AD, Jeroen Kreule, 07-02-21

‘There is a tent on the Neude, where you can shit and pee for a penny’. This tent, also called retirade, was a public toilet building from 1899. In 1926 the tent disappeared and people could shit and piss under the post office. Other things happened there…

“Semitic offense on a large scale,” writes the Utrechtsch Nieuwsblad on April 7, 1938. About six weeks earlier, the police received a complaint that “regular public indecency” was committed in the retreat under the post office on the Neude. So in the public toilet.

The toilet attendant of this retirade had often acted against this, but apparently no one listened to her. She decided to call the police. “Although it was initially not believed that there would be many such cases, the criminal investigation department launched an investigation,” the UN said. In four weeks, 84 people received a report for ‘public violation of indecency’. It concerned only men: among them were ‘both men from Utrecht and the surrounding area as well as men from the furthest corners of our country’.

Gay hangout

In other words, they committed immoral acts with each other. A gay meeting place. In ‘only’ one case, it would concern acts with a minor boy. The group consisted of “birds of various plumage,” according to the UN. According to the newspaper, both high and low gave each other a rendezvous. Judicial investigation showed that there was no question of any organization. Men with the relevant abnormalities regularly stopped by during the retreat to meet fellow sufferers.

Yes, it really is there: men with the relevant abnormalities. And also that several perpetrators of fornication were sentenced to at least one month in prison. One of the men took his own life after being caught. He apparently did not dare the shame of the disclosure. “A pastor also appears to be among the operators,” the message ends. Not everything used to be better. It was the zeitgeist, shall we say.

The retirade in the basement of the post office was taken into use in 1926, two years after the building by architect J. Crouwel was opened. Before that, a retreat building stood in the middle of the Neude. ‘The tent on the Neude’, as the public toilet building on the square was popularly called. It was a wooden, dark-painted building. There was also a rhyme: ‘There is a tent on the Neude, you can shit and pee there for a penny’.

3.50 guilders per week

The retreat was built in the ashes of the Potterstraat. When this street was widened, the toilet block became a real obstacle to traffic, writes A. van Hulzen in 1973 in his historical column in the UN. On June 10, 1926, ‘the tent on the Neude’ was closed, the toilet attendant moved with it to the post office.

In the photo you can see the toilet building on the Neude in 1905, just behind the horse tram of the Utrechtsche Tram Omnibus Maatschappij (the UTO). The retreat was taken into use in 1899, the exploitation was in the hands of the municipal cleaning service. There was some discussion in the council about the staffing of the toilet block and the salary he or she would receive. Mr. Van Hassel found the proposed weekly wage of 3.50 guilders very low and wondered whether that amount would be the only merit. Mr. Van Baarle was especially curious whether a man or a woman should be appointed.

Mr. Coblijn thought that ‘a woman will give the ministry’. And according to him, the 3.50 guilders was not the only merit: the toilet attendant would also receive a small compensation for ‘temporarily donating soap and towels’.

Horse tram

The staff of the UTO belonged to its regular clientele. The tram ran between the Neude and the abattoir on the Amsterdamsestraatweg. A single ride cost a penny. In the early morning, butchers in particular used this horse-drawn tram, says Van Hulzen.

Children from the Amsterdamsestraatweg area who went to school in the city center also liked to use the horse tram. The horse tram between the Neude and the abattoir has only been running for a few months, due to insufficient interest.

In May 1926, ‘the tent on the Neude’ was demolished.