Recommended Reading: “The Drinking Woman” by Elisabeth Raether

Portrait: © Andreas Lux / Elisabeth Raether: Die trinkende Frau © 2016 Piper Verlag GmbH, München

Julia Knolle introduces Elisabeth Raether’s recently published book, “The Drinking Woman”. Read the author’s foreword here

It’s no big work of art to like Elisabeth Raether. The editor of the political affairs department at Zeit also writes a column with recipes for Zeitmagazin. So for me she’s the epitome of a person who is clever enough to grapple with “difficult” topics, but also on the other hand isn’t shy about dedicating herself with passion to the “light things”.

Now and again, there’s an column by her in the aforementioned magazine called The Drinking Woman. They’ve now been made into a book published by Piper Verlag and we are very pleased to be able to publish the foreword here: especially for our English speaking readers, it’s a pleasure and a reading opportunity that you shouldn’t miss.


Woman on a High. An Introduction.                                

These articles, published between 2011 and 2016 in Zeitmagazin, were actually supposed to be written by a man. By a colleague who, in comparison to me, is rather famous. He didn’t want to, however, because he didn’t have the time and probably not the desire either.

Had he taken over the column, it wouldn’t have been called The Drinking Man, but Cheers! or something similar to that. I don’t remember exactly. It wouldn’t have been about a man in any case – a man who drinks – but rather about drinking in the general and philosophical sense, and surely Hemingway and Charles Bukowski would have also appeared.

As I was now supposed to take over this column, it got the title The Drinking Woman.

The episode says something about how women get their jobs, namely when men can’t or don’t want to. As far as I know, Angela Merkel became the Chairwoman of the CDU because the party simply didn’t have any halfway-unencumbered men left standing after the donations scandal.

The episode also relates how it’s still this way today: woman have problems facing women; men have problems facing humanity. Women write about women; men write about humankind­.                                               

I’m already looking forward to when I’m an old lady and my granddaughter, should I have one, will ask me incredulously: “You women really always had to write about family politics, feelings, and sexual assault? That’s crazy, why did you let that happen to you?”                                   

Then I’ll say: “We just thought it was normal and, moreover, better than nothing. You should get as old as me first. And now top up my eggnog.”

Until then, a woman’s weltschmerz will still be called PMS, pre-menstrual syndrome. You, dear readers, feel melancholy at times? Now, surely that has to do with your uterus or your ovaries and not somehow with insight moving you to see how senseless human existence is, or how fast everything goes away, particularly when it’s about being one person in the universe. Although, of course I know, but the word ‘patriarchy’ really puts everyone in a bad mood.

In any case, it’s been my experience that a dinner party will fall into concerned silence if someone mentions the ‘P’-word. Probably because the women are thinking about if this monstrosity of a concept could have something to do with the magazine article they were reading recently about anti-aging procedures for your little toe. And the men, because for them the word is synonymous with accusation (and with my hand over my heart, they aren’t completely incorrect there: What woman can swear that she has never, not one single time, abused the latent bad conscience that men have about women when her own arguments were maybe a little weak? Be honest!).                                                                                        

And in that way, we’re all in the same boat. This patriarchy insists that women are completely different than men, whereas in the meantime we know that isn’t true. You don’t have to be an academic in the field of gender sciences and followed by Harald Martenstein to recognize that men are also women, and women are also men.          

For the most of us, man or woman, life goes a little bit like this: reason and madness come in a steady stream. The irrational exists next to the rational. Deep feelings come and go: longing, joy, euphoria, shame. Curious feelings get mixed up among them, like a fear of elevators or an urgent desire to ride a pony through Mongolia. One makes mistakes, regrets, gets confused, stands up and keeps going.

Life takes its course.

That’s where alcohol comes in.

Who lives, needs alcohol. That’s the way it is.

"Die trinkende Frau" von Elisabeth Raether © 2016 Piper Verlag GmbH, München

And that was something long denied to women: to be alive. Women were designed that lived in men’s fantasies. They were beings that populated paintings, novels, and poems, extolled in art but not the ones who created the art. Women were bodies that were sought-after. Beautiful, mysterious, foreign, exotic, a task for every man and largely without their own inner aspiration.                     

In every culture that has ever been investigated, there are stricter rules in place for women than men when it comes to drinking.

In the jungle, they weren’t allowed to take part in drinking rituals. In England, they weren’t allowed in the pubs, bars, and clubs. Some drinks were completely taboo. The more men drank in 19th-century America, the less the women did because someone had to be clear-headed and take care of the house and children. The restrictions were manifold, the principle always the same: the high is not for you. And in the first place: do what we tell you to.

I admit that it could appear a little frivolous to pronounce drinking as an act of resistance. In reality, I naturally and simply enjoy drinking and not always necessarily in the name of women’s rights. I don’t need an occasion to drink – it happens all on its own.

I also know that, as a woman here in Europe, I have minor problems. In a large part of the world, women are plagued by completely other problems than being begrudged an Appletini.

But still I see a connection. Making alcohol taboo for women is a small step in a larger system. It’s something that connects us to the women in South America who can’t have an abortion, who in some Muslim countries have to ask their husband or father for permission at every step, and indeed this: women were and are the first addressees when a society has more or less senseless ideas of morality. By that I don’t mean the great moral commandments of humanity like, for example, charity, but rather the petty rules of decency that don’t serve to better the human soul, but social control instead. It is always the women that have to grapple with those.                                

Nowadays, moral reproaches are disguised as suggestions. By and large, women have freed themselves from contempt and morality, the mechanisms have been seen through. Still, what remains is the worry. Today, people worry about women. Are they strong enough? Do they have the nerves to exist in this world? Can they make themselves heard with their peeping voices? And then all of these women who simply don’t find a man, it’s really bad for them. And women tolerate beer so badly with their small livers. How do they cope with all of the stress and loneliness of modern existence? Can they manage it, or shouldn’t they – only for their own welfare – be locked in the house again?

So if I may wish something for the women and men who read this book, then it is this: enjoy it! Relax! It’s nothing bad if a woman likes drinking alcohol. And: please don’t worry about me, I’m doing well. I also have something to offer in return.

I’ve written a few new columns for this book. In a slightly longer one, I travel to Tehran and go on a search there – not for the essence and meaning of political Islam, but rather for a drink (it wasn’t easy, as you can think). What’s more, in the meantime I’m writing with notable pleasure about the unsightly consequences of drinking on the aging process, which still didn’t interest me very much in 2011. The drinking woman has gotten a little bit older, but drinking isn’t any less fun.

What came out of it: the world’s first book on the art of drinking in which neither Hemingway nor Bukowski plays an important part.                                                                            

Elisabeth Raether, Juli 2016


As for now, the book is not available in English.

Preface from “Elisabeth Raether: Die trinkende Frau” © 2016 Piper Verlag GmbH, Munich


Translation: Melissa Frost

Julia co-founded one of the first fashion blogs in Germany in 2007 and became a freelance consultant for digital strategies after publishing her first book in 2010. After an eventful four years with Condé Nast working mainly in the digital department of Vogue Germany, she decided to launch her own online magazine with her dream partner, Veronika Heilbrunner. She is based in Berlin and loves to read books.