As a teenager in Essex, and later a student in Devon, I worked in pubs to earn money. (I never did this job in Berlin, I was horrified at the actual maths expected of people who were meant to calculate sums zusammen oder getrennt in their fucking heads like literal geniuses, I think, to be honest, I could just as easily retrain as a rocket scientist as work that kind of complicated shit out in front of a table of gawking strangers).
So in Britain, in the 90s, it was super clear that the kind of customers who wanted tap water were not the kind of people we wanted in our pubs. “They can drink tap water at home,” our manager said, viciously. We were encouraged to tell people the tap water was literally undrinkable.
“Tell them it’s got chlorine in it,” our manager said.
“I think all London tap water has chlorine in it,” I told him helpfully. Nobody ever mentioned the law, though. Nobody cared.
When I arrived in Germany, aged 20, everything seemed super cheap to me, compared to back home. I came over as part of a central bureau exchange year. We were a group of Brits hanging out with a bunch of North Americans and while the British thought the food was super cheap – I remember thinking, at one point, that every single restaurant I had ever been to must be a secret mafia front for laundering money, the Americans didn’t find things nearly as cheap as us. In fact, the Americans (when I talk about Americans, I mean US-Americans now) were HORRIFIED when the bill came – and disgusted about having to pay for bottled water.
“Of course you have to pay for bottled water” I said, reasonably.
“This is communism,” a ginger-haired, pretty horrible, American guy said. He was like the mean guy in a Sweet Valley High book, arrogant, obnoxious, ugly, slightly ridiculous. The kind of guy who might get a bit handsy with Jessica at a party or something.
“I don’t think it is?” I answered. “I think it’s capitalist when you pay for drinks you drink in restaurants.”
I remember back in the day, wondering why Americans didn’t call tap water faucet water (I still wonder this) and how I used to pronounce it Leistungswasser and the waiters found it so sweet that I continued doing it even after I found out it was wrong.
Sometimes, grudgingly, you’ll be brought a thimble of lukewarm water in the poshest, nicest, dearest restaurant you’ve ever been in.
It’s only taken 20 years but guess what? The Brits give you tap water now. Bottles and bottles and bottles of the stuff. I don’t know what happened, probably too many Americans in our capital city or something, or maybe they just realised it wasn’t worth fighting about. Bottles and bottles and bottles of free water and empty glasses and they refill it for you and if you want you can have another drink but they actually don’t mind if you just sit there sipping on your free water for the duration if your entire meal.
I think the situation with tap water is slowly getting better in Germany, too? It’s rare now that people just say no and walk away. Sometimes, in fact, you ask if you can have water and they literally ask – do you just want tap? It’s a wonderful feeling, it must be what Paris Hilton or Scarlett Johansson feel like every second of every day.
But we’re not living in Leitungswasser utopia yet: you’ll still be, sometimes, grudgingly brought a thimble of lukewarm water in the poshest, nicest, dearest restaurant you’ve ever been in – despite the fact that you’ve already ordered seven super-expensive Aperol Spritzes and are actually, to be honest, just a bit thirsty.
What happened to make the waiters and waitresses in London so tap-water friendly? The sight of a bottle of tap water plonked down on your table is truly heavenly! And what are we going to do to introduce German restaurateurs to this concept?
I’m not gonna lie: sometimes, especially recently, with inflation hitting hard and as a single mum freelance writer struggling to survive, sometimes I am literally too poor/stingy to pay for mineral water and want the bill to be a bit less schmerzhaft.
But also: Berlin tap water IS really delicious, and we’re meant to be trying to save this old planet of ours?
Come on deutsche Kellner:innen get your Leitungswasser out for the girls!