It was not the response I expected: Years ago when I still lived in Germany, I took a Canadian friend who was visiting me in Frankfurt to a restaurant highly regarded for its German cuisine. I was glad I had made a reservation, it was Sunday evening and the restaurant was packed. My Canadian friend, however, didn’t pay much attention to the food. Instead, he was totally transfixed by the several dogs lying next to their masters’ feet at the neighboring tables.
The dogs at the restaurant – not the food – was as all my friend wanted to talk about. “We can’t bring dogs to restaurants in Canada,” he said.
Today, after living in America for seventeen years, when I visit Germany it is me who is surprised to see dogs in restaurants, stores, public transportation and many other places where you never see a dog in the United States.
In Germany, each of the 16 states has its own legislation, and in some areas, it is up to the municipalities to set the rules for public spaces. Food and grocery stores, supermarkets, farmers’ markets and other places where food is openly displayed are always off limits for dogs. For restaurants, it is up to the owner to allow dogs nor not.
When I am in Germany the sign in the window of family-owned stores like butcher shops and bakeries that says “Wir müssen draußen bleiben” (“We must stay outside”) always makes me feel as if I have travelled back in time.
I think that butcher shop sign has not changed since I was a kid. I find it interesting the sign does not use unequivocal terms such as “Hunde verboten” (“Dogs are prohibited”), but instead personifies them with the “we”. Ironically, public signs that prohibit minors from entering a venue like a game room or a bar usually refer to minors in the third person, unlike dogs which get the first-person treatment. Makes you wonder which of the two is able to read.
I love dogs and I wish that here in the United States we could take our two dogs, who are well-behaved and friendly, to a café or a restaurant with outdoor seating.
In Germany, on the other hand, I would sometimes prefer if people left their four-legged friends at home, or have them wait outside. I never forget a rainy Saturday morning in Berlin, when I went to get the newspaper at a small convenience store down the street. There were five large, wet dogs crammed into a few square meters with their masters. The smell of wet dogs is not something I enjoy.
For me, the ideal rules for dogs in public would be something mid-way between Germany and the United States.