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Tequila trial

July 3, 2009

A German court in Berlin has sentenced a bar owner to three years and five months in jail for giving a 16-year-old teenager so much alcohol that he later fell into a coma and died.

A clear spirit being poured into a schnapps glass
Hard liquor is bad news for binge drinkersImage: picture-alliance

The incident received extensive coverage in the German press and triggered a nationwide debate about the growing problem of alcoholism among young people.

The bout of binge drinking began as a contest between the owner of the bar and the 16-year-old high school student in February 2007. Over a period of just a few hours, the barkeeper served the young man 45 shots of tequila, while drinking mostly water himself.

The teenager became so inebriated that he collapsed into a coma. He was rushed to a hospital where doctors found he had 4.4 parts per thousand of alcohol in his blood. In Germany, 0.8 parts per thousand is considered the level at which you are too drunk to drive.

The young man never recovered and died five weeks later.

The 28-year-old owner of the bar was charged with aggravated assault resulting in death at the time in what became known as the "Tequila Trial". The verdict announced on Friday was slightly less than what prosecutors had asked for during the trial.

Beer bottle with a skull-and-crossbones on the label
Cheap alcohol makes it easy to get startedImage: picture-alliance / dpa

Alarming statistics

Young people in Germany today are confronted with alcohol and its consumption every day. A popular pastime among teenagers is so-called flat-rate parties, where you pay one price for all you can drink.

Interviewed for this report, one young woman said that when she can drink what she wants, she "automatically drinks more." "Then you drink the hard stuff. I always drink the hard stuff," she said.

Sabine Baetzing, the German government's Commissioner for Drug and Alcohol Abuse, has sounded the alarm bells over teenage drinking.

"What is increasing among young people is excessive drinking – so-called binge drinking," she said. "One-in-five teenagers claim to be drunk at least once a month, and last year there were 24,000 children and teenagers who had drunk themselves into a coma and had to be hospitalized with alcohol poisoning. So, we have a problem with this excessive drinking."

The statistics Baetzing provides are indeed alarming: 75 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds consumed a minimum of five glasses of alcohol at least once last year; 20 percent did this at least once a month; and 6 percent were binge drinkers once a week. Compared to the year 2000, these figures represent an increase of 143 percent.

Young people gathered for a party
Party-time for young peopleImage: DW

Laws not observed

But even so, Baetzing said it's not the laws that need to be changed – people just have to respect them.

"In Germany, the law is that a person must be 16 to drink, beer, wine and champagne and 18 to consume brandy and schnapps," Baetzing said. "We have two age limits, which we intend to keep. We are concerned about a moderate and responsible handling of alcohol. What we need is for these laws to be observed," she said.

One of the main problems for young people, according to Baetzing, is that their adult role models commonly abuse alcohol, drugs and tobacco. A full 17 million Germans smoke, nearly 10 million consume enough alcohol for it to be a health risk and 1.3 million are alcoholics. Too many young people, in Baetzing's view, start down this same path with too much, too early.

Editor: Trinity Hartman