On the weekend of the 5th August,, Berlin held its 15th „Internationales Berliner Bierfestival“. It was held along 2.2 kilometres of Karl-Marx-Allee in Friedrichschain. The festival, described as „the world’s longest beer garden“, featured 2000 beers from Germany and 85 other countires. The event was a great success, with a great ambiance and people from all different walks of life mixing and mingling over a pint or two. No chaos, just a fun and relaxed environment, with kids weaving their way through the crowds and all kinds of music playing in the background. Now picture this scene in the UK? Would it even be possible to have a beer festival without wreaking absolute havoc?
I hate to condone stereotypes, but having spent the past summer in Berlin, I can say with great conviction that there is a big difference between a drinking culture and a drinking problem. Germany has the former, and it would seem that the UK has the latter. But is this merely a stereotype, or is there any truth behind it?
Binge drinking costs the UK economy approximately £20 billion a year; 17 million working days are estimated to be lost due to hangovers and drink-related illness each year. The cost of binge drinking to employers is estimated to be £6.4 billion and the cost per year of alcohol harm is estimated to cost the National Health Service £2.7 billion. It’s not to say the figures aren’t similar in Germany, but there seems to be a different attitude to alcohol consumption.
Binge drinking equates to having more than 5 drinks in one sitting, something most students do on a regular basis. Coming to Berlin, and having heard of the crazy nightlife it offers, I expected my summer to be a continuation of my first two years at university, abroad. Somehow, it was not the same. I found myself in a tipsy happiness on most nights out, but never got to the point of complete lack of control and impaired judgement. Instead, I relied on caffeinated drinks to keep me awake during the early hours of the morning.
So why the difference? The key, I think, is in the motivation. In the UK, the fun is in the drinking, and the stories that come of it. If you keep your ears pricked around any university campus, you will often hear the words, „Last night was sooooo good, I hardly remember anything!“ A ridiculous and paradoxical sentence, I am ashamed to say I have most likely uttered those words myself once. But, I have seen the light. In Berlin I found the nights did not need to be improved my excessive amounts of alcohol, people may drink to enhance their experiences, but never to fully create an experience.
I’m not sure what advice I can give to improve the UK drinking problem, only that more people should visit Europe, and learn from Germany’s excellent example. Despite the cheap drinks (50 cent beers), the atmosphere and attitude surrounding drinking is laid back and lenient. An afternoon beer on you way to a friend’s is perfectly normal and attracts no stares. While in general, the amount consumed may be similar to that in the UK, it is the binge drinking that Berliners manage to avoid.