So here we are again, another year, another batch of deadline-scraping annals of an Erasmus life in deepest Bavaria for my loyal readers – all four of you – to muse over on every second Tuesday. Here’s hoping that your exam results, if they’ve miraculously appeared by now as due, flattered your workload, no matter how great or small that was.
The greatest thing that strikes you when returning to Ireland after spending a few months in somewhere like Germany, especially being an elder brother to a sulky 14-year-old obsessed with the idea of getting his hands on a can of Heineken, is the otherworldly difference in attitudes to alcohol that prevails between the lands. It’s, frankly, mind-boggling.
Passau, I might add, is at the present time in the throws of a major facelift involving a large chunk of the town’s pedestrian centre, near where I live, being flattened and rebuilt with huge glassy spires and bus terminals that look like petrol station forecourts (no, seriously: it wasn’t until I had a visitor in the first week back who supposed at its real use). Hence the town is swathed with builders, who unlike their Irish counterparts don’t drink tea, and work from 8am to 6pm or as long as daylight will allow.
Oh, and the other thing? Inside every builder’s van in Passau are crates of Löwenbrauerei Weissbier – the local brewery’s finest white beer. And for the hour that the builders do take off lunch, they do nothing but drink it. Not that it’s unusual here either: anyone who did Junior Cert German may have had their teacher explain that some angry Germans once brought a high-profile employer to court because their beer machines had been removed from their office canteen, and won the right to drink on the job.
A traditional Bavarian breakfast consists of Weisswurst (a light coloured sausage, usually pork) and Weissbier – and to all intents doesn’t differ much from a Full Irish other than the beer is mandatory. The legal drinking age is 16; as a result, even in the superclubs of Berlin, there is no ID culture. You can have a beer with your lunch in a McDonalds; you can even have a beer with your lunch in a college restaurant. No kidding: Passau’s Mensa offers a bottle of local brew for €1.05 – and 15c of this is the government levy on glass bottles which you can have refunded at the till. That’s right, kids, 90c for a bottle of beer to enjoy at college. And yet, despite the unconditional acceptance of alcohol in society here, there’s never a single mention of alcohol being involved in a car crash and the only times you see someone slumped over after a heavy day is at Oktoberfest.
Compare and contrast that to tarted-up 17-year-olds bickering with a bouncer about their ID in Temple Bar in New Year’s Eve and you have a quite perplexed columnist.