“Okay, we should probably stop speaking English now,” my friend muttered.
It was getting close to 3:30am, and we were about to reach the front of the queue for Tresor, one of Berlin’s infamous underground Techno clubs. Both dressed in dark jeans and chatting quietly to each other while we shuffled forwards, neither of us was noticeably drunk – but there were still plenty of reasons we could get refused entrance.
“If the bouncers see you speaking English, they’ll just turn you away like that,” he’d explained. “Or if you’re in a group. Sometimes even more than two people can be an issue.”
The three guys behind us were on a lads’ weekend away from Jersey. There were 12 of them, but they’d deliberately split themselves up to have a better chance of making the cut. They knew they couldn’t let slip their nationality either – they’d been turned away from a club the previous night for speaking English.
Up ahead, a gang of girls were arguing with one of the bouncers. None of them looked particularly hammered either, but the selection of denim shorts and crop tops stood out painfully against the sea of dark clothes. They definitely weren’t from around here. I thanked my friend for making me change out of my shorts before heading out. “Yeah, you looked too much like a tourist,” he admitted.
It seemed ludicrous.
How could clubs get away with refusing people purely because of their nationality? Or their group size? Or because they’re tourists? This was my initial response, anyway.
I mean, we were in Germany. The country where, every night this week, I’d seen people walking down the street with bottles of beer in hand. Heck, I’d seen a group of girls passing round the Schnapps bottle in Alexanderplatz earlier that week. The drinking culture in Berlin seemed pretty laid-back – so why did the mood suddenly turn dark when it came to clubbing?
But after a bit more time here, it becomes painfully obvious why.
Yes, you’re allowed to drink in the street here. And I’ve seen plenty of it. I’ve seen groups sitting on blankets in the Mauerpark on a Wednesday evening, sunbathing and listening to music with a cooler of beers to hand. I’ve also seen shirt-and-tie workers nip into the Spätkauf on a Monday to get a bottle for the walk home. But you know what I haven’t seen?
Groups of students staggering towards clubs, holding up that girl who’s particularly wasted. Fights breaking out in the street and outside clubs, egged on by slurred shouts and chanting. Girls hurrying to get past groups of guys yelling disgusting things about what they’d like to do to them. Or pools of vomit on the pavement the next morning.
No. The more time I spend here in Berlin, the more it seems this is a somewhat British phenomenon – but it’s something Europe is starting to recognise.
“People just come to Berlin to fill up their Instagram feeds and get a load of good stories,” a German told me. “Tourists don’t care what state they leave the place in. They shit all over the city and then just get on a plane home.” It’s a sobering thought. And it begs the question: how have things got so bad that the mere mention of British drinking culture is enough to make Europeans cringe away?
It was when I tried to explain pre-drinking to a German that this really hit me. “What, you just sit and drink on your own?” she asked. “No! Well, not usually…”, I answered – trying to smother the uncomfortable memory of a time in first year, when me and a couple of flatmates smuggled plastic bottles into a notorious Exeter nightclub, went into three separate toilet cubicles and downed them on our own. We were ashamed of ourselves at the time for that one. But so what? Everyone pre-drank!
The way many of us Brits see it, drinking’s not something to share with other people. It’s something to get us drunk. If you arrive late to a party, what’s your first concern? To find out what you’ve missed – or to ‘catch up’ with everyone by drinking as quickly as possible for the next hour?
Of course, I’m not speaking for the whole British population here. Or even for the British student population. I’d like to think I’m not even speaking for myself. Mostly. But spending a month outside the bubble and looking in from the outside paints a worrying picture of our drinking culture.
Is every student in Britain guilty of binge-drinking, behaving antisocially and becoming a danger to themselves and others on a night out? Of course not. But is this the stereotype of Brits which now echoes across Europe? Well, in Berlin at least it’s starting to seem so.
And I wouldn’t want that in my nightclub.
Hannah Butler, Features German Correspondentbookmark me