First things first: in Berlin, drinking in public is generally not forbidden – neither in Berlin, nor elsewhere in Germany. Or in other words: In Germany, drinking in public is allowed. You won’t get a ticket when walking down the street, drinking a beer – and you won’t get a fine for drinking a bottle of wine in the park. Drinking in public is almost a national heritage, considering all those Beer-Gardens, Picknicks and ‘Feierabendbier’. And the drinking age in Germany is relatively low: you basically have to be 16 years old to be allowed to drink alcohol in Germany. But before we dive into the details let’s begin with a fair warning:
Exeptions – where not to drink in public
While drinking in public can almost be considered a national heritage, things have changed a bit over the past years, since some people actually did misbehave badly. This doesn’t mean that drinking in public would be banned – but it certainly isn’t that ‘liberal’ as it once was.
For example: it used to be totally ok to drink downtown Berlin Mitte on Alexanderplatz. Then there were some summers of love and peace and drunkenness – literally hundreds of teenagers met right at the foot of the Berlin TV Tower and drank the night away on a semi-regular basis. Now city officials changed the law – or actually they just released some extra rules for Alexanderplatz area and now drinking is not allowed on that part of Alexanderplatz any more. But if you happen to sit on one of the park benches enjoying a beer or two – that should probably still be totally ok even with the local authorities.
And it also used to be perfectly fine to drink a beer while riding the U-Bahn (subway) or S-Bahn or Tram – and even drinking on the Bus was ok. Nowadays little signs inform you that neither eating nor drinking is allowed on that part of Berlin’s public transport system. For a reason. In trams and busses and S-Bahns I actually still haven’t seen these signs yet – which doesn’t automatically mean that drinking on public transport would be allowed. But riding the subway for example you on a weekday after 5p.m. you might notice that some people will still enjoy their “Feierabendbier” in public on their home from work.
Common Sense – drinking in public vs. getting drunk in public
Whatever you decide for – please do behave! Germany is not just famous for its beer, but for it’s beer culture. Just because it’s not forbidden doesn’t make it ‘OK’. Drinking a beer as drinking water as drinking coffee always was and always will be ok. But drinking and yelling and insulting people and misbehaving as if it was your last day on this side of the solar system never will be.
After you finished your ‘picnic’ please don’t leave any litter behind. Take your trash with you! Or dump your party remains in one of the many trash boxes that can be found almost everywhere. But don’t dump empty beer bottles though, since those should be returned and recycled! Place those next to the trash bin instead. Or place all of the bottles right next to a trash bin if you are unsure what bottle is to be dumped and which ones are recycled. Please do behave, so the neighboring and/or following ‘picnic-group’ will enjoy their picnic just as you did.
Legal drinking age in Germany / German alcohol Laws
Often people are wondering, how old you have to be, to drink alcohol in Germany / in Berlin – and how old you have to be to actually drink alcohol in public? The legal drinking age In Germany – or actually the legal age for buying ‘soft alcohol’ like Beer and Wine in Germany is 16. The legal age for buying ‘hard alcohol’ like liqueur – Vodka, Gin or Whiskey in Germany is 18. These age limits for buying alcohol however do actually also apply to drinking in public – or as it says in German law: “Verzehr und Abgabe von alkoholischen Getränken und Tabakwaren in der Öffentlichkeit” which would mean something like “consumption of and accessibility to alcohol and tobacco in public”. So there is two interesting details hidden in that law that I would like to point out:
- Drinking in public has the same age limits as drinking in bars and restaurants – both is considered “drinking in public”. The law actually only refers to “drinking in public” and this implies bars and restaurants.
- The responsibility for under aged drinking in private or drinking ‘at home’ is in the realm of the parents or whoever is responsible for the under age person.
Alcohol in traffic – riding a bike, driving a car
While sitting in the park probably almost always sounds like a good idea, participating in traffic under the influence of alcohol may not be. You may have heard rumors, that drinking and driving is allowed in Germany? Yes, indeed, it basically is. But again – just because it’s legal within certain limits does not mean it is a good idea. And the related laws actually got a bit stricter over the past years: in West-Germany and West-Berlin the legal alcohol level used be at 0,8‰ –– since 2001 the legal alcohol level was lowered to 0,5‰ – and if you do a mistake, ignoring a traffic sign or something similar, you can actually lose your driving license already at 0,3‰ blood alcohol.
According to German laws, people are not allowed to steer vehicles under the influence of a certain amount of alcohol – for steering cars it’s the above mentioned limit of 0,5‰. This means two things: also riding a bike may be illegal at a certain point – and riding a horse may still be un-regulated :) although i suppose in the eyes of the law, a horse is also a vehicle. As far as I know the theoretically legal alcohol level for riding a bike would be at 1,6‰ – but the police can already give you a ticket (and even drag you to court) if you have a higher blood alcohol concentration than 0,3‰ if they think you riding your bike ‘conspicuously’. The same applies to driving a car. So I would highly recommend you don’t try that out.
Opening hours / Closing time / Last orders
Many people are puzzled about the Berlin opening hours for bars, restaurants and clubs. Berlin nightlife regulations are actually famous for their (almost) non-existance. That means basically a bar, a restaurant or a club can open and close at whatever time the owner or the staff prefers to.
There are even some bars, cafes and clubs that don’t close at all for a couple of days in a row. There are basically no official opening hours, neither closing time, nor last orders – except for the ones the barkeeper decides on. This also means: the barkeeper has the last word – the barkeeper is the boss. When he/she says the party is over, then the party is over. Whenever he/she says you should leave the location, then you probably should just leave the location. No need to argue. No further questions. Obey! The barkeeper is always right!
In some areas bars actually have to stop serving customers on the terrace. This is basically a consequence of people sitting outside, being loud, annoying the neighbors. So once again: if you want to keep Berlin’s party scene as liberal as it currently is, then please do behave!
How much does alcohol cost in Berlin / in Germany?
In many bars and venue alcohol prices were actually rising over the past years, but compared to other cities it is still quite cheap to have a drink in a bar or in a restaurant. And of course beer and wine etc. is even cheaper when you by it at a Kiosk, a Late Shop or in the Supermarket. Depending on the brand, the origin, the location where you buy your drink prices may vary a lot. I’ll try to give a few examples so that you can dram your own picture from that:
- Beer: The price for a half liter bottle of beer at Kiosks and Late Shops may range anywhere between 1 Euro and 2,50 Euro. Buying a cheap brand at an off-site Kiosk may be as cheap as one Euro for a half liter bottle. Buying a bottle of beer of a well known brand at a Kiosk inside a train station, at the Airport, at Alexanderplatz or at Hackescher Markt will probably cost you around 2 Euro – or even 2,50 Euro. A bar / restaurant will probably charge you between 3 and 5 Euros for a large beer, depending on the location and the reputation of the place.
- Wine: A bottle of wine can be as cheap as 2 Euros if you purchase it in a local supermarket. The same wine might be served at a nearby restaurant for 10 Euros. I usually buy my wine at a wine shop for approximately 6 – 7 Euros per bottle. I consider it a decent price for a decent wine. Wine is just as available as beer – so you can also buy it from most places where you would find beer like Kiosks, Late Shops and sometimes even fast food stands. A bar / restaurant will probably charge you between 3 and 5 Euros for a glass of wine, depending on the location and the reputation of the place.
- Cocktails: Some restaurants (often Indian restaurants?!) have ‘Happy Hours’ for cocktails. Some charge as low prices as 3,90 Euro during those ‘happy hours’. I doubt those cocktails are any good. I just once tried a Happy Hour Cocktail. It wasn’t that bad – but it wasn’t that good either: lots of ice cubes and decoration, some cheap rum – can’t recommend. Instead I can actually recommend going to a decent cocktail bar. And Berlin does have some decent cocktails bars. You’ll probably have to pay at least 7 or 8 Euros for a real drink there – but I never regretted it. Seriously. Also: many cocktail bars are just Bars – so there is no dress code or anything the like.
- Schnapps: It may sound funny, but Germany / Berlin has some nice Schnapps to offer. Some special Schnapps comes from Austria – like Peach Schnapps or Plum Schnapps. Think of it as distilled fruits – enjoy it! You don’t have to swallow it! Depending on the brand and the location a decent Schnapps will probably cost you between 3 and 5 Euros.
- Jägermeister: Oh well… The thing about Jägermeister! Well – it’s mostly made of herbs and sugar. And it became cool in the 90ies, because it was so no-cool. It’s cheap, it does its thing, and you can virtually mix it with everything. And chances are, that you know all this already. Depending on the brand and the location a shot of Jäger will probably cost you between 2,50 and 4 Euros – but some locations don’t offer Jägermeister – for a reason.
Last but not least: behave!
Rule of thumb: Be a responsible grown up. There will be a ‘tomorrow’ – so please don’t behave as if there wasn’t. Do behave – be respectful – and everything will be fine.