Pubs in German border towns embrace the end of an era
With little chance a smoking ban will pass Parliament in the near future, Czechs should continue to puff away on their cigarettes in pubs and restaurants undisturbed this year.
In the neighboring Länder of Saxony and Bavaria, however, smokers are getting some government-imposed fresh air. Both German states have passed bans on smoking in public places; Bavaria’s ban came into effect Jan. 1 and Saxony’s will begin Feb. 1.
The German laws, combined with eased border protections following the Czech Republic’s entry into the Schengen zone, have launched a raft of speculation in the local media about the phenomenon of smoker tourism: Bavarians crossing the border to yield to their particular vice.
But on both sides of the border, restaurant owners are not working themselves into a tizzy over smoking. German and Czech owners surveyed by The Prague Post confessed that, rather than waves of nicotine-addicted Germans, what may be wafting over the border is an anti-smoking movement.
At the pub U raka in Hřensko, north Bohemia, smoking has already been barred for some time, said owner Jan Češpiv. Saxony, with its upcoming ban, is only a ferry ride away across the Labe River. Yet, even when a visitor offered Češpiv 1,000 Kč ($57) for permission to have a smoke, he refused.
“I take an uncompromising stance on this,” Češpiv said.
Now that he’s gotten rid of the smoke, the meals taste and smell better. The atmosphere is more inviting and his German visitors have already gotten used to smoking outside anyway, he said.
A Czech smoking ban will come into force eventually, Češpiv added. “It’s a pan-European trend. We are prepared and ahead of the game.”
Meanwhile, southwest along the border in Domažlice, west Bohemia, Albert Astaloš, a weekend smoker, would love to introduce a smoking ban at his restaurant, Konšelský šenk. But he faces tough competition from the more than 60 bars and restaurants in this town of 12,000.
“The majority of our clients are smokers and light up automatically on entering the restaurant,” Astaloš said.
Although he welcomes German visitors regularly, their number has not increased since Jan. 1, he added.
Astaloš did manage to proclaim his larger ballroom a non-smoking area six months ago, though that garnered him some angry reactions at first.
“[Guests] got used to it as the evening progressed, and at the end of it were happy about the fact that they smoked less and had a chance to talk outside,” he said.
On the other side of the border in Bavaria, Hans Fellner, owner of the Further Stuben restaurant, summed up the smoking ban’s impact so far: “Sometimes the visitors get cross with each other. Some try to sneak in a cigarette and tread on each other’s toes.”
Fellner said the ban has neither decreased nor increased his number of customers. The ban, while already in effect, will not be enforced for six months during a transition period.
“This is a quiet time of year,” Fellner said. “People try to save money, because they have to front the annual heating and insurance bills [in January].”
Fellner conceded it’s a possibility that a few Bavarians might drive over the border to go to restaurants, but he doubts the smoking ban is tipping the scales in favor of Czech bars and restaurants. Although it’s only about 15 kilometers to Domažlice, that’s still too far to just have lunch or dinner, he said.
In the end, Fellner sees no need to try and coordinate the smoking laws of bordering regions: “Everyone should do their own cooking,” he said.