Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Into the Drink


If you get hit by a truck in Germany,
chances are it'll be a beverage truck.
We all know that Germans love beer. Germany is home to the world’s largest beer festival (more than 7 million liters of beer are consumed each year at Munich’s Oktoberfest), has the world’s oldest known law protecting the quality of beer (the Reinheitsgebot was enacted in 1516), and as far as I’m concerned (sorry Czech Republic) still makes the best damn pilsner in the world. German Knaben and Mädels are already well-acquainted to the world of alcohol long before reaching the legal age of 16. This is perhaps the subject for another post, but it’s notable that – in most cases – the earlier drinking age in Germany compared to the U.S. or England actually results in much healthier, more mature behavior when it comes to alcohol consumption.

The juice quantities alone are simply staggering. (Photo: Peter Menzel Photography)
Less well-known, however, is the deep-seated German passion for Getränke (beverages) in general. Now, you might ask, how do Germans store the requisite numbers of bottles required to slake their insatiable thirsts with such diminutive refrigerators? After all, many Americans have entire fridges dedicated solely to beer storage, and I don’t think we’re nearly as drink-happy as the Germans. The answer: der Kellerraum, or cellar – chock full of slightly-lower-than-room-temperature beverages, neatly stacked in their returnable plastic carrying cases. In Hungry Planet – a thought-provoking book about eating and drinking habits around the world – families purchased a typical week’s worth of groceries and posed with the resulting pile. It’s absolutely fascinating how much you can tell about how a family lives and where they’re from just by seeing what they consume. So anyway, after letting my disgust subside upon seeing Americans’ and Britons’ horrendous heaps of frozen, processed, sugar-laden and unhealthy foods, I had a good look at the German family’s formidable stack. I couldn’t help but notice how many neatly-aligned rows of beverages dominated the picture. It almost looks as if they realized the silly proportion of liquids in their pile, at which point they tried to visually reduce the utter beverage domination by trying to hide those juices and drinking yoghurts way in the back (by the way, Germans are also big coffee and tea drinkers, which is not evident in the photo – the vacuum-packed Tschibo coffee packages and Teekanne tea bag boxes are in all likelihood hiding behind those red wine bottles on the left).

At least €100 of Pfand just waiting to be cashed in.


In my experience, Germans usually have a solid two-week supply of liquid consumables on hand at any given time. The smartest, most dedicated Getränke-lovers make a special trip to the nearest Getränkeladen (see picture), where the selection is wide, the prices low, and the carts and aisles specially designed for some seriously efficient drink-purchasing action. If it’s a Sunday or a holiday, not to fear (when nearly all other stores are closed); there are Spätis (late-night shops) and gas stations that can fulfill your diverse beverage needs in a pinch.

It is the German take on the most basic, simplest of beverages, however, that I find most interesting. Water almost always comes from a bottle in Germany. If you’ve traveled here before, you know that restaurants don’t bring water to the table, and if you ask for water, you’ll get it in a bottle. You’ll also be asked whether you want it mit or ohne Gas or Kohlensäure (with or without carbonation).

A very brief excursus: Germans also love carbonation. To wit, the aforementioned Getränkeläden have at least three levels of water carbonation on offer, and any non-carbonated drinks present in the Hungry Planet photo will most likely be diluted with carbonated water before being quaffed.

So once you’ve caught on to the default of having to pay for water at restaurants, you pull out your conversation dictionary or travel guide and subsequently practice saying the word Leitungswasser until you’ve memorized it, only to realize that whenever you order it, you’re either faced with a disquieting scowl, annoyed sigh, or maybe even a well-practiced monologue about how water is not served from the tap at this establishment, not because the water is somehow non-potable or will give you worms or cholera or worse, but because one simply doesn’t do that (so was tut man nicht). You may wish to point out now that the Germans’ consumption of bottled water isn’t consistent with the rabid environmentalism and conservationism I've mentioned in previous posts; but to nobody's surprise, they’re way ahead of the game: there is a Pfand (deposit) of up to 25 cents per bottle. They also tend to put the largest deposits on the little flimsy plastic bottles or cans that are most likely to get carelessly tossed into the garbage – so if you’re too lazy to return your bottles, someone else certainly will (stay tuned for my next post on precisely this topic!).