In today’s fast-moving, hectic world, noise has become a part of our everyday lives – it accompanies us wherever we are – in the home, where satellite TVs and personal stereos blare through the house and power lawn mowers tear through the evening calm; on the way to work, where ear-splitting pneumatic drills briefly blank out the roar of the traffic that snarls along the heavily-congested roads that snake through our towns, villages and inner-cities, or in the workplace, in schools, in public places where a wall of noise often makes you wish you were a million miles away.
Noise can be dangerous. Overexposure to loud noise can permanently damage your hearing. Excessive noise is a stress factor that can be linked to numerous illnesses: people who are constantly subjected to high levels of noise are at a risk and often suffer from high blood pressure, fits of extreme agitation, sleep disorders, lack of appetite – the list goes on…
But what is excessive noise and what is not…?
Peter K. is tossing and turning in his bed. It’s one o’clock in the morning and he hasn’t slept a wink. Peter K. has an important meeting the following morning and all he wants is a good night’s sleep. The pub across the road is popular among the locals and the noise from the revelers fills the night. The ban on smoking which prohibits the guests from smoking on the premises has only made things worse because they now repeatedly spill out into the streets to share a cigarette. An hour passes… Peter K. jumps out of bed. Enough is enough. Angrily, he picks up his cordless phone and calls the police. But can he? When are you as a member of the public allowed to call the police and when do you have the lawful right to complain about noise?
This is a difficult question to answer. Even more so because the Technical Guidelines For Noise Protection make heavy reading. Basically, it all depends on where you live and the type of noise involved – and strangely enough, some really loud noise sources, like road traffic for example, are even exempted from the catalogue. The catalogue does, however, include pubs and other licensed establishments.
The following noise emission guidelines reveal the permitted levels for noise coming from such establishments:
There are various classifications for different locations. We have selected the three classifications which we think represent the type of residential area in which most people live:
- Centre zones, village areas and mixed zones (mixed trade, gastronomy and residential areas), applies to most well-populated and frequented parts of cities, especially inner cities:
06:00am to 10:00pm: 60 dB(A)
10:00pm to 06:00am: 45 bB(A)
- General residential areas (mainly residential zones – trade and gastronomy permitted):
06:00am to 10:00pm: 55 dB(A)
10:00pm to 06:00am: 40 bB(A)
- In buildings (regardless of the type of residential area):
06:00am to 10:00pm: 35 dB(A)
10:00pm to 06:00am: 25 bB(A)
And how can I find out when these threshold values have been exceeded?
With a noise level meter. The Technical Guidelines state exactly where the measurement must be carried out: from the outside of the building at a distance of 0.5m (1.6 ft) from the middle of the open window of the room which needs to be protected most (e.g. bedroom window). As we pointed out above – the guidelines really do make heavy reading.
Please be careful to remember that the results of any measurements carried out by members of the public will not stand up in a court of law. Such measurements must be carried out by the Office For Public Order. This still, however, makes the noise level meters ideal for carrying out preliminary on-the-spot checks.
Are you allowed to call the police if certain noise levels are exceeded?
Yes, you are in Germany. You are even allowed to dial 110, the German equivalent of 999. As a rule your complaint will fall in the domain of the Office For Public Order. Some cities, like Frankfurt on the river Main for example, have even set up a hotline which is open 24 hours a day. The police or the Office for Public Order will then follow up your call.
And do not be afraid to call their number: according to information received from the Environmental Agency in Frankfurt, excessive levels of noise are deemed a health hazard and all reports will be taken extremely seriously.