The first time I traveled to Germany, I had just turned 14. I pretty much knew nothing about the country at the time, and I DEFINITELY didn’t know that 14 year olds could drink in Germany with their parents! (And my parents conveniently also didn’t let me in on that little fact while we were there!)
Fast forward less than 10 years and I was now living in Germany myself. I’ll never forget watching a group of teenagers walk out of school for lunch, go to the Döner shop, and then sit out in the park with their Kebab and beer! I thought they surely were skipping school and being hoodlum teens! I came to find out that school is typically only half days in Germany and that you can buy beer legally at 16! Apparently, they weren’t being delinquents at all!! The drinking age in Germany is just way lower than I ever knew!
So, in this article, I’ll answer the main questions regarding the topic, such as “What is the Drinking age in Germany?” “What is the drinking age for tourists in Germany” “WHY do Germans start drinking so young”…..and more.
And before anyone @s me, EVERY single one of the photos in this article of my kids is APFELSCHORLE (not beer!)….Well, minus this next one (but I promise he was just looking at it longingly and not actually drinking!)
Germany Drinking Age (quick answer)
The approach for the legal drinking age in Germany is somewhat of a tiered process…and the legal ages may surprise you!
Under 14 Years Old: Individuals under 14 MAY consume beer and wine at home and only with the direct supervision of their guardians.
14 Years Old: May drink in the presence and approval of their parents, including at public places such as restaurants, Biergartens, pubs, etc.
16 Years Old: Individuals may purchase and consume Beer and Wine on their own
18 Years Old: May purchase and consume liquors and spirits
(More details below)
When most people think, “Germany,” the next word that often comes to mind is, “Beer!” (or maybe Lederhosen!) Since 1040 there has been beer officially brewing across Germany and that long standing tradition lives on strong today, but even well before that, most beers being made were the (now famous in Bamberg) Rauchbier. Germans are very proud of their beer heritage and take it quite seriously. As the country evolved and changed over the last several hundred years, the drinking laws have changed as well. It’s been somewhat of a yo-yo act, actually. In fact, like the US, the legal age to drink in Germany used to be 21. It has actually gone between 21 and 18 a few times!
Today, the drinking laws in Germany that state the legal age are set by the “Youth Protections Act” (Jugendschutzgesetz (JuSchG) )
Current Legal Drinking Age in Germany
Alright, so I highlighted the drinking ages in Germany, but let’s look into the details of it all, especially if you were a bit shocked at some of the younger ages!
The legal age for the first tier of drinking technically starts at 14 and underage drinking is not condoned in Germany. That being said, alcohol is not as taboo in Europe and because of the strong “Beer Culture” in Germany (more on this below), it’s not completely uncommon for parents to allow/ supervise their younger children with alcohol. This is not the “norm” at all and if this is done at all, it may be a sip of their beer type of thing at home. That being said, parents are also held to high legal standards for protecting their children. Therefore, they can be held legally responsible if it it is discovered that a parent has been negligent with alcohol and their children.
14 Years Old
Adolescents as young as 14 years old are permitted to have beer and wine as long as they are in the presence of their legal custodians. This means that if a parent has decided that it is acceptable for their own child to have a beer or wine, then that is allowable. This is even the case in public settings such as at restaurants and Biergartens. As long as the parents are there to supervise, youth as young as 14 years old may have a beer while eating out, at home, etc.
But do you really see 14-year-olds drinking beer and wine in restaurants with their parents in Germany?
Just because it is ALLOWED doesn’t mean that that is going to be the norm. It’s not like everytime I go to a restaurant I see a 14 year old drinking a beer with Ma and Pa, but if I DID see it, it’s not like I’d be shocked, surprised, or appaled by it. I have several friends who have young teenagers and they are happy to let their kids begin drinking in the comfort and safety of the presence of THEM, their parents instead of sneaking around.
16 Years Old
Starting as young as 16 years old, Germans (and tourists) are allowed to purchase beer and wine for themselves. They may go into any store or Getränkemarkt (separate stores for all drinks) and buy themselves a beer to enjoy. They can also order a beer or wine while out at a restaurant on their own, without parental consent. This even means that they can even order a giant beer Maß at Oktoberfest if they want!
However, anything that is non fermented, such as hard liquor, is still illegal to both purchase as well as consume under the age of 16 in Germany.
18 Years Old
It is only when an individual turns 18 in Germany that they can then legally drink distilled spirits and hard liquor in addition to beer and wine. This includes drinks like vodka, whiskey, and even the classic German schnapps, Jägermeister. However, there are still very strict rules and laws about people over 18 buying liquor for other minors.
Fun Fact: In Germany, you don’t even get your driver’s license until you are 18. That means you can actually legally drink before you can even legally drive a car! (obviously not at the same time!) – But more on drinking and driving below
What Is the Drinking Age in Germany for Tourists?
So GERMANS can start drinking beer at 16 years old, but what is the drinking age in Germany for tourists and foreigners? Well, just like with any other laws in Germany, as long as you are in the country, you are subject to the local laws (no matter where you are from). Therefore, can 16 year old tourists buy beer in Germany? Absolutely. Even a 14 year old (no matter what country they are from!) can have a beer or wine with their parents while out to dinner. Granted, if you are a teenager and are expecting to purchase beer or hard alcohol, you’ll still need your ID (your passport will do) since selling alcohol to minors has major legal ramifications and huge (upwards of 50,000 Euro!) fines!
But I’m sure it all goes without saying that just because one CAN drink beer at 14, 15, and 16 years old in Germany doesn’t exactly mean that they SHOULD. As a parent, you know your child best. And obviously, even if your teens are going to go off drinking, it’s extremely important to go over being respectful of the culture.
Selling Alcohol To Intoxicated Individuals
And while a 16 year old may be able to go out and get wasted legally, the drinking laws in Germany strictly forbid the sale of more alcohol to anyone (no matter their age!) who is clearly intoxicated. This means that even though many people argue that 16 is too young for alcohol consumption, the idea is that it doesn’t get (too) out of hand (easily).
So, Why CAN You Drink So Young in Germany?
In order to really understand the young legal age for drinking in Germany, you have to start to understand the CULTURE of Germany. (And not just it’s “Beer Culture” but that is a part of it!) It actually goes way beyond the laws of drinking ages and is more at the heart about some general German philosophies of the ways of life. Even in the first grade, my son’s Grundschule teacher already stresses (like reeaaaallly stresses) the importance of learning and taking responsibility for your own self (or in his case, his own school supplies) but it’s obvious that even from the age of 6, the concept of “responsibility” is already being deeply instilled for all facets of life. Responsibility, both individual and communal, is a virtue that Germans do not take lightly.
The Engrained Beer Culture in Germany
While Germans may not have invented beer, they sure have done a great job of perfecting and mass-producing it! Like most medieval civilizations beer production had many reasons, one being “health.”After all, with unsanitary water resources, drinking alcohol actually proved to be safer than water. This is exactly why for hundreds of years in Germany, it wasn’t uncommon for even a young child to have a (not very strong) beer. But this was true for many European countries. So why did Germany take the lead (and the stereotype) for beer and how did it become so engrained in the daily life and culture compared to other countries?
(Interesting Fact: Even though Germany is one of the top 10 countries for beer consumption, they are not even in the top 30 for alcoholism)
Those Clever Monks
Upwards of around 1000 years ago, there was already documentation of beer being made in Germany. One thing that started to set the country apart from others though was its beer production with Monastic brewing, which began over 800 years ago. With the monks’ belief in scientific methods, plenty of time on their hands (and quite possibly their strong desire to find that perfect “Liquid Bread” loophole that didn’t break their required Lenten fasts!) the quality of beer in Germany began to sky rocket.
Bavarians Enacted the “Beer Purity Law”
As beer began to really take a strong hold across Germany, Bavaria (its own sovereign state at the time) already saw the importance of producing only the best quality of beer possible. There were already strict rules and laws on how beer could be produced in Bavaria and in 1516, the official Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law) was enacted for the entirety of Bavaria. This law eventually became the law of the land throughout all of Germany.
So what is the Beer Purity law? It states that you may ONLY have three ingredients in beer:
- (Due to semantics, yeast was later added as an acceptable ingredient)
Still to this day, over 500 years later, the Reinheitsgebot is highly respected, revered, and honored in Germany (and is still the beer law in Bavaria!) While craft brewing is becoming more popular in Germany today, the long standing techniques of making traditional German beer is something that most Germans (and German breweries!) are extremely proud of.
Bavaria Changed The Entire Beer Game As the World Knew It!
Fun fact: Most beers before the 1830s were dark, smoked beer (Rauchbier). The history of this is a bit complex, so I’ll give you the cliffnotes version:
Basically, malt is required to be soaked in order to actually use it for consumption. What gets wet, must get dried. Therefore, for THOUSANDS of years, people who made beer typically would dry it over some sort of flame/ fire. While the level of smokiness could and did vary, it almost always resulted in some hint or level of a dark, smokey beer.
That is until the Brits took off with the Industrial Revolution and made the “English Kiln” (aka a way to roast malt without needing an open flame).
Long story short: The son of the famous Munich Brewery owner of “Spaten” did a bit of (what some would dramatically call) “Espionage” on some British brewers, came back, made some adaptations, and played with some recipes.
And VOILA!!! The first, Märzen (what we all know as “Oktoberfest Beer”) and one of the first modern day Lagers was created! This was a vastly different beer than what the world was used to. The Spaten brewery was so ahead of their time that they basically got the world on board with this “new” Lager style beer. Germany was officially the leader in beer creation and beer production!!!
(And Another Fun Fact: It was this same Spaten brewer who essentially designed the first modern fridge! Just think, if it wasn’t for German beer, we may not have refrigerators!)
Because of this explosion of lager-style beers, Germany became seen as the Go-To country for beer and that is still highly the case, even today.
Traditions Continue Today
One thing that I really love about living in Germany (Bavaria in particular) is the desire to respect traditions. It may seem weird to have “Beer” be a cultural tradition, but it clearly is! And that “Beer Culture” definitely lives on strong today. Biergartens are social gathering places to meet with friends and relax, a monthly Stammtisch is literally an organization that gets together at a Bierhall for their meetings, shoot there is even “Feirabendbier” which is the “beer at the end of the workday”…..which they enjoy at work!
Beer is the Same Cost as Water at Restaurants!
With the long-standing traditions and beer culture in Germany, it’s no surprise that “Beer” would be the go-to drink of choice for the majority of patrons at restaurants. However, in the early 2000s, a new law in the Gaststättengesetz §6, jokingly referred to as the “Apple Juice Paragraph”by locals, states that restaurants, “Must offer at least one non-alcoholic drink that is no more expensive than the cheapest alcoholic drink on the menu.” Since Germans don’t really do tap water at restaurants, that means that you will almost always pay for a bottle of water when eating out (no, there is typically no “free table water”- and Yes, German water IS safe to drink!) Most establishments have conveniently made this price juuuuuust slightly cheaper than the “cheapest alcoholic drink” (Aka Bier!) Therefore, if you are eating out at a restaurant in Germany, you can expect to pay about €3.50-4 for both a glass of water as well as comparatively to a beer!
Unfortunately for me, if I’m given the choice to pay 4 Euro and I get boring water or alternatively having to spend the exact same €4 and can get a beer, well….I’m going to choose the beer!!! (As do most people….therefore basically re-enforcing the beer culture!)
Drinking in Public
While this could technically be under the “beer culture in Germany” conversation, it also kind of deserves its own section because it’s another one of those drinking laws in Germany that many foreigners are surprised at. Drinking in public is absolutely legal and completely acceptable! In fact, the last time I went back to the States, my family had a picnic in a public park and when my husband pulled out a beer, everyone was like, “What are you doing!? You can’t drink that here!!!” From living in Germany, we had just become so accustomed to the idea that drinking in moderation and in public was just a normal thing to do!
In fact, when my husband and I are lacking creativity for date nights, we’ll grab a bottle of wine, some delicious cheeses, and just sit on a public bench by the Danube River and it’s totally normal to have a glass of wine as we watch the sun set! Or, I’d be lying if I said we don’t often grab a beer (and pretzel!) at the train station before hopping on a train to Munich or other journeys. Again, sipping on a bottle of beer on the train is completely normal, acceptable, and legal (assuming you aren’t being obnoxious!) Or, there’s always that group of friends walking in the Altstadt, dressed up in their Trachten (Lederhosen and Dirndls) on their way to the annual Volksfest already enjoying a bottle of beer on their way as they wander the streets.
TL;DR: Open container laws and drinking in public is 100% acceptable, legal, and the norm if you are being respectful and aren’t a nuisance.
Public Views on the Younger Drinking Age for Germany/ Local Expectations
I bring all of this up because without understanding both the actual history of beer in Germany and therefore how that has influenced the actual culture of beer, it’s sometimes hard to fully understand the young German drinking age that is allowed. While it is true that some people want to raise the legal age to drink in Germany to be 18 for all alcohol, most Germans look at drinking as a personal responsibility to know your limits (and this all comes full circle to “cultural beliefs!”)
Starting Young vs Encouraging Drinking
Not to get too deep, but there’s that whole “Want what you can’t have” thing our brains do. Many people believe that when something is not strictly forbidden (Verboten), it loses its “appeal.”
There’s also the concept that if something like alcohol is slowly introduced at a young age with the guidance and responsibility of an adult, then it’s not some “forbidden fruit” that teenagers clamor to in the secrecy of a friend’s basement when their parents are out of town. If a teenager knows they can access beer themselves at a restaurant at 16, there is a belief that they are less likely to try to binge it.
Likewise, by starting with beer and wine, Germans see it more as a gradual approach to alcohol (definitely not saying you can’t get drunk from beer or wine, just ask me that the morning after Oktoberfest!). Obviously, 18 year olds still may not make the wisest decisions of their lives at that age, but a common belief in Germany is that if they’ve already been introduced to less potent alcohol then by the time they are18, there is either less of a desire to binge or that you have learned a few ways to responsibly manage alcohol consumption already.
You Are Responsible For Yourself (and your kids!)
Another thing that I seriously LOVE about Germany is that while there are plenty of lawsuits in Germany, it’s not on the same “Sue-Happy” mentality as the USA has. There are SO many times that I see something in Germany and think “Oh My God! This would NEVER be allowed in the US!” (Popular walking paths on mountains with no rails, swimming pools with no lifeguards, kids at 6 years old walking themselves to school…) But in Germany, there is a widely accepted culture of “Do dumb things, earn dumb rewards” So basically, it’s a society that actually believes in “Natural Consequences” (Sorry- that’s the old Montessori teacher in my speaking!) You ordered that hot coffee and YOU accidentally dropped it? Ouch. That sucks. I’m sorry. End of story. You scaled that prison wall (Yes, this is a true story!) trying to escape, got hurt, and how want to sue the jail? Yeeeeaaaaah…..NO.
So, how does this all relate to beer drinking? YOU are responsible for yourself (and your kids). If YOU are going to allow your 14 year old to have a beer at your backyard BBQ, then you better make sure he is being responsible with it (eating food with it, limiting the amount, not biking, etc). If YOU are going to drink a giant Oktoberfest Maß, then you better know how to handle it, get yourself home safely, etc. If not, then I’m sure the Politzei will be happy to assist in those endeavors!
Being Drunk Is Not Exactly Looked Highly Upon
Sure, this is true pretty much anywhere, right? There’s kind of a funny stereotype about Germans being a bit, well….let’s just say “judgey” at times. There is this odd cultural phenomenon where Germans kind of like being up in others’ businesses. Whether it be the neighbors who love to be a bit nosey as they watch the neighborhood from behind their curtained window or the old Omas who always yell at me for not having the proper stocking cap on my baby in the winter (I’d like to see them try keeping a hat on this kid! I promise, I tried!!!)
And since there was the previously mentioned social norm of “You are responsible for yourself” the idea of public intoxication is highly frowned upon and it’s kind of just EXPECTED that you know how to manage your alcohol, know your limits, or in the very least, “keep it together”….no matter how young or old you are!
Now, do not get me wrong. I’m not saying people don’t ever get drunk. But it’s actually a very rare sight to be seen outside of huge festivals, big events, etc. And that’s mostly because growing up, this is just something that is engrained in them from a society that can, at times, be highly judgemental about foolishness, wreckless behavior, and being drunk in public.
Enforcement of the Drinking Age in Germany
While the young German drinking laws may seem lax to many, the legal drinking age in Germany is actually still strictly enforced. It is obviously illegal to provide alcohol to minors below the legal drinking ages. Bars/restaurants, etc can be heavily fined for providing alcohol to minors. And if a minor is found to be intoxicated, the parents can be charged with endangerment of a child.
Drinking and Driving in Germany
Drinking and driving is taken SUPER seriously in Germany (like it should be!) But before getting into the ramifications of
being stupid, irresponsible, and selfish driving drunk, a few things to know about driving in Germany (particularly for tourists). I’ll do my best to keep it to the topic of young drinking ages since the overall topic of DUIs in Germany should be its own separate, full topic/article.
You Can Not Drive Until 18 Years Old
In Germany, you can’t even drive until you are 18 years old. I do find it a bit funny that you are not allowed to drive, but you are allowed to drink a beer at 16! But even then, many 18 year olds wait to get a license. (Many towns/ cities are extremely walkable, have great public transportation, or biking is a very common form of transportation all over Germany). One positive thing about all of this is that if teenagers ARE drinking, they most likely will NOT be on the road!
Car Rentals For 25 & Younger
Another thing to note for tourists, in particular, is that while the legal driving age in Germany is 18, the vast majority of car rental agencies won’t even rent out to people who are under 21 years old. In fact, many of them will have exorbitant extra liability fees for anyone under 25 as a way to deter them from wanting to rent a car! Again, all this is to simply say that even though someone may be the legal age to drink in Germany, that at least they are not going to be able to be behind the wheel.
Drinking and Driving Is a Criminal Offense in Germany
Germans take driving extremely seriously. It costs thousands of Euros and months of courses and tests to even have the privilege of obtaining a driver’s license. Just like I said before, with certain privileges, come certain responsibilities and Germans 100% believe that if you want to continue to drive, you must be responsible. No ifs, ands, or buts!
Which is why a DUI is actually a criminal offense in Germany and is taken extremely seriously. So what is the drunk driving limit in Germany? At a blood alcohol content level of only 0.5, that is already driving illegally. But just how many beers does it take to even get to BAC 0.5? In Germany, that can be just ONE beer (depending on the beer and the weight of the person!) Sooo yeah….even drinking after “just 1” can land you in a ton of legal troubles and absolutely ruin your entire trip!
And just what exactly happens if you DO get caught drunk driving in Germany? If your BAC is 0.5-1.09 g/l then you’ll be facing a hefty fine upwards of 1500 Euro and typically a suspension of your driver’s licence. Blood alcohol content of 1.1 g/l or higher is considered a criminal offense and you’ll be facing jail time in addition to that large fine as well as your license being taken.
And in Germany, there isn’t typically a “slap on the wrist” or even a period of suspension. If you are caught drunk driving, particularly over the BAC 1.1 level, your license can be revoked…..for good. As in, never getting it back!
Sooo yeah. Germans don’t take drunk driving lightly!
Tourists Who Get a DUI in Germany Are Subject To The Same Penalties as Germans
Just like how tourists get the same legal age of drinking in Germany (16 for beer) by law, tourists also can face the same legal consequences of drinking and driving in Germany. Germany uses a points system for traffic violations and the more severe your impairment is, the more points you receive. These points absolutely can and will follow you back home.
Most likely, if you got a DUI in Germany, you will receive a sticker on your driver’s license after a visit to the Polizei station, which indicates how long it is suspended for, which, yes, typically transfers back to your home country. You’ll also receive a letter from the police stating your consequences, fines, and what is expected to do next.
TL; DR: Don’t mess up your entire Germany trip by being stupid and drunk driving….even after ONE beer!
Driving, Biking, & Scootering While Drunk Is Also Illegal!
When I say that “Driving Drunk” in Germany is taken extremely seriously, it doesn’t stop there. Literally, anything that you DRIVE, you can face legal consequences and steep fines if you have been drinking. In fact, you can even have your DRIVER’S licence revoked for bicycling home drunk! Now-a-days, most larger cities have those little “E-Scooters” and since they are considered a “motorized vehicle” if you thought grabbing one of those back to your hotel after an evening at the Hofbräuhaus was a good idea, then think again. You can actually face the same ramifications for driving an E Scooter drunk as you can for driving a car drunk in Germany.
Alright, so to bring it all back full circle and finish up:
14-16 years: Beer and wine permitted with a parent/ legal guardian (including in public places like restaurants)
16 years: May purchase only beer and wine for themselves
18: Hard liquor/ spirits
FAQs Legal Drinking Age-Germany
Why is Germany’s drinking age so low?
Partially from the general cultural philosophies of Germans as a whole, partially from the engrained beer culture, most Germans believe that a younger, graduated approach to drinking is more effective at reducing alcohol issues in society.
Is the drinking age 16 in Europe/ What age can you drink in Europe?
For most of Europe, the legal drinking age is 18. There are numerous countries (such as Germany) that do have a more graduated approach and may have younger ages. Therefore, just because it is legal to drink beer with an adult at 15 in Germany doesn’t mean it is everywhere, so it’s essential that you know the laws for each individual country that you are visiting.
What country is the youngest drinking age?
While you might think that the young of legal drinking in Germany of 14 (with a legal guardian) is young, in the West African country of Burkina Faso, you actually only need to be 13 to PURCHASE (oh, but hey, ONLY for males. 16 for females)
What is the minimum age to drink beer in Germany?
Legally, a youth may drink beer in public, such as at restaurants, Biergartens, etc at 14 years old but only with a legal guardian.
Can you buy alcohol in Germany at 14?
No. While an individual can not PURCHASE alcohol for themselves at 14 years old in Germany, they are still allowed to consume it when in the presence of their legal guaridan/adult.
Is it legal to drink at 16 in Germany?
Yes. The (Jugendschutzgesetz (JuSchG) ) law states that youth who are 16 may purchase and consume beer and wine.
Can 16 year old tourists buy beer in Germany?/ Can a 16 year old foreigner drink in Germany?
Yes. No matter if you are a tourist or a local, the drinking laws in Germany permit 16 year olds to purchase and consume their own beer or wine.
Why is the drinking age 18 in Germany?
While you can actually begin legally purchasing beer and wine at 16 in Germany, liquir and hard spirits are not legal until 18. It is thought that a more graduated approach to alcohol introduction helps with future issues of alcohol (drunk driving incidents, alcoholism, etc).
What is the drinking age in Berlin?
The legal drinking age does not change state to state or city to city in Germany. Whether you are in Berlin, Frankfurt, or are looking for the Munich drinking age, it is all the same across Germany- 16 for beer and wine/ 18 for spirits.
Do you really see 14-year-olds drinking beer and wine in restaurants and bars etc., with their parents in Germany?/ Are German people used to seeing 14-year-olds drinking with adults there?
While it is absolutely legal for a 14 year old to have a beer or wine with their parent at a restaurant, it’s not like it is absolutely the norm and something you see everyday.
Sources/ Citations For this Article:
Jugendschutzgesetz (JuSchG). JuSchG – Jugendschutzgesetz. (n.d.). https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/juschg/BJNR273000002.html
Gaststättengesetz§ 6 ausschank Alkoholfreier Getränke. § 6 GastG – Einzelnorm. (n.d.). https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/gastg/__6.html
Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, September 8). Protection of young persons act (Germany). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protection_of_Young_Persons_Act_(Germany)
Alcoholism by country statistics [our world in data 2021]. abbeycare. (n.d.). https://www.abbeycarefoundation.com/alcohol/alcoholism-by-country-statistics/
Alcoholism by country 2023. (n.d.). https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/alcoholism-by-country