Europe's Assault on h2o

Two stories about Europe’s assault on h2o. (In case you’re not following my Travel Blog, finding water is becoming the Big Challenge of my trip.)

First. In Cologne I went to a gym to work out. After inspecting the facility I decided to pay the 15 euros day pass since there was an abundance of both cardio and weights. After paying and choosing my stationary bike, I felt that thirst come on and darted my eyes around in search of a water fountain. I saw nothing. I politely asked the person working reception: “Excuse me, where are your water fountains?” She responds: “Oh I’m sorry, we don’t have any. If you would like, you can rent this water bottle for 1 euro and then I can fill it up for you behind the desk as many times as you want.” To repeat: The exercise gym — where people SWEAT and EXERT — did not provide free water to its patrons. Moreover, if you wanted to fill up your bottle, you had to ask the attendant who filled it up from the bar, right next to all the various German beers. Please, please, please: do not tell me the Germans drink beer while working out?!

Second. Unable to find any free water fountain I ask the lady working the front desk of the hotel if she could fill up my bottle. She gave a thoroughly confused look as if to say, “Water bottles? Who drinks water from a bottle?” She then walked with me to the kitchen / restaurant of the hotel and handed me a big glass bottle of “still water.” Hmm, I was hoping for a sink to fill up my bottle. But it was the size of a wine bottle, so I was happy. Then the lady asked for my room number. Oh no, she’s not going to charge me is she? I debated whether to give her my room number and have her levy the charge on the next occupant, since we had already checked out. Alas, my moral compass didn’t let me. So I said, “Pay? Can I pay in cash?” She took me over to the front desk. No one was understanding each other. Before I could comprehend what was going on — I just wanted to fill my bottle up — I had paid the lady 3 euros. She then asked if I wanted a cup to drink it out of. I said no, and promptly twisted over the top, and started drinking from the glass bottle itself (think of drinking wine straight out of the bottle). I think they gave a horrified look but I didn’t a shit: I was thirsty. I needed my water.

Does anyone want to join me and stop this assault on h2o in Europe? Can somebody help explain this madness?

8 comments on “Europe's Assault on h2o
  • Sorry Ben, I can’t help. Here in Stitzerland free, cold, pure water is amply available in countless public fountains, all of which are constantly flowing. And yet, people pay 4 dollars for a water bottle on the street.

  • Hi Ben,

    I totally feel your pain. I had the chance to live in France for an entire year in 2004 on an exchange trip, and you will see when you get there, wine is cheaper than water. 🙂 I don’t think the Europeans are really assaulting the H2O, but rather they just don’t HAVE enough H2O, period.

    After seeing your post, I pulled up some stats and it is apparent that the fresh water supply of Canada and of the U.S. is by far the most abundant among developed countries.

    Here are the annual renewable water resources (km^3/yr) of Canada and of the U.S. compared to European G7 countries: (

    Canada 2901.0
    U.S. 2478.0

    France 198.0
    Germany 182.0
    Italy 167.0
    United Kingdom 120.0

    These data reflect reality. The Great Lakes are the largest fresh water lake group in the entire world, and yet they are only shared between the U.S. and Canada.

    Secondly, most of the European public water sanitation systems were conceived nearly a century ago and desperately need to be upgraded. I don’t know whether you had a chance to taste the local tap water, but I remember it was pretty unbearable, no matter where I went in Europe (except for Switzerland). I also noticed in France that a must-have item in every family’s grocery shopping cart is bottled water, despite the premium price.

    When you combine the scarcity of supply and an inefficient public treatment system, water just becomes a luxury commodity.

    After my experience in France, I realized that North Americans are truly blessed with the abundance of natural resources, even for something as basic as fresh drinking water.

    Take care and enjoy Europe!

  • you know its funny. For all the times you talk about breaking down “ugly-american” stereotypes you say in this post:

    I think they gave a horrified look but I didn’t a shit: I was thirsty. I needed my water.

    Sort of ironic dude.

  • Patrick — you are totally right! That’s why I loved Zurich so much. Tons of free water in all those fountains. Can’t wait to be there again.

    Kevin — thanks for hte interesting stats!

    Anonymous — Irony noted.

  • My wife and I lived in Germany for 3 years when I was in the military, and lived off base. Most local restaurants wouldn’t give water with the meal, unless ordered. In one instance, my wife asked for water and the waitress said, “water not good here, I’ll get you beer!”

  • Ben, you need to go to the right places to find water. Any public restroom (restaurants, etc.) provides you with clean spring water directly from the tap. Differently to the US, tap water in Europe (at least Northern Europe, i.e. Germany, Austria, etc.) is of the highest quality due to its natural, spring source somewhere in the alps. When I arrived in the US, I found it crazy to buy water in bottles, since in Europe (where I am from) it was abundantly available without the need for paying for it. For your hotel story, you should just have filled up your bottle in your hotel room’s bathroom. Good luck with the rest of your trip.

  • Hey, when I was in Rome a few years ago (and facing the same problem) I just bought a gatorade and just filled that bottle. I too got weird looks when asking restaruanters, coffee shop employees, etc. to kindly fill the bottle from their sinks (or in the bathrooms of these establishments if it was hopelessly crowded and I was feeling brave;) but I got used to it. I’ll be darned if I’m going to spend that much money (or any money, for that matter) on frickin’ water. I’m enjoying reading about your travels/adventures. Please keep sharing.

  • *echoes Andreas* Water fountains are unnecessary because the taps are plentiful.

    Also, I’ve noticed that – at least in Germany – everyone drinks fizzy water. Even in the hospital. o_O

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