World Berlin’s mayor tries to wean Germans off the water bottle Published 3 months ago on September 14, 2018 By Aldin Pinkott Share Tweet Luisa Beck Reporter covering Europe from The Washington Post’s Berlin bureau September 14 at 5:00 AM BERLIN — When Germans are out and about, their water go-to is usually a bottle. But on a steaming late-summer afternoon in the nation’s capital, Berlin Mayor Michael Müller set out to convert them to the tap. “It’s always available — and an environmentally friendly choice because it avoids the production of plastic and transport costs,” he told a small crowd of perspiring environmental activists, photographers and city employees. Müller, 53, leaned over a bow-wrapped drinking fountain, filled a wineglass with water and proposed a toast to the fixture, an amenity long taken for granted in American cities but a quasi-revolutionary notion in Germany. Public drinking fountains are surprisingly rare in this country that prides itself on environmentalism, innovation and universal access to basic necessities. But Müller and his colleagues hope to change that, setting an eco-friendly example for other German cities by adding 100 new fountains to the roughly 50 already in the capital. It’s a hard pitch. Germans are among the world’s top five consumers of bottled water and the No. 1 drinkers of the fizzy kind. And that is despite the downsides: Bottled water, whether in plastic or glass, is expensive, often out-pricing beer, coffee and milk; heavy (bigger quantities are discounted); and a hassle to dispose of, given Germany’s notoriously rigid recycling rules . Public drinking fountains have not traditionally been an option here. Even with 150 of them in operation, Berlin will hardly have enough for its nearly 4 million residents, although it will be far ahead of Hamburg, which has six, Cologne, which has three, and Munich, with none. Berlin Mayor Michael Müller, right, and Joerg Simon, chairman of the city’s water utility, sample public fountain water. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) New York City, by contrast, has roughly 3,100 fountains for its 8.6 million people, Vienna has 980, and Paris has 974 (including some with sparkling water). [Still a problem and still outrageous: Too many kids can’t drink the water in their schools] Asked why the thrifty, pragmatic Germans have been so slow to adopt an obvious public good, Müller shrugged. “It’s not rational,” he said. “Maybe it’s because there’s no beer flowing out of the faucets.” Ironically, Berlin is catching drinking-fountain fever at precisely the moment when they are falling into disuse in the United States, victims of poor maintenance and the surging bottled-water market. In some cities, including San Francisco, Atlanta and Chicago, bottle-filling stations have become a popular eco-friendly successor. Environmental activists and politicians worldwide have long pushed cities to increase public access to potable tap water. Earlier this year, Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, told member states they should take such action to improve public health and to lower their carbon dioxide footprints. The manufacturing and transportation of billions of bottles a day contributes to carbon dioxide emissions and global climate change, according to scientists. And despite extensive recycling efforts by countries like Germany and Sweden, most of the staggering 1 million plastic bottles bought worldwide every minute end up in landfills or the ocean. Researchers estimate that by 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish, and some warn it’s making its way into the human food chain. [The amount of plastic garbage around may surprise you, but you can do something] In Berlin, however, those pro-fountain arguments may not suffice. “What if someone spit in it at 4 a.m.?” said Katrin Strohmeier, a 31-year old project manager who has lived in Berlin for about 10 years. She wouldn’t think of using a public water fountain, she said, mostly because “I don’t trust people not to be gross.” The fountains are cleaned every two weeks, and their water is tested monthly, according to Berlin’s Water Works. Although few studies on water fountains exist in Germany, U.S. scientists have found that they are generally safe, as long as they are maintained and the water is monitored. The latter is certainly the case in Germany, according to hydrologist Michael Schneider, of the Free University of Berlin. “The public water supply is supervised many times per year with a huge list of parameters,” he said. Hygiene concerns aside, Müller has another, potentially even bigger opponent to contend with: Germany’s long love affair with mineral-packed fizzy water. “In German history, bottled sparkling water came first, before tap water,” said Veronika Settele, a historian at the Free University of Berlin who studies the history of food and drink. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the country’s aristocratic elite traveled to natural springs in places like Gerolstein, in the Rhineland, for “drinking cures.” In the 19th century, visitors filled jugs with spring water to take back to their homes across the country. Eventually, companies including Gerolsteiner — still Germany’s top mineral-water supplier — grew up around the springs, commercializing the provision of drinking water before tap was safe. “Around the 1900s, it was for sure a better idea to buy bottled water over drinking tap,” Settele said. For the vast majority of Germans who couldn’t afford the expensive bottles, the best alternatives were a malt-based coffee substitute or beer. Even today, Germans drink on average two to three liters of the naturally carbonated spring water a week, although it’s an acquired taste for some foreigners. “I can’t drink Gerolsteiner. It’s just too much,” said Charles Fishman, an American journalist who has written on water consumption and preferences in his book “The Big Thirst.” “The bubbles actually add a little bit of bite to the water.” Berlin’s fountains won’t squirt sparkling water. Or beer. But at least the tourists don’t seem to mind. On the day of the mayor’s announcement, they crowded around a gleaming blue fountain at Checkpoint Charlie along with some of the city’s homeless residents. Some simply took a sip. Others took their empty plastic bottles and rather than tossing them, filled them up. Read more: ‘Water is everything.” But for many in Puerto Rico, it is still scarce. Too much seawater, too little drinking water: Fiji’s fight to withstand climate change Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world Like Washington Post World on Facebook and stay updated on foreign news Credit:Washington Post Share this:Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window) Related Related Topics: Up Next Prison staff protesting over inmate violence – POA union Don't Miss 2 injured as car rams into pedestrians in southern France, driver reportedly shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ Continue Reading You may like Follow Us On Flipboard Magazine. Latest U.S. Politics24 mins ago Meghan Markle vowed to live ‘less stifled’ life before dating Prince Harry Not long before she met Prince Harry, Meghan Markle vowed to live a “life less stifled” and to “take a... Sports34 mins ago Former Juve sporting director Marotta takes over at Inter Milan Giuseppe Marotta arrives to attend the draw for UEFA Champions League at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. Giuseppe Marotta has... World36 mins ago Constantinople was unwise to antagonize Moscow, leading Orthodox theologian says The Patriarch of Constantinople was wrong to declare Ukraine no longer subject to the Russian Orthodox Church as the conflict... Business53 mins ago Data Sheet—These Bleak Times for Global Tech Companies Jobs for everyone. After a grueling public process involving bids from over 200 cities…oh, wait, no. Apple skipped all that... World1 hour ago Ian Naude: Cheshire PC jailed for raping 13-year-old girl Image copyright Cheshire Police Image caption Ian Naude was being investigated for sex offences when he became a student officer... Most Read Tech1 week ago YouTube top earners: The seven-year-old making $22m Sports7 days ago Maurizio Sarri is steering Chelsea away from top four for second year running unless these changes are made, says Adrian Durham Sports7 days ago Who are the two best central defenders in the world?