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A man smokes a cigarette in a bar
The days of public smoking are numberedImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Smoke-Free Bars

DW staff (tkw)
December 31, 2007

As one of Europe's most smoker-friendly countries, Germany has been notably slow to enforce a ban, which is in force across much of the continent. But starting Jan. 1, smoking here is set to get much more difficult.


For a very long time, to brunch, lunch or dine out in German eateries has been to do so in a fug of tobacco smoke. Bars and restaurants have resisted the idea of creating non-smoking zones and have steered clear of contemplating the unthinkable -- implementing an all out ban.

But this year, once the smog from several days of New Year firecrackers finally clears, the air over Germany should be altogether purer and sweeter.

Throughout the course of the year, bans are set to come into force in every state which does not already have one, although several regions, such as North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia, have decided to give their smokers a grace period in which to adjust to the idea of breathing healthier air.

A burning cigarette in an ashtray
Time to quit?Image: AP

And while eight states, including Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Berlin and Bavaria, will make their smokers stub out from the first day of the year, voices of dissent can already be heard from restaurant and bar owners.

Berlin bar-owners plan to flout the new law

Klaus-Dieter Richter, vice president of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga) says there is every likelihood that many of Berlin's 6,500 bar, café, restaurant and club owners who hang "No Smoking" signs in their windows will not actively enforce the ban on the grounds that they cannot be punished for it until July 1. At that point smokers can expect to be fined up to 100 euros ($147) and proprieters up to 1,000 euros.

Richter says the new ruling will damage the capital's flourishing tourist industry. "It will kill the Berlin culture of a beer, a schnapps and a cigarette at a local bar," he told the daily Der Tagesspiegel.

As in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Hamburg, Schleswig-Hostein, Bremen and Brandenburg, Berlin bar and restaurant-goers will still be able to smoke in establishments which have a second, smaller room sealed off from the main area.

Silhouette of a man in front of a bar
No more smoking at the barImage: picture-alliance / dpa

But Richter says some 80 percent of all bars and restaurants in Berlin only have one room, and very few have gone to the lengths of installing a dividing wall to create the prerequisite second.

Even for those establishments which do have a smaller separate room, there is plenty of ground for conflict. Guests who choose to sit in the smoking area will no longer receive table service, but will have to place their orders at the bar.

Death knell for barkeepers

Werner Link, who runs a two-room bar in the Baltic town of Greifswald says his customers have already told him they won't use his second, smaller room.

"My customers come here to watch football and to smoke. If they're no longer allowed to smoke, they'll stay at home." Link told the Ostsee Zeitung. "I might as well just close down."

The strictest ban is in Bavaria, where there is to be no smoking anywhere in bars, restaurants, discotheques and marquees. The only exception will be for private functions.

The penalties for violating the new laws will come into force at different times during 2008 and will vary from state to state.

A no smoking sign
Penalties are in place for those who violate the lawsImage: AP

Saxony and Mecklenburg are threatening their bar and restaurant owners with fines of up to 5,000 and 10,000 euros respectively, while the maximum penalty in Hamburg and Thuringia is just 500 euros.

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