Monday, 13 June 2022


The Sum of All Fears

I read history. I keep abreast of international events. I understand cause and effect, unintended consequences, action and reaction. I grasp the connectivity of all things. Life’s rich pageant continues to unfold with little or no impact on me and I appreciate my relative good fortune. It’s a rare day when a news story breaks my heart and compels me to wail at the inhumanity of it all. Germany is dangerously short of beer bottles.

According to a New York Times story reprinted in Friday’s Globe and Mail, the crisis is a result of a nasty confluence of global events. Germans, like Canadians, pay a refundable deposit on beverage containers of all kinds. This is foreign policy to many Americans as most states have not tabled such socialist legislation; RETURN FOR REFUND WHERE APPLICABLE really doesn’t apply in the United States. There are too many glass bottles out of circulation in Germany and anxious brewers have learned that making up the shortfall is expensively problematic. The factors are myriad.

Germany’s empties have not been thrown away. They do not litter the shoulders of the autobahn. They’re not missing, no milk carton pictures required, they’ve just not been returned. Germany’s initial pandemic measures included lockdowns and restrictions, especially on public gathering places, nightclubs and beer gardens. Beer drinkers stayed home. The accumulated empties were stored and have since proliferated into the national errand from hell, one to be put off again and again.

Fabricating glass requires extreme heat, energy. Supply from Russian giant Gazprom has been a little tricky these past 110 days or so even as commodity prices have skyrocketed. New bottles are no longer available from Ukraine, those factories are closed. Germany’s European Union (EU) partners, France for instance, have their own domestic requirements. Beer, whether it’s bottled in new or recycled glass containers, must get from vat to market. Fuel costs are high. Germany also suffers from a dearth of truck drivers. This particular pickle mystifies me. Britain’s post-Brexit fiasco vis-à-vis international borders, bureaucratic regulations and EU-accredited lorry drivers at least made some kind of insane “Boris in Wonderland” sense.

A compounding problem in Germany is laughably and logistically mundane. Crates of beer must be stacked on wooden pallets for shipping. There is a world-wide shortage of wooden pallets. I don’t believe they’re missing so much as stuck inside steel intermodal containers aboard gridlocked freighters floating outside the world’s major ports, jockeying to be unladed. The Globe recently ran a story about an Ontario firm that manufactures pallets. That’s all it does. It cannot keep pace with demand; it cannot ship enough shipping pallets. The problem is not the factory’s inefficiency. Ownership has been mourning wood, the limited supply and inflated cost of its base raw material.

During the pandemic pause homeowners elected to renovate their properties as there was no place else to go for a holiday. This additional activity in a curiously robust real estate market in the western world, low interest rates amid high demand, developers developed and builders built, mortgaging the future. Suddenly lumber wasn’t just a key incidental, something to be ordered a day or two before a load was required on site. The resource became as elusive as Lewis Carroll’s Snark.

World events, none of which are ever positive, have always seemed comfortably remote to me, distant abstractions. News of this looming German beer catastrophe, a knotted string result of so many related factors, has served as something of a wake up call. It could conceivably happen here. It could even happen to me.                

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of blind panic since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit to find your preferred format and retailer

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