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  • John Riceburg: Do Berlin restaurants have to give you tap water?


John Riceburg: Do Berlin restaurants have to give you tap water?

John loves eating out, but hates the idea of paying €2 for a small bottle of mineral water. His message to Berlin restaurateurs? Give me tap water or give me death!

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Photo by Wonderlane (Flickr CC)

A fellow Exberliner of mine recently had lunch at the trendy Chilees Korean Burger joint on Choriner Straße. As her daughter concentrated on her meal and sucked on a soda, she felt a slight headache coming on. Fumbling for her pain pills, she politely asked her waitress for a glass of tap water to wash them down with.

“Oh, we don’t have that,” replied the waitress.

“Please ask,” was my colleague’s reply.

Again. the waitress came back in the negative. My colleague asked politely one more time, after which the waitress got on the phone with what could only be the manager.

When the manager finally came around in person, my colleague was shocked to hear an “apologetic” explanation: “I’m very sorry, but if I give you tap water and it makes you sick, I would have such terrible guilt about it.” What?!

This refusal of tap water isn’t isolated in Berlin. It happens all the time.

Coming from the States, I’m used to getting at least a gallon of ice water as soon as I sit down in a restaurant. (For y’all metric folks, that’s 3.7854 litres.) Even after all these years in Germany, I still get depressed by the idea of quenching my thirst with a tiny €2 bottle of mineral water.

I always order Leitungswasser. And to this day – as we’ve written about before – that means sometimes facing down an angry look from a waiter.

Tap water in Germany is of superb quality. Drinking bottled water just means adding a few more kilos to that island of plastic garbage in the pacific. I have no idea why so many otherwise environmentally conscious Germans “hit the bottle”, so to speak.

I’ve always wondered: Are restaurants in Berlin required to serve tap water? With a bit of research, I learned that in the France, any citizen – by executive decree – has a right to free water while dining out.

But Germany, unfortunately, lags behind this republican ideal. There is no legal requirement – restaurants can refuse to serve tap water or even put it on the bill.

So our only hope is the customer: At least one study claims that most people in Germany like the idea of free tap water. So it’s not a bad idea for restaurants to provide it. And in my experience, at least 95 percent of restaurateurs do. 

And even if I can’t file a legal complaint against them, I can still boycott any Gaststätte that forces me to go to the bathroom to fill up a water bottle. (Yes, I mean you, Ahnni Food at Karl-Marx-Straße 215!)