Bitter German hosts pull the plug on beer

THE ANNALS of German history froth with attempted crimes against the nation's favourite tipple, but never have mores sunk so low as now. In a protest against a hike in beer prices, 200 landlords in the Rhineland are resorting to the ultimate weapon - by staging Germany's first beer strike.

From Cologne to Koblenz, the pumps will not be manned for a fortnight. Punters trying to quench their thirst with a glass of Kolsch, the region's pale brew, will be offered the door - or, even worse, bottled Pils instead. To the locals, this will smack of an insult.

The rebellious publicans, hit by a 10 per cent rise in the price of draught beer, are adamant that they had no other choice. They blame the brewery, Brau und Brunnen, for provoking the confrontation. The company points out that prices had not increased for two years. "We took into account the possibility of backlashes," a Brau und Brunnen spokesman said.

A militant Bonn landlord, Hansi Zinn, who heads the pressure group, Gastro Power, said: "Pubs are dying on every corner, and now this. If things go on like this, we can all shut up shop soon." The Association of Hotels and Guesthouses said yesterday the protesters would urge their drinkers to buy bottled beers rather than Brau und Brunnen's brews.

This all points, though, to a deeper malaise in national beer-drinking habits. Germans, especially the young ones, are drinking less of the stuff.

Half a pint of draught Kolsch costs about 3 marks in a pub. For that money, they can buy a bottle of Pils that is nearly double the size at the local supermarket.

Worst of all, despite strenuous attempts by legislators over the centuries to keep foreign muck out of the country, bottled beer from abroad is fashionable. Local breweries are going under, leaving the noble tradition in the hands of large concerns. Brau und Brunnen, for instance, is owned by banks. And bankers, even German ones, drink Scotch.

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