Although the sight of people young and old proudly holding up a bottle of beer on subway trains is a common one in many parts of Germany, an increasing number of cities are fed up with the bottles laying on the floor, spilled drinks and rowdy passengers. Following moves in Hamburg, Munich and Nuremberg to prohibit booze on trains, Berlin's new interior minister says he wants to push for a comprehensive ban on alcohol consumption on the city's sprawling public transportation network. The move follows a number of high-profile incidents of subway violence in the city in which alcohol often played a role.
"It is a political priority," Frank Henkel, interior minister for the city-state, told reporters on Wednesday. The proposed ban is aimed at cleaning up Berlin's public image. But some observers have pointed out that a ban is unnecessary given that food and drink consumption is already technically not allowed on the city's subway trains, busses, suburban and regional trains as well as trams. Existing rules already allow drivers or security to kick people off public transport for drinking. In some cases offenders can even be charged with disrupting public order.
Forbidding What Is Already Banned
But there is a split in the city government, which is a coalition between the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), on the issue. During the recent forming of the government, Henkel failed in his effort to introduce a clause requiring the drafting of anti-alcohol legislation for public transportation in the capital.
"The BVG shouldn't come and ask lawmakers to bail them out of their inability to enforce their own conditions of carriage," Christian Gaebler, the city-state's SPD state secretary for urban development, told news agency DPA. "Passing a law to forbid the consumption of alcohol would be pointless, given that the consumption of food and drink is already forbidden."
However, officials at the operator of a large share of Berlin's public transport network, BVG, disagree. Spokeswoman Petra Reetz said that if the city wanted an enforceable alcohol ban, then it would need to be codified in law. "As a company, BVG is unable to enforce" the ban, she said according to the daily Die Welt.
Thomas Kleineidam, the domestic policy spokesperson for the SPD in the city-state's government, officially known as the Senate, told the daily Der Tagesspiegel he thought BVG was seeking to transfer responsibility for enforcing a ban over to the police because the public transportation service doesn't have a large enough staff to handle it itself. But members of the police movement also said this week they didn't have the resources to enforce a ban. Kleineidam also said he supported the idea of a general ban as long as the law was not changed in a way that would treat it as a punishable offense.
In Munich, around 2,000 people turned out for a farewell "Prost," or "cheers," in the German beer capital last Saturday for the last night of drinking before an alcohol ban went into effect on public transport there. Revelers reportedly caused €100,000 in damage to the subway.
Outside of Germany, a number of European capitals have also banned drinking on public transport, including London, which famously banned boozing on the Underground in June 2008.