The waitress looked at me perplexed, and sputtered “I could add salt? That would take the bubbles away.”
My face scrunched up involuntarily. Wait, what? Salt? The bubbles may be gone, but then I’d be drinking salt water?! Sebastian intervened in German, and the waitress returned with a really fancy glass bottle of water. Great, I thought, I probably just added 3 Euros to the bill when I’d have been happy with water straight from the tap.
I quickly learned the hard way that ordering water in German restaurants would be complicated. In the U.S., you order water and without further instruction you’ll get a glass at least 1/4 full of ice, and then water either straight out of the tap, perhaps through a filter first, or not. Over the years I’ve learned different U.S. cities’ water tastes different. But, no matter the city, water is free, and it's the same water that comes out of the sink that you wash the dishes with, the same water that you shower in.
It's safe to say most Germans prefer water with some form of carbonation. If you order water, you’re going to be immediately questioned how much gas, or how bubbly would you like your water. I definitely suggest that you try it, but it is a very different water experience. No matter the amount of gas, I can’t bring myself to take more than a sip.
Why Is Tap Water Inconceivable in a German Restaurant?
This culture shock for Americans is a complicated tradition. I assure you that German tap water is perfectly, absolutely safe. We’re talking German engineering and plumbing here. It's safe, and likely better for you if you’re concerned how long the water has been sitting in plastic.
So, could it be the verbiage itself? In English, the word ‘tap’ is related to several other positive things such as beer and soda that is ‘on tap’. In German, the word for tap water is Leitungswasser, which literally means pipe water. I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t want that either. They need a better word!
But, it's maybe not all in a name. Restaurant owners bank on their guests ordering drinks where they can make a higher profit margin. When you order tap water, it appears as though you’re a horrible penny-pincher, and the restaurant will be lucky to break even with your order.
If You Feel the Same About Bubbly Water, Here’s What I Do
I’ve learned to be weary of even no-gas water, as often the added minerals tastes equally as bad to my very Americanized water palate. However, I’ve had good luck with the French bottled water brands Vittel and Volvic. We’ve gotten in the habit of ordering Vittel outright in restaurants, that way if they don’t have it the server will usually tell you what the alternatives are, giving the opportunity to switch to soda if you have to. Otherwise, if you order just still water you may end up with one of the mineral water brands that have the mineral taste. I tend to order more coffee and soda than I do in the States, surprisingly. Although it's not as healthy I feel more confident I know what I’m getting when I’m already exhausted and thirsty from walking all over the town.
While exploring cities, I pack my S’well water bottle in the morning, filled with refrigerated tap water. The bottle keeps water cold for 24 hours and I use my S’well bottle all year at home, too. In Florida I can leave the bottle in the car, where the temperatures get to be over a hundred degrees inside on a hot day, and when I get back, even while the exterior of the bottle is hot, the water is still refrigerator cold. It's magical! Before I discovered S’well, we were going through plastic bottles like crazy, and then carrying the empty ones around all day in order to get our pfand returned. Learn more about pfand in our earlier post here.
If you're interested, this is the S'well bottle I have, in the Supernova design. It changes colors depending on the lighting, (affiliate link):
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