Prestonpans Music & Ale Festival
Bonus 'GothPoints'

Coming Week  Events

Chef's Menus & Wines

The  Future
Conference Centre
Exhibitions at the Goth
Fowler's Real Ales
CAMRA and English Heritage Award
Function Bookings

Sporting Sponsorship
Jug Bar Services

July 23rd 2003

Goteborg, Sweden



Barga Twin
Shop Online

News & Events

Site News

Licensing and Temperance


IT was not until I went on to Denmark, after concluding my inquiries in Norway and Sweden, that I became acquainted with what I think may deservedly be called ' the Copenhagen System,' since it was there that it originally began. Not that there is any idea of rivalry with the ' Gotbenburg System.' Indeed, the workers in Copenhagen are so extremely modest and unassuming in their ideas that up to the present they have not even adopted the word 'system' at all. I doubt if they fully realize that they have started a movement which promises to bring about some approach to a social revolution in the habits and customs of their fellow-countrymen, a movement that, in my humble judgment, is far more deserving of the attention of practical reformers of to-day than the much lauded and the much criticised system which takes its name from the city of Gothenburg.
The Copenhagen System, as organized by the temperance societies of the city, is based primarily on that principle of recognising light beers as temperance drinks to which I referred in the previous chapter ; but it goes much further than that. It recognises also the social instincts of our common humanity.
The failure to do this constitutes one of the weakest features in the Gothenburg System, especially as enforced in Norway. The Bolag or Sarnlag drinking-bars are avowedly simply places where men can go to satisfy the purely physical sensation of thirst. With the sole exception of the money payment, they perform just the same role for their patrons that the water-trough in the street does for horses and cattle. Men come in, get their drink, swallow it off, and are then expected to go their way, just as the horses and the cattle move on from the trough as soon as they have had their fill. In Norway there is even a, great reluctance to provide seats, lest the men may be tempted to stay and talk to one another, and in both countries the hours of closing are abnormally early.
Unlike the Gothenburg System, the Copenhagen System sees in human beings something more than purely physical or animal wants, and it aims at providing establishments where a maximum of possible social enjoyment can be obtained, with the help, not merely of aerated waters, but also of light beers of the kind already described. Hence the establishments known under a name which, literally translated, means ' Temperance Home.' Speaking generally, such a home provides (1) a series of comfortably furnished rooms, with bars at which light beers, aerated waters, coffee, chocolate, tea, sandwiches, cakes, etc., can be obtained; (2) other rooms where well-cooked meals at' popular prices' are served ; (3) billiard-rooms; and (4) a series of rooms, small and large, where the local societies or branches can hold their meetings, where dances, concerts, and social gatherings can take place, and where, also, amateur theatrical performances can be given, some of the larger rooms (capable of accommodating from 500 to 600 or more persons) being provided with stages for this purpose. Most of the larger rooms, and some also of the smaller, are furnished with pianos.
The first of these establishments was not started in Copenhagen until about six or seven years ago, and there are now seven of them in different parts of the city. Of those I visited, one had cost £9,500 to construct, and another had cost £11,000. The bulk of the necessary capital for the erection of such houses can readily be borrowed from the local banks, which seem to have acquired great confidence in the system. The houses have, in fact, proved to be thoroughly self-supporting, the receipts from the beverages and food supplied, and also from the hire of the meeting or assembly rooms by the local societies, leaving a modest balance of profit after defraying all charges. At one house I found that no fewer than thirty-six local societies or branches held their regular meetings on the premises, certain rooms being allotted to them on specified days of the week. I was invited to attend one of these meetings — a gathering of the local branch of the Blue Ribbon Army—and I regret that indisposition, following on a chill I had contracted at Gothenburg, prevented me from
attending. But I heard next day that the proceedings had begun at 8.30 with a business meeting ; that this was followed by refreshments in the form of light beers, coffee, chocolate (mostly favoured by the ladies), sandwiches, etc. ; that a concert came next, and that there was a dance to finish up with, the last of the departures being at 12 midnight.
Gatherings of this type—in combination with the other advantages offered by the establishments in question—are, I was assured, having a powerful effect in promoting the social welfare of the people, and especially among the working classes, to whom they directly appeal. Men could bring their wives and children with a certainty of much real enjoyment, and without any attendant drawbacks; and though they naturally were not able to get spirits or wines, there was (as I learned from the manager of one of the houses) a choice of no fewer than ten light beers offered to them, in addition to coffee, aerated waters, fruit syrups, etc.
The superiority of these Copenhagen establishments over the Gothenburg System liquor-bars is undeniable. Men go to them from curiosity; they like the ' life' and the comfort of the place; they join one or other of the societies, and they give up spirit-drinking the more readily because they are allowed to take as much as they want of harmless and palatable beer. So far has the movement spread that, although it was started only so recently, there is now an ' Afholdshjem,' or ' Temperance Home,' on the lines here indicated, in every town throughout Denmark, while in villages where the population is too poor to allow of special houses being set apart for the purpose the local schools are utilized.
Conducted in accordance with these principles, the temperance movement is making much progress in Denmark. The various societies, twenty-seven in number (exclusive of local lodges), had an increase in membership during 1905 of over 11,000, the present total, in a country of 2,600,000 inhabitants, being close on 150,000. But, although they have about seventy supporters in the Danish Parliament, they seem to have no political programme. On inquiring as to the nature of such programme, which I naturally assumed to exist, I was told : ' We haven't got one. All we have asked for at present is that the Government should give us a contribution towards the cost of setting up a home for inebriates.' A temperance party which does not worry the national Parliament for all sorts of coercive measures, but quietly sets about doing all it can to promote sobriety on the broadest and most common - sense lines, is, surely, deserving of no inconsiderable measure of respect.
In carrying out the general policy I have here sought to describe, the Danish temperance party have had the active co-operation of the brewers. It was about ten years ago that leading members of the said party, recognising the hopelessness of promoting their cause so long as the doctrine of ' total abstinence' from all alcoholic beverages was alone maintained, got into communication
with some of the chief brewery firms, and consulted with them as to the possibility of producing malt liquors of such alcoholic strength that, while satisfying the palate, they would not be likely to cause intoxication. The result of these consultations was that the brewery firms undertook to place on the market beers of a type that would fully meet the requirements of the party. This they have done, adding fresh varieties from time to time, so that there are now, as already indicated, no fewer than ten kinds of beer manufactured in Copenhagen which come within the limits of alcoholic strength laid down by the temperance party.
These limits were more clearly defined, and the position of the brewers in the matter was made all the stronger, by the fact that in Denmark beer which contains not more than 2J per cent, (weight) of alcohol pays no duty to the Government, while a duty of 9 kroner per barrel of 140 litres is imposed on beer containing more than that percentage of alcohol, though no beer having more than 6 per cent, of alcohol may be brewed in Denmark.
The brewers had a double incentive offered them — the possibility of a new market, and the increased supply of light beers on which no duty would have to be paid. They thus readily entered into an agreement with the temperance party, and from that time the production of light beers of the variety in question has undergone great development in Denmark. I was even able, at Copenhagen, to visit a 4 temperance brewery,' where beers for Danish temperance people are exclusively produced; and although this particular brewery was not of especially large dimensions, I learned that the output, in the small bottles (holding ^ litre) in which such beers are sold, had increased from less than a quarter of a million in 1895 to nearly 17,000,000 in 1905.
One striking effect of these various conditions in Denmark is that, without the passing of any coercive measures by the Danish Parliament, at the bidding of the temperance or any other party, and without the inauguration of any ' system' for controlling the sale of spirits, as in Sweden and Norway, the consumption of spirits is declining, while beer, and especially duty-free, light beer, is taking their place. This, at least, is the conclusion pointed to by the table on p. 95, which I have put together from the reports of the British Consul at Copenhagen.
Comparing 1893 with 1905, it will be seen that spirits have undergone a decrease, and that strong beers show an increase of only 3,500,000 gallons, whereas the duty-free, light beers have increased by over 7,500,000 gallons.
To understand aright the full significance of these figures, one must bear in mind that Denmark is credited with a greater consumption of spirits (though not of alcoholic drinks in general) per head of the population than any other country in the world. It is not that the Danes are heavy drinkers of spirits. They have been in the habit rather of taking them in small quantities, but at comparatively frequent intervals, so that, although they have maintained

sobriety, they have considerably swollen the national statistics. Another factor which has greatly tended to increase consumption is the extremely low duty that is imposed on native brandy (braendevin, distilled from maize and barley) in Denmark, that duty being only 18 ore per pot (about 1 litre), reduced to 100 per cent, alcohol, as against 232 ore in Norway, and still higher amounts in England and the United States. Political reasons, however, have prevented the increase of this duty (as suggested from time to time) successive Governments having been afraid to interfere with the so-called ' poor man's schnaps.'
The economic situation has thus been left to work out its own salvation, and in effect spirit-drinking has been going more and more ' out of fashion' in Denmark of late years, as one authority assured me. That is certainly the case ' in society,' while the Danish agriculturists, who at one time thought it necessary to give their labourers brasndevin twice a day at their meals as a precaution against climatic influences, now offer them money instead, and the men are quite satisfied with the change. This latter practice has especially come into vogue since the spread throughout the rural districts of temperance homes and temperance beers, and one sanguine Dane, who had supplemented his personal knowledge of what was going on in the country by a study of the official returns of consumption, assured me that he was looking forward to the day when spirit-drinking would be almost extinct, and Denmark's reputation for sobriety would be even greater than it is already.
Here I come to an apparent anomaly which is especially deserving of the attention of economists and would-be reformers. Denmark is a great consumer of alcoholic beverages, but is a country where one seldom sees a drunken man. The comparative rarity of drunkenness in the agricultural districts is, of course, accounted for by the fact that the consumption, though leading to a large annual total, is so distributed as not to produce inebriety. But in the case
of Copenhagen there are conditions which might seem calculated to lead to an altogether abnormal amount of drunkenness. In this eminently pleasure-loving city of 500,000 inhabitants there are no fewer than 3,577 places where alcoholic beverages may be obtained for consumption either on or off the premises. Included in the former category are 461 hotels and inns, 670 public-houses and beershops, 84 restaurants,-and 11 confectioners, while among the places where liquor can be obtained for consumption off the premises are the shops of 2,197 grocers. Then the hotels, public-houses, restaurants, and beer-shops are all allowed to remain open until one o'clock in the morning (certain of the leading places being further permitted to retain until 3 a.m. persons who were already in the house at 1 a.m.), while the hours on Sunday are the same as on other days of the week.
The consequences ought to be positively alarming from the point of view of the ordinary teetotal advocate in England. But a very large proportion of the liquor consumed is beer, and the greater quantity of this belongs to the exceptionally light qualities, which would not intoxicate any ordinary person. Then, in regard to spirits, there is no need whatever for the working man in Copenhagen to buy a bottle on the Saturday to last him over Sunday, because he knows that if he should want a drink at any hour of the day—even on Sunday—he will be able to get it without any difficulty. Hence there is no huge retail trade in spirits done with the working classes of Copenhagen, as in Gothenburg and Christiania. There is no need for them to resort to illicit drinking in private houses, woods, or sly-grog shops; nor is there any incentive to drink pernicious substitutes for ' controlled' liquors.
These last-mentioned considerations, therefore, must be set against the former, and, in the result, we get this remarkable fact—that whereas the arrests for drunkenness per thousand of the population in the ' system '-controlled cities of Gothenburg and Christiania in 1905 were fifty-two and forty-three respectively, the corresponding arrests in Copenhagen for the same year were only sixteen per thousand of the population. In 1904, and also in 1903, the proportion of arrests was seventeen per thousand; in 1902 it was sixteen per thousand ; and in 1901 it was fifteen. Earlier figures would be of no value for the purposes of comparison, because of changes made in recent years in the city boundaries.
On my asking one of the temperance workers in Copenhagen what his views were on the subject of local option and prohibition, he replied:
' I should like to see local option adapted in regard to the sale of spirits in the rural districts ; but, personally, I do not agree with those who would attempt to enforce prohibition in the urban centres, and if it came to voting on the question of license or no license in the towns, I should certainly vote for license. I spent some years of my early life in the United States of America, and what I saw there convinced me that prohibition in large centres of population is not only impracticable, but leads to greater evils than those it seeks to avoid. My experience was that in the so-called Prohibition States there was more drinking and more drunkenness than anywhere else. In one town in Massachusetts where I lived for some time prohibition was supposed to be supreme, but the people drank like Hell! All who wanted liquor knew where to get it, and some of them seemed to drink out of " pure cussedness" (if I may use an Americanism), simply because it was unlawful. Temperance advocate though I am, I should be sorry to see any attempt to enforce a no-license policy in Copenhagen. It is the same with the drink as it is with boys and apples. Place an apple on the sideboard, and forbid a boy to touch it, he longs for the fruit, and will not be satisfied until he has eaten it, while if you leave a large basket of apples in the room, and allow him to help himself whenever he pleases, he will probably not touch them at all. So it is in regard to liquor in Copenhagen. People here have every facility to get what they want, and they take just what they require, and no more. Place difficulties in their way, and they would probably take a delight in increasing their consumption. Leave them free to get brandy when and where they please, instead of trying to control the sale, and, as you have seen, they show the greater inclination to take to light beer instead. These are reasons enough, even from a temperance point of view, for not seeking to enforce prohibition. But there is still another: Copenhagen is a city visited by many foreigners, who spend their money freely among us, and whose personal requirements we ought to consider in return. Why should we, for purely domestic reasons—in themselves more or less impracticable—seek to put difficulties in the way of our visitors getting what they want (provided they do not abuse the privilege), and render our city less attractive to those who come here from all parts of the world ?'
This is an argument which may be more especially recommended to the notice of the authorities of Christiania and Bergen. What is being done at Copenhagen is that, under a new Municipal Law, expected to come into force in 1907, no new licenses will be issued to places that do not fulfil the requirements of the Health Committee in regard to air-space, ventilation, etc., nor Mill any transfer of existing licenses be allowed in respect to places which fail to meet the same requirements. Under these regulations it is expected that a number of the cellar or basement taverns in Copenhagen will be weeded out; but this is about as far as ' prohibition' in that city is likely to go.
Judged by actual results, the outcome of the Copenhagen System compares most favourably with that of the Gothenburg System. The one tends to increased sobriety much more than the other, and it shows, at the same time, a greater regard for the liberty of the subject. The representatives of the Gothenburg System admit that they constitute what they call 'a beneficent despotism.' Within the strict limitation of their powers they are absolute autocrats over their fellow-men ; and I must confess that, however beneficent the intentions may be, the exercise of such despotism or autocracy by salaried officers in the name of philanthropy—but on strictly business lines—with a steadfast eye to the ultimate profits, is not a sight over which those who are possessed of any respect for personal freedom can rejoice. It is true that in Denmark the profits are not available for rate reductions or for public improvements and charities, the cost of the maintenance of which thus falls on the community ; but Denmark is saved the spectacle of a scramble among the different authorities— State and municipal, rural and urban—for the money got out of the pockets of working men whose interests it is professed to safeguard; while no consideration of ' public gain' from the consumption of native brandy is likely, in Denmark, to check the increasing use of those light malt beverages, the substitution of which for the stronger liquors cannot fail further to promote the sobriety of the people.
Whilst the present volume is passing through the press, I have received a letter from the manager of the famous Carlsberg breweries at Copenhagen, who writes:
' We brew two kinds of temperance beer, a light and a dark, the latter containing somewhat more extract than the former. In each case we brew on the sedimentary fermentation principle (instead of surface fermentation, as adopted elsewhere), the product being thus totally fermented before it leaves the brewery. In the few years that these beers have been on the market the sales have reached about 750,000 gallons, and this autumn has seen a further substantial increase.'

Back Back to top