Postcards From Abroad: Berlin

 
 

Just before class begins in Berlin, Pat de Brún reflects on what he’s learned about our drinking culture from his time in Germany so far

Having had enough time now to get a real feel for what Berlin is all about, it’s only natural to make some comparisons and contrasts with Dublin. Of course, in many ways Dublin and Berlin are worlds apart, but one thing that they do have in common is that they are both generally scene as party-towns. Naturally, they’re different, but most foreigners associate Dublin with drinking, pubs, and as a good destination for a boozy weekend away. Something similar could be said about Berlin.

In Ireland, we hear almost on a daily basis about the ‘demon drink’ binge culture, either in the media, from politicians, or older generations. We are all aware of it, and most of us participate happily in it. Coming to Berlin, I expected to find a similar drinking culture, but my experiences here so far have made me look very differently at our relationship with alcohol at home.

You only need to walk into a student apartment in Dublin at 10pm on a Wednesday night to get a flavour of the culture that I’m talking about. First things first, they’re just back from legging it into Tesco before the dreaded 10pm deadline to stock up on cheap vodka, cans of Dutch, or whatever takes your (wallet’s) fancy. This is followed by an hour or so of speed-drinking before making the trek into town, generally alongside the pour soul unfortunate enough to be driving your bus or taxi. Then it’s straight to the club, as prohibitively expensive pub-drinking isn’t even on the agenda. And you need to be in before 11.30 for ‘cheaplist’, duh.

We are then treated to the scenes on Harcourt Street that are replicated in every town across the country week in, week out: people falling, people crying, people fighting. There are ill-advised hook-ups and aggressive arguments aplenty. Full advantage is being taken of whatever drinks offers are available that night. You’re flailing about the dance floor, deep in concentration, thinking you look just like Justin Timberlake, before finishing up at 2 or 3 when the club closes.

The best you can hope for when waking up the next morning is a pounding hangover and the sickly syrup of Jaegermeister gluing your tongue to the roof of your mouth. You’ll spend the next couple of hours scratching your head and piecing the events of the night together. Then comes the worst part of all: the dreaded onset of The Fear, as the alcohol finally leaves your system. The inevitable self-kicking and loathing that follows, as you pour over something stupid that you may or may not have said or done.

Before I go on, I should mention that I am in no way getting on my high horse on this issue. The reason I understand how the standard model for an Irish night out works is because I went about perfecting the art in my first couple of years in college. Yes, it can be ugly, but I never said it couldn’t be fun.

With this being my standard experience of a Dublin night out, I pretty much expected to see more of the same in Berlin, but with longer club opening hours. What I have come to learn, however, is that the two party cultures are worlds apart. Since coming here, I am yet to see an alcohol-induced fight, tear or argument, which has been pretty refreshing. The German relationship with alcohol is completely different.

It’s perfectly normal to see people sipping a beer at any time of the day, but as an alternative to a soft-drink as opposed to the most efficient way of getting plastered. When I’m going out with friends, we would normally have no more than two or three beers before venturing to a club, and have a few more in there. The club here is seen more as a venue to appreciate music, go dancing, and relax with friends, as opposed to purely being a reasonable venue in which to get tanked up.

The atmosphere on the streets and in the clubs is friendly and celebratory, and I’m yet to witness an aggressive incident. This is in contrast to the macho atmosphere that can prevail in Irish clubs, and particularly on the surrounding streets, where I often feel that you need to be on your guard if you want to stay out of trouble.

This marked difference got me thinking a little about the reasons the two types of ethos are so different. Is it purely cultural? Do we, as a people, actually have dhrinkin’, shmokin’ and fightin’ embedded in our genes? Or are the reasons to be found in our laws and government policies?

All the talk regarding this issue being tackled in Ireland in recent times has been nothing short of idiotic. Again and again, we hear certain people calling for even shorter night club opening ours, and minimum pricing legislation for alcohol is currently being considered by the government. These arguments completely ignore the fact that we already have one of the earliest mandatory club closures in Europe, and that alcohol is already prohibitively expensive.

The fact that the clubs close so early only encourages our culture of speed-drinking, both at the ‘pre-session’ and in the clubs, which in turn leads to so many of the social issues that I’ve mentioned. My mother often tells me that during her own time in UCD, ‘pre-sessions’ didn’t exist, and that it was rare for someone to have a drink before heading to the pub. Anecdotal it may be, but it leads me to believe that the problems we have now can definitely be reversed.

The real challenge would probably be the carnage that would follow in the immediate aftermath of more relaxed drinking laws. I have a feeling that if we were to allow public drinking, let clubs open all night, and reduce the legal drinking age overnight, the country would probably explode. I would come home to find a post-apocalyptic wasteland reminiscent of Mad Max, where only the most hardened sessioners survive.

In order to do it right, we would need to focus on education, along with gradual legal and regulatory changes that could affect cultural change. Right now though, I don’t hear anyone in political or media circles talking any sense on this issue. If we’re going to improve things, we’re going to need to have a reasoned debate. A knee-jerk tightening of regulations every time there’s an alcohol-related incident featured in the media isn’t the solution. We need to look for a long-term strategy that will lead us to regaining a healthy relationship with the Demon Dhrink.

Read: Pat de Brún’s second Postcard from Abroad

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