Germany and its drinking laws: Why I can drink even though I’m under 21

I think it’s safe to say most people know European countries don’t have a drinking age of 21 like we do in the States. I often wondered how this age restriction changed the culture of these countries, and after being in Germany for a month I think I’ve figured it out.  

When I had my first day of orientation at RheinAhrCampus (RAC), I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw the student body giving away. They had set up a table in the courtyard and were giving free sandwiches and mimosas to everyone walking by. Yes, my university’s student body was giving away champagne and orange juice, while other students were openly walking around with beers in hand.  

In addition, as a gift to celebrate the beginning of the semester, they were handing out free shot glasses with RAC printed on them.   

I was shocked when I saw this. I couldn’t help but think, “wow, I can’t even drink in the States and here I am in Germany where I can share a drink with a faculty member.” It is drastically different from Coastal, where we call ourselves a dry campus.  

The definition of a dry campus is a college or university which does not allow alcohol anywhere on its premises, regardless of whether the person is of age. For CCU, being a dry campus also includes the prohibition of drugs or tobacco. This is something the university prides itself in.  

Yet, at RAC it’s common to see students standing in the courtyard, having a nice conversation with each other while smoking some cigarettes.  

Aside from the university, drinking is a very typical, laid back, activity which occurs in almost every gathering in Germany. For example, I and a group of international students went out for dinner with some of our faculty members. During this dinner, it was automatically assumed everyone would enjoy a glass of wine with their meals.  

It is also common to find people walking around the streets with an open bottle, or even enjoying a drink on their train ride into town.  

I don’t believe there is a right or wrong in either culture, but it is apparent in Germany that drinking is not a big deal, it’s just something people do. Whereas in the United States, as soon as someone turns 21 it’s time to party and make a huge scene. I think in this aspect, Americans could learn something from the Germans.