Why Germans Don’t Drink Tap Water

admin
Why Germans Don’t Drink Tap Water
June 1, 2013
admin

When you go to a restaurant in Germany, a waiter will NOT bring you a complimentary glass of water. In fact, it’s almost impossible to get a glass of tap water in a German restaurant even if you ask for it.

Now the tap water in Germany is generally safe to drink, but the Germans usually don’t drink it, and the restaurants definitely won’t serve you a free glass of German water. The only water you can get at a restaurant will be bottled water with carbonation, or bottled water without carbonation.

What is the reason why no-one drinks tap water in Germany when it is perfectly safe to do so?

The reason is at least in part the word for tap water. In English, lots of good things come from taps. Beer comes from a tap, soda can be on tap, and of course the other meaning of tap, as in tap your fingers on the table is also positive.

But the German word for tap water is Leitungswasser which literally means plumbing water. Now if you offered someone plumbing water, well that’s slightly better than sewer water but it isn’t something you would do.

One of my biggest cultural mistakes in Germany was offering a friend of mine (who was probably very thirsty) a glass of ordinary tap water (Leitungswasser) and being surprised and somewhat offended when she wouldn’t take a sip.

So when you go to a restaurant, plan on ordering mineral water, with or without carbonation (gas) and never offer a German friend a glass of tap water.

The Comments Below are Excellent

February 2, 2013 Occasionally an internet article attracts all the right people who leave their comments and by doing so add clarity, depth, and understanding.

When you read the comments below you will understand a lot more about Germany, and perhaps love it more too.

by Brent Van Arsdell

Do You Want to Learn German?

We make software that makes Learning German easier. For a free demo please click on Learn German and then click the big “Try It” button.

 

Leave A Comment

95 Comments to “Why Germans Don’t Drink Tap Water”

  1. Katja

    What a funny and interesting discussion. I’m a native of Germany and have been living in the US for over 20 years. I used to visit regularly, haven’t been back for about 10 years now, but will take my family to my hometown near Mainz/Wiesbaden in a week. I didn’t drink tab water in Germany when I was growing up. I think it was the association my parents had with the contaminated water during and after the war. Growing up, I only drank carbonated water. I drink A LOT of water and will have to drink tab water on this trip to save money and because it’s always available. My own parents might think that is very odd :)

     
  2. erica

    Thanks so much for the past contributions. I am visiting Munich now. When I boiled water in the hotel, I found a lot white residue at the bottom of the water. I tried a different kettle but the result was the same. However, surprisingly, the tap water is crystal white. So I came here and found all the valuable comments. Thanks you guys a lot with my heart. Erica from HK.

     
  3. thomas

    Thanks for sharing! When you get back let us know what your water experience was. :)

    Thomas

     
  4. thomas

    Erica -

    You are welcome! This mineral content in the water is what we in America call ‘hard’ water – usually containing a high enough level of Iron and Lime that the water will leave residue in places where it runs for a long time, drips, or is often boiled (coffee urns, boiling pots, sinks, tubs, etc). Filtering and softening removes a LOT of these minerals and makes it safer to drink from the tap.

    Thomas

     
  5. Audrey

    We lived in southwestern Germany for a year, and found that asking for tafelwasser in restaurants usually resulted in a 500 ml carafe of tap water.
    Audrey

     
  6. mq

    I’m often in Germany and I carry a small bottle that I can fill. The leitungswasser in the Taunus region is outstanding and superior to the drinking water in nearby Frankfurt.

    I will often inquire “Kann Man, die Leitungswasser trinken?” (Is the tap water suitable for drinking?) The answer is usually a surprised “Ja,Naturlich!”

    If you’re drinking bottled water, check the sodium content on the label. You’ll soon figure out why the bottled water is leaving you thirsty.

     
  7. Vjd

    Great conversation. I’m in Bavaria Germany now and have been perplexed by the lack of available tap water. The tap water here tastes good! (And I am very fussy about water) In restaurants plain water costs anywhere from 2,20 to 3,75 euros (beer is generally around 2,60 to 4 euros). I too drink a lot of water so I’m filling containers rather than buying all those bottles.

     
  8. Weihnachtsmann

    I would say that drinking tap water is actually encouraged within most families in Germany. My mother always said that carbonated water is just a waste of money. We only bought some bottles when we expected visitors for birthdays etc.

    Tap water is indeed something you don’t want to offer your guests directly. But in the end it’s how you approach things:

    If you get asked for a glass of water you usually mention that you only got tap water and if that’s okay (“ich habe aber nur Leitungswasser, wenn das okay ist…”). Most of the time the guests will say yes of course, because it would be rude to refuse it or ask for something else (more expensive).
    And to be honest: guests refusing to drink tap water are idiots.

    On the other hand it’s totally fine to ask your host for a glass of Leitungswasser and even considered polite and frugal, as you don’t want to “trouble” your host etc.

    That being said, I live in Cologne and prefer buying carbonated water since the tap water has quite some limescale. Plus gassed water “tastes” a bit more refreshing :)

     
  9. Nick

    I wonder how much it cost to buy a bottle water (in liter)in Germany. Thanks!

     
  10. destinee

    IN NASSAU WE DONT DRINK TAP WATER BECAUSE IT TASTE BAD AND HAVE DRINK FRESH WATER

     
  11. Matt

    As a German who visited Canada I was really surprised that you get free water in every restaurant, but positively surprised of course. I actually always drink tap water since it’s much cheaper and tastes perfectly good. I can’t imagine that someone would get seriously offended when you offer him or her tap water to drink :D

     
  12. thomas

    Audrey -

    Thanks for letting us know. Might be a regional thing. Could also be a local water treatment that made the tap water much more desirable.

    Thomas

     
  13. thomas

    Great info!

    Did you know that sodium levels in water actually help the body retain that water more effectively, thereby creating a more hydrated body? As the sodium is used the water bond is broken and the water is released. There’s a trend in the health awareness communities of using a product called ‘sole’. Check it out.

     
  14. thomas

    Weihnachtsmann -

    Thanks for sharing your insights. Water is a peculiar thing and everyone seems to have their own preferences. I prefer, here in the states, at least a filter for the chlorine. My preference is ionized distilled alkalized water with just a tiny sprinkle of pink salt for mineral content.

    Pure and refreshing.

    Thomas

     
  15. thomas

    Nick -

    Great question! I wonder if anyone will respond with a recent value they recall from their visit.

    Thomas

     
  16. Glenn

    Cost us between Euro 0.35 and 0.50 for a 1.5 liter bottle in the supermarket, didn’t bother to drink water in the restaurants because beer was cheaper, no contest.
    We were in Germany mid September 2013

     
  17. beau

    Water is cheap here in the markets, like .19 per 1.5 liters! but you also pay a Pfand(refund) upfront, per bottle, which is usually .25. That’s to encourage recycling, and you get it back when you return them to the stores. We used to do this with glass bottles in America when I was a kid, but I’ve rarely seen it since the 1980s. so, a 6 pack of 1,5 litre bottles is 1.14 EUR plus 1.50 in Pfand equalling 2.64 for 9 liters of water, 1.50 of which you get back if you return the bottles afterwards! so pretty damn cheap! So like really it’s about $2 for over 2 gallons. Beat that America! However, if you buy water in a restaurant, it’s steeply marked up, as listed above. I once bought a liter of still water at a cafe across the street from my house, and was charged 4.95 Euro! so, nearly $7 per liter. As opposed to the .12/.13 cents per liter from the store. That was the last time I did that! Hope this was helpful. By the way, I live in Frankfurt, and the Leitungswasser is just fine. There is just lots of Kalk(calcium, limestone, whatever) in the water in all of Germany it seems. But I’m from KY and TN, so I’m used to it. Great water for making booze! :) Cheers!

     
  18. Jasmin

    I’m German… Yes it’s true that you usually don’t order tap water in restaurants or offer visitors tap water but I like tap water, especially in summer with ice. I also know many people who like to drink it. The main reason that you don’t order or offer it to other people (except you don’t have anything else at home at the moment), is rather etiquette than anything else. The word Leitungswasser also has nothing to do with it, it has no negative association in German.

    Just my opinion ^^
    Jasmin

     
  19. Ginette

    I grew up for the most part in Germany. German mother French father. It is true Germans don’t drink tap water “generally”. However growing up we were very poor and all we had to drink was tap water and that is what we were made to drink. At my grand parents I got to drink limonade which is a carbonated lemonade or I drank bottled water. But that was only at the grand parents. They had a bit more money. My grand mother would have never let me drink tap water. :-)

     
  20. Becky

    We will be visiting Germany for the 1st time. We’ve never been to Europe. After a tour of Frankfurt, we will be visiting friends in Lahr. They will be keeping us in their home. We drink tap water. Any advise for water lovers? Thanks!

     
  21. tap water experts

    Hello everybody,

    we are a group of germans who are discussing this topic in our english lesson. We think that german tap water is excellent quality. Research has found, that bottled water isn’t superior to tap water. In fact, tap water in germany is better controlled than bottled. Taste it and save energy and the environment, not to mention money for the good german beer!

     
  22. patrick maass

    Hi guys im born and raised in germany. I moved to the us when i where 26 so seven years ago. In germany i drink tap watet, the reason for drinking good quality bottle water is the bottle doesnt has a five dollar bill on it. A good bottle of water is about .49 cent.

     
  23. Alexander Schikora

    Hi there, I am German. Living in Frankfurt. Mineralwater costs for 1L 0,79 € for a good brand, cheaper water is about 0,49 € for 1 litre.
    I don’t drink tap water because I don’t like the taste. But I also don’t like some bottled waters like Volvic or Nestlé Aqua… But the tap water quality is not just “good” as mentioned, its superior! Because it’s better controlled than bottled water, by law.
    Trivia: A synonym for Leitungswasser is also “Gänsewein” which translates to goose wine. Try asking for Gänsewein in a Restaurant :p

     
  24. Laura

    Hi! I’m colombian, and i’ll be living in Mannheim 6 months, and i have brought an infussion from Colombia wich usually gets pink with hot water, but here it became green!! Don’t know if its the water or the infussion, but i think that generally water is better in Colombia, tap water and bottled watter taste better, and don’t have wierd residues…

     
  25. thomas

    Laura -

    Thanks for sharing that experience. Do you know why the water turns pink or green? I would find drinking filtered water that came out colored to be very peculiar!

    Thomas

     
  26. Erica

    I’m travelling to Germany soon. Here in the U.S., I carry a stainless steel bottle of water on walks, etc., and have a cup/straw on my desk that drink water from all day. I’m used to drinking A LOT of water! Any suggestions for my trip? If I bring my bottle, where would I fill it?
    thanks!

     
  27. Bastian

    Thank you very much for sharing that interesting experience. I come from Germany but live in Thailand and go to school here. Every 6 months I go back to my hometown Wiesbaden near Frankfurt. I realized even if the quality of the tap water is very good, everybody in my family is drinking bottled water, and that just because of personal preferences. It kinda shocked me and now I’ve decided to write a paper on the bottled water consumption in Berlin and every time I go to Germany now, I drink tap water!

     
  28. George

    I have a question. We have German friends from Berlin arriving in a week. The husband told me that he drinks water out of the tap. Today the wife told she drinks only “water with gas”. Does that mean mineral water. I only drink bottled water when we are traveling and tap water is not readily available. What is a good brand of “water with gas” that I can purchase here in the USA

     
  29. Brent Van Arsdell

    Yes, if a German says that he only drinks water with gas, it means he only drinks carbonated mineral water. The Borjomi brand is widely available in the USA and I think also well known in Germany.

    Perhaps some Germans can tell about brands of water that are widely available in the USA and also in Germany.

     
  30. thomas

    Erica -

    Your best bet is probably to buy gallons of filtered water from a local market and use it to refill your carry along bottle with when you are back at your resting area. If you were to fill it while you were out and about you will likely just have to buy a plastic/glass bottle and recycle the bottle when you transfer the water.

    Thomas

     
  31. thomas

    Bastian -

    We’ve gotten a few reports recently that the tap water in Germany is getting better. Maybe they have installed a more modern water delivery filtration system that is more health conscious. The world today is rapidly moving towards health and wellness awareness. It’s no surprise that a great nation like Germany would move towards that same apparently global movement and help keep her Citizens healthy and strong!

    Do let us know how your paper comes along. We’d love to make sure our information is accurate for future explorers of Germany.

    Thomas

     
  32. Eva

    I lived in Germany, & US. I can say the water quality in the US has myriad contaminates that can be very harmful to your health & /or even cause cancer. German “wasser” is good,specifically mineral. I’ve been studying water quality for some time. I understand that bottled water anywhere is bad due to the plastic that leeches chemicals. I don’t offer my friends in US nor Germany tap water as I want to provide them with a healthy glass of H20. Glass is best!
    Eva

     
  33. thomas

    Eva -

    Agreed! Glass is best. Water out of a tap is prone to contaminants based on the pipes that it was going through and the treatment process for sanitizing. Water all over the world is in jeopardy of industrial contamination too.

    I prefer filtered water stored in a glass container myself as well.

    Thomas

     
  34. Philip

    I’m German (currently living not too far from Ramstein Air Base) and for those of you wondering about the quality of tab water in Germany, I can assure you: No matter where you go in Germany, the water is ALWAYS perfectly safe to drink. Here there is no other food or drink that is as rigorously analyzed and controlled as drinking water/tab water, in fact the quality is often even higher than the bottled water you buy.

    The difference in taste of water (and probably also the effect on the infusion of the Colombian lady above) is due the different content of minerals in it as the water derives from different sources. Some regions simply have “harder” water than others.

    But back on topic: I drink both carbonated and tap water. I like carbonated water because I find it refreshing, but if I’m home and want a glass of water I’ll take it from the tab. But then again there is no logical reason why we should prefer one over the other …in the end it’s probably something that has become part of our culture over the years.

     
  35. thomas

    Philip -

    Thanks for the reassurance that the tap water in Germnay is of the highest quality. It is possible that when this article was conceived many years ago that the water conditions were different. As civilization evolves sanitation advancements will surely create differences in opinion based in personal experience.

    I, too, enjoy both natural gassy water and flat water. Each has its own unique quality.

    Thomas

     
  36. AJ

    Yes, here in US, we are spoiled- most restaurants will offer free tap water with ice and lemon. I visit Europe/Germany pretty often. My impression is that the “NO TAP watter” at restaurants is based on traditions and pure business (great markups!). The traditions come from the postwar/industrial times when tap water was not safe. But today… I cannot imagine unsafe tap water in Germany (if somebody does not agree with this, I would suggest them to visit China, Shanghai in perticular). BTW, many people here have mentioned Frankfurt/Wiesbaden area- that’s where the famous water filters Brita come from. My family has been using these for years and years in Europe and US. Not long time ago Brita introduced a small watter bottle-filter for travellers.
    Speaking of prices… The craziest price I have ever paid was $23 for 1L bottle in Moscow at a restaurant- more than the price for three shots of vodka :) .

     
  37. Todd

    I am glad I found all these comments about the water in Germany as I will be traveling to Munich and Passau July 20-24th for a short business trip. I am from the US and live in a rural area where we have our own well so the water I drink has natural minerals in it. I travel to China about once a year and know that the water there cannot be consumed without being boiled so I was relieved to find the information I did here about the water in Germany. Thanks to all who shared their experiences and knowledge on the topic.
    Cheers!

     
  38. wan

    Thanks for sharing. In Munich now and was wondering if the water from tap is safe to drink. Got my answer!:)

     
  39. Nat

    All of above is very good information. Most views seem to favor using the tap water. What are you thoughts about using tap water in a 4-star hotel bathroom for purposes of taking medicinal pills, brushing teeth, etc?

     
  40. thomas

    AJ -

    Thanks for the great info! You are right – there are some very poor water conditions in many places of the world. Most industrialized nations have pretty effective filtration systems. Many people have MUCH higher standards for drinking water than a municipal source. This is what makes water filters, in their many, many various forms, such a great tool!

    $23 is pretty steep for a bottle of water eh? WOW!

    Thomas

     
  41. thomas

    Nat -

    If in doubt, throw it out. Tap water is tap water. You might ask the hotel manager for a test report of the water they provide in the hotel. It could go through a secondary filtration system, or it could be tap water. They may even offer you complimentary bottled water if you claim that the tap water is not of a high enough standard for you.

    Thomas

     
  42. Sebastian

    Just some infos: 99% percent of the German tap water is perfectly drinkable,the regulations are stricter than they are for bottled mineral water. Those regulations go back to the early 70s, so it is not a new phenomenon.
    The exceptions are some areas where the water is not suitable for babys due to some natural radiation in the groundwater.

    I am 32, living in southeastern Germany, my parents always drank/drink tap water and so do I and most of my friends. But apparently tap water was unsafe in the years or even a decade after the war. Maybe this is where the preference for bottled water comes from, or maybe it was just great marketing by the bottled water industry. Carbonated water is prefered by many, thats why carbonation appliances are very popular here.
    Maybe one reason for the absence of free tap water in most German restaurants is the fact that most waiters get a salary and don’t have to rely on tips. This salary has to be paid with the revenue of the restaurant which often relys upon the drinks, and not the food.

    Regards

    Sebastian

     
  43. GeorgeyPorgy

    I am in a Frankfurt hotel now and looking to check if tap water is safe to drink. I now have my answers. Thanks.

     
  44. thomas

    Sebastian -

    Thanks for catching the possibility of an excellent marketing campaign! Many industries release half-truths or outright falsities in order to gain more sales.

    Only way to really know is to check the testing results for each different source with today’s standards. Last year is last year and now maybe the water is cleaner, or the bottled is less pure due to industrial processing with plastics.

    Any leads on publicly available water testing results for different sources, regions or localities? Here in the U.S. the municipal water tests are always made available as public knowledge, and most municipalities have a water company website with the results easily researched with archives.

    Thomas

     
  45. thomas

    GeorgeyPorgy -

    Glad to be of service! Enjoy your stay in Frankfurt!

    Thomas

     
(Will not be published)