Smoking and Drinking Bans in Munich Accomplish Little, Set an Ugly Precedent

From smoking ban to alcohol ban on trains, to...

Bans on smoking and drinking in Munich's public places ineffectual, and perhaps, should be over-turned.

When Deutsche Bahn announced recently that the drinking of alcohol on Munich's S-Bahn trains would take effect on December 11th, 2011, most people applauded the decision. Nearly every regular passenger has been confronted at some time or another by unruly teenagers who are drunk, or well on their way to drunkenness, in one of Munich's trains. The old adage that nothing good ever happens after 11 pm seemed to have such situations in mind. Couple these uncomfortable encounters with some graffiti and other small acts of vandalism (anything violent should not, under any circumstances, be tolerated) and it was enough to make the majority of the public agree; a complete total ban on the consumption of alcohol on all trains in the greater Munich area a wise move.

When one stands on the platform at either Hacker or Donnersberger Bridge, S-Bahn stops closest to the heart of Munich while still outside, the constant recorded messaging that 'smoking is prohibited', lends itself to some excellent early morning or late afternoon comedy. People are catching their last cig before they go in to town. The message, "For the beautification of the stations and environment, this is a non-smoking station," unfailingly brings a smile to the exact target of the announcement, the smokers. Many smokers, from all levels of the socio-economic strata, seem to take pleasure also from the announcements as they congregate around their chosen place for the indulging of their vice, puffing away. And what is their favorite place? Directly under the newly posted "Smoking is Forbidden" signs!But are these bans really effective and do they portend of things to come?

I have come to understand that the rules in Munich are clear; a person cannot smoke at a tram or bus stop if there is a roof over the seats. If it is raining, both shoes must be outside the imaginary line from the said roof to the pavement. No roof? Puff away!

The smoking ban in pubs and bars has again been completely inept and inadequate. Most of the pubs with a strong local clientele have simply closed to the public. Signs in the window say that the pub has been closed for the day/evening for a private community party. But if you live close by and the barkeepers have seen you enough, you can simply walk in, order a beer, pull out a cigarette and light up. Quite often these places are the most happening local hangouts in the neighborhood. The ban has not done what it was intended to do.

And finally, the thing that is of the most concern is that these bans today could very well mushroom into something very un-European. It may become an America type of society where everything from sex shops to head shops to drinking a beer from a brown paper bag is the norm, and regulated so strictly that it feels as if our freedoms are being trampled on. Perhaps a smoking area at each train station's platform is the better way. And as for the drinking on the train, we should not get caught up on the wrong side of the fight, like the USA's drug war where Mexico is the victim for American's appetite for narcotics.

It is not so nice when confronted with loud teenagers who are drunk saying lewd things, making noise and being total jerks. But sometimes freedom comes with a price. Why make everyone pay for the isolated ignorance and asinine behavior of a few misdirected youths? You may not drink, or smoke, or engage in any 'questionable' behavior. But to have freedom, true freedom, sometimes you have to allow the minority the leeway to do the stupidest things. Then sweep the glass away and continue to show them that you cannot be beaten. Live and let live.

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