German Alcohol Culture

When people typically think of Germany and its drinking habits, thoughts typically go to pictures of Oktoberfest and lots of beer all the time. However, this has not always been what the culture of drinking was like in Germany. There have been many different periods in which the perceptions of alcohol have varied. In the 1840s there was a large push against the consumption of spirits by the clergy, “He was convinced that poverty, criminality, godlessness, and immorality were all dramatically on the rise, the cause being an “artificial poison” “ (Spode, p. 2). This resistance was so forceful that millions took a pledge to never again drink spirits. Even while this was the case, wine and beer were still permitted. 

Another time in which there was a large opposition to alcohol was during the Second World War, “During the war, it is likely that some alcoholics fell victim to the euthanasia program, while others were assigned to “punishment battalions” on suicidal missions at the front line. The total number of victims of Nazi alcohol policies is not known” (Spode, p. 5). It is this side of German alcohol culture that is largely unknown by people. Drinking was not always something of little thought and consequence. Again, this is only one of many fluctuations in the way alcohol was approached; another shift was on the horizon. 

After the war ended, the consumption of alcohol per capita tripled (Spode, 2003). In the postwar era, there was less political intervention and they were more focused on issues caused from new drugs. “Today, Germany is among the 4 lowest countries in the EU when it comes to the scope of alcohol policies” (Simpura & Karlsson, p. 98). It was at this time when temperance organizations dissipated and alcohol consumption spiked. Here is when the traditional view of alcohol consumption in Germany reemerged, “In the many “niches” of GDR society, an excessive drinking culture blossomed; in the family, circle of friends, workplace, or weekend cottage” (Spode, p. 7). This is what most people think about German drinking culture, but as the history has been described here, that was not always the case. 

Present-day drinking culture remains consistent with what was reintroduced in the postwar era. It is found that only five to six percent of the adult population in Germany are categorized as absolute non-drinkers (Simpura & Karlsson, 2001). A majority of the population falls into the category of openly consuming. Depending on the region of Germany, the patterns of consumption vary, “In the south and the southwest, moderate daily consumption at mealtimes and in the evening remains the rule: a half or whole “measure” of beer…, or one or two Schopenhauer of wine…In other regions and in the big cities, alcohol consumption is tied more strongly to social occasions or the weekend; alcohol is consumed less frequently, but in greater quantities on those occasions” (Spode, p. 7). Drinking is done most often at home with the family, but public drinking is still a common practice within certain timeframes and location parameters. It is during special occasions where public drunkenness is expected. The culture of consumption in Germany is one that has been developed and shifted overtime before it arrived at the present. 


Simpura, J., & Karlsson, T., (2001). Trends in drinking patterns in fifteen European countries, 1950-2000. A collection of country reports.

Spode, H. (2003). Germany. In J. S. Blocker, D. M. Fahey, & I. R. Tyrrell (Eds.), Alcohol and temperance in modern history: an international encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC- CLIO.

Interview 1:

During our stay in Berlin, I took the time to chat with Melena (one of the interns) about what the perception and culture of alcohol is in Germany. She talked about how for many people the drinking begins sometime between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. There are different ways that these kids would get the access; for some parents would provide it and others would have older friends buy it and some could even get away with purchasing it underage. Melena talked about how it is legal to buy beer and wine when you are sixteen and then when you turn eighteen you are able to buy liquor. She went on to talk about how for some alcohol is used in the party scene and being drunk is a common thing especially for teenagers. Melena described how many parents often do not care what their kids do and thus drinking becomes an issue early on in life. In these situations, typically it is because the parents are also involved in heavy alcohol usage. In contrast, there are people, especially within the church, who have a more cautious approach to consuming alcohol and are more aware of underage drinking. I was also able to share about alcohol in America and she felt that there were many similarities in how alcohol was viewed and interacted with (M. Leitner, personal communication, September 26, 2017).

Interview 2:

After visiting the homeless shelter in Berlin, I was able to have a brief conversation with Leeza about the impact of alcohol on German society. She talked a lot about how for many of the people in the shelter, some part of the reason that they were there was due to the influence of alcohol in their lives. One of the biggest reasons that she felt homelessness is as big of an issue as it is has to due with the use of alcohol. She mentioned that many people start of drinking at a very young age and become addicted to it. Sometimes this addiction alone is enough to lead them down a path to homelessness; other times the use of alcohol leads to other drugs that eventually pushes them off the deep end. Based on our conversation, it seemed as if Leeza thought that homelessness is largely impacted by people’s abuse of alcohol (L. Bittner, personal communication, September 26, 2017).