There was a time, not so long ago, where drinking ten pints and falling asleep on a train was an entirely normal part of my weekend. However, the less said about Saturday night the better. Yet it leads me to wonder about the differences in British and German drinking cultures. When I was told by my girlfriend that we would be attending a birthday party this weekend, I commented that it would be nice to have a night of ‘German drinking’ as opposed to the previous nights events participating in the extreme sport of ‘English drinking’. When questioned on the difference I observed that generally a night out with the German lads doesn’t end with traffic cone accessories, blurred walks home or stumbling through the door at 12.45 in the morning.
This is not to say that going out ‘German style’ is any less of an event. It does have one major difference though. That is to say I rarely suffer the ignominy of the “Tarantino Hangover’. For the uninitiated this involves the past nights hi-jinx being remembered entirely out of order. It’s not until the last scene of this particular internal flashback reel, accompanied with inventive swearing and a retro sixties soundtrack, that the entire story of your evening can be fully understood.
What is becoming more popular among the youth of Germany is the concept of pre-drinking, or warming up, by drinking in the house before hitting the clubs. My first taste of this almost ritual event in Britain was while I was at university. The motivation being that it was cheaper to drink in the house than it was to drink all night in bars and clubs. This has certainly increased in Britain as the prices of alcohol in the larger supermarket chains beats the prices to be found out on the town.
This trend inevitably leads to accusations by news outlets that Britain is a hot bed of binge drinking, which the casual observer of certain parts of the country would find hard to refute. Britain’s relationship with booze is complex and long. While studying I read an illuminating missive from a French diplomat to Henry VIII complaining that the locals were terrible drunks, while this article shows that some were not beyond printing late medieval how to manuals on a cheap night out on the mead.
This cultural history of hard drinking has led to some politicians in the U.K. championing a minimum pricing scheme, while others decry this policy as attacking the majority to punish the minority to the benefit of supermarket profits. Oddly the problem of binge drinking in Germany exists, but here the price of alcohol seems relatively cheap. In fact if reports are to be believed, in the case of beer, the prices are going down. The only complaint about this news is that the quality might suffer as a result.
This is perhaps the nub of the problem, Beer, at least in Bavaria, is considered a vital foodstuff and as such is subject to a lower tax bracket. Although there is a culture of drinking in Germany it seems to be one of general moderation. The law even allows for sixteen year-olds to drink in bars, as long as they only drink beer. This early introduction perhaps gives these youngsters a better understanding of their tolerance too alcohol at an earlier age. That being said, the real fear is that youngsters are increasingly drinking spirits to excess, which are equally cheap in comparison to the UK.
Even if there are cases of excessive drinking in Germany, I have yet to see much of the violence that plagued my time working in bars during university. Furthermore, although Stag and Hen nights can be seen roaming the streets of a weekend in many German cities, rarely do you see some of the more debauched displays of the equivalent groups in Britain. I have yet to see a crowd of boozed up women dressed as can-can dancers or a burly looking man, in a dress, marching through the streets with bottles of cheap cider gaffer taped to his hands.