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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         The politics of drinking
April 29, 2010



Sofa, so good: the pub and the alcoholic

Last week the German newspaper Der Spiegel featured a report on the Sofa bar in Kiel, north of Hamburg. In many ways the Sofa sounds like any workers’ pub – a healthy mix of clientele, the telly left switched on while music plays over the top, a passion for the footy. But it doesn’t sell alcohol, just soft drinks and coffee. The customers bring their own cheap booze from the supermarket – and the customers are alcoholics.

Subsidised by the local taxpayer the Sofa is an experiment in a ‘drinking room’ that gathers people with drink problems together in one place the better to manage them, reach them, give them help and treatment – and simply keep them safe and off the streets. There’s a parallel with Amsterdam in The Wire, and it, too, seems to be working. More drinking rooms could be rolled out across Germany.

This seems to me to be a thoroughly good and bold idea, and it’s significant that the people behind it have chosen a pub format.

Years ago I used to meet an alcoholic friend in the pub nearly every lunchtime. I agonised a little over whether this was making his problem worse, but I felt convinced that drinking with him in a sociable atmosphere was helping him. If nothing else it made sure he got back to the office in the afternoon. Most days, anyway.

It’s about, I think, providing society, a ‘normal’ environment which can prevent people with such difficulties from sliding any further into trouble. It has to be better than drinking alone.

The pub trade doesn’t like talking about these things. But who knows how many people have benefited from simply being in the pub and feeling an attachment to something real, something that makes sense of their lives.

So there’s another reason for supporting the pub.

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