Australia is fully civilized

Bicultural Urbanite Brianna
Raise your cups!

Execution of the very important kick-off ritual. Bottom up! | © Brianna Summers

Internationally, both Germans and Australians like to indulge in one. Alcohol permeates social life in both countries and is an indispensable part of social events, from birthdays and christenings to weddings and company celebrations. Nevertheless, there are both cultural and legal differences between Germany and Australia when it comes to dealing with alcohol.

I had my first experiences with alcohol when I was a teenager when I was an exchange student in the Ruhr area. My exchange partner and I were both 16 - in Germany the age from which you can legally drink - and so we used to meet up with friends in the local bar on weekends, sit around, talk and have a beer or two. The whole thing felt very civilized and grown up. In contrast, my teenage drinking experiences in Melbourne invariably took place in parks or without parental supervision at friends' homes, and people drank whatever they could get their hands on. Usually this meant bulk packs of canned beer or cheap fusel. One of my friends preferred vodka. Not because she liked the taste, but because it was "cheap and efficient". Another had a collection of street signs in her room, which she stole when she roamed the streets after drinking in various parks. Alcohol was banned and exciting and the motto was quantity, not quality.

AVAILABILITY AND CONSUMPTION

If you look at the Australian organization DrinkWise Australians are more responsible with alcohol than they were ten years ago. But some still hold 'all or nothing' attitudes towards alcohol, and alcohol-related violence continues to be a major headache for police and decision-makers. The Australian Criminal Police Institute reported in 2017 that "there is a well-established drinking culture in Australia of 'drinking to get drunk'". Have we inherited a disturbed relationship to alcohol from our mother country? Is it a holdover from the infamous six o'clock binge of the 1960s, when bars had to close at 6 p.m.? Or is it maybe because we invented the wine barrel? Of course, Germany also has its drunken rowdies and its alcohol addiction problems, but when you go out in Berlin you are still less likely to encounter unprovoked aggression or see someone throw up in an urban rubbish bin.

One of the numerous Kreuzberg bars. | © Brianna SummersGermany can look back on a long and proud brewing tradition and beer is taxed comparatively low, so it costs about as much as water. Alcohol can be found everywhere in Berlin, but excessive drinking with the aim of being full of stars seems to manifest itself mainly in tourist hot spots (or behind closed doors?). Could the ubiquity and affordability of alcohol be less of an incentive to hoard and binge drink? Beer, wine and spirits can be bought in every Späti (including convenience stores that are open at night) and identity checks are few and far between. Even shops like Rossmann, the German equivalent of Priceline, have a respectable wine selection. Day and night you can see people walking around on the street, holding a half-liter bottle of beer loosely in their hand.

Getting out of the general beer bliss can cause frowns in both countries. Not drinking on social occasions can lead to questions or something 'nicely meant' in Australia. Non-alcoholic options are often limited to Cola, Sprite, Fanta & Co., while in Germany there is a wider selection of acceptable alternatives for those who drink little or not. So the Berliners are crazy about Club mate, a lemonade mixed with mate tea extract, plus a whole range of organic soft drinks with more natural flavors. Radler (beer mixed with soda) is another practical option for those who still have to drive - and different from the English term Shandy the word cyclist does not have negative connotations either.

DRINKING TRADITIONS

A boozy night of partying in Melbourne almost certainly includes age verification by the bouncer and serving several rounds of alcohol - a common tradition that encourages participation in communal binge drinking. German drinking conventions vary from region to region, but toasting before drinking is a universally practiced custom. As with any cultural tradition, there are several ways you can go wrong. The drinker's arms must not cross each other (if several people are involved) and eye contact is essential when the glasses meet. I've already seen Germans actually pull their beer away from my approaching drink when I'm not looking directly at them. Often this gesture is performed in an exaggerated, theatrical manner with raised eyebrows and large, wide eyes. When the two glasses meet, you can choose from a number of good wishes, including Prost and Zum Wohl, but also the diminutive Stößchen and Prösterchen, which are often used ironically. They are roughly equivalent to utterances like Clinky Winky or Cheersy Weersy. In this context I even have the not quite correctly used English word Cheerio! heard what then sounds like a somewhat premature goodbye before the person who says these good wishes drinks himself under the table.

Alcohol-laden dinner party. | © Brianna Summers Even if Germany and Australia share a culture of heavy drinking, their love for alcohol is expressed in different ways (and with different consequences). Anyone living in Australia might think that there is an inherent link between alcohol and violence. However, based on my own experiences and observations in Berlin and Melbourne, I doubt that is the case. Like the Berlin-based journalist Tim Gregg in Sydney Morning Herald wrote: "Australia has no drinking problem. Australia has a violence problem." Despite its own complicated relationship with the bottle, Germany shows us that high levels of alcohol consumption do not automatically translate into high levels of alcohol-related violence. And let's have a toast to that.
  • Print article