valve in plumbing, in the age of the rotary valve, can no longer be justified. It is old hat, an old hat that ought to be thrown away. The crank valve is no less expensive, but wears out more quickly, and gives rise to many other inconveniences. Even if our plumbers do not want it, the public should work in its own interest and insist on the adoption of the rotary valve.

An increase in the use of water is one of our most critical cultural tasks. May our Viennese plumbers fulfill their task and bring us closer to that most important goal, the attainment of a cultural level equal to the rest of the civilized Western world...


1. Die englishe Krankheit. A play on the German expression for rickets.

2. Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700-1766), German literary critic, philosopher, and disciple of the French Enlightenment. He exerted a powerful effect upon eighteenth-century German letters and was the primary exponent of epigonal aesthetic theory in literature, advocating imitation of the great French classical dramatists and poets as models for German literature.

3. Ludwig I of Bavaria (1786-1868), king of Bavaria from 1825 to 1848. He was chiefly responsible for transforming Munich into one of the handsomest capitals of Europe and making it a center of the arts; his reign, liberal at first, became reactionary, and he was forced to abdicate during the Revolution of 1848 in favor of his son Maximilian II.

4. Die Fliegende Blatter, a German satirical magiazine published in Munich from 1844 to 1944.

5. The Martinswand is a steep and rocky wall in the Tyrolean Alps. According to legend Emperor Maximilian I was rescued by an angel from a cavern there.

6. The Fuggers were a German family of merchants and bankers that rose from poor weavers to become one of the richest houses in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Their palatial house in Augsburg was famous for its artistic and opulent decor, and included two so-called Badezimmer, whose walls were lavishly painted with grotesques in the Italianate style by Antonio Ponzano, 1570-72.

7. Junges Deutschland was a group of radical writers and poets in Germany in the 1830's. Heinrich Laube (1806-1884) was a prominent member of the group. Die Kriger (The Warrior) is the title of the second book of his three-volume movel Das Junge Europa; it appeared in 1837.

8. Vincenz Priessnitz (1799-1852), a Silesian peasant without formal training in medicine who gained international fame at his clinic in Graefenberg, where he prescribed water cures, cleanliness, exercise, and rustic living.

9. Sebastian Kniepp (1821-1897), a humanitarian priest and healer who worked in the village of Woerishofen in Bavaria. After being cured of a serious illness by water, he devoted himself to promoting a program of hydrotherapy which included various kinds of baths and ablutions, exposure to cold water, and prescribed water drinking, as well as healthful dietary habits and the medicinal use of herbs. In 1890 he published his book Meine Wassercur (My Water Cure) which appealed to a wide audience; cures, spas, and other products bearing his name were sold internationally and were especially popular in the United States.