High School Grads Flock to Spain in Droves

Tens of thousands of German high school students travel each year to Spain, Italy, Bulgaria or Hungary to celebrate graduation in scenes that look a lot like America's spring break. A whole new industry has developed -- one that encourages them to binge drink and lose control.

The night sky over Lloret de Mar is flooded with the reflection of red and blue neon signs, but in the morning when the lights at Magic Park, Hollywood and the other bars and clubs go out, the town turns as gray as concrete. As the street cleaners emerge to clear the pavement of last night's excesses with road sweepers and humongous hoses, the graduates plunk down onto their hotel beds. Olli, the holiday host, won't be revving up his program again until 2 p.m., when there will be a get-together at Dr. Döner, where the buckets will be waiting for the sangria party. Anyone getting out of bed before that can always have a beer or Vodka lemon at the hotel bar. There are virtually no holds barred in Lloret -- and that's why they've come here.

These past few weeks, the students heard their teachers and principals say what all do when they send their students off into life with somewhat too much élan: You are the elite, you will be the cream of your country. But the graduating class contingent taking off for Lloret de Mar on Spain's Mediterranean coast put all that elite business on ice for the time being, and before leaving they make sure to book the booze at the hotel in advance, which is cheaper than paying each drink as they go.

Some 35,000 high school graduates from all over Germany board the buses bound for the Costa Brava right after their final exams: the nation's future engineers, dentists, federal police. In some cases, entire classes travel, in others they are groups as small as five people. But the goal of the trip is certain: most just want to drink some of their thoughts away, says holiday host Oliver Schwartz, 33, who goes by the nickname "Olli" in his duties as partymeister.

Life is simple in Llorat. There's sun, a beach, discos and alcohol. Otherwise, there's not much else going on here. Lloret is a supermarket for high school grads, and for five or six weeks each summer, the city's sole raison d'être is to temporarily eclipse the complexity from the new life they will have to face after leaving school. And the first steps to freedom lead straight to the sangria buckets.

Olli shares responsibility for complexity reduction in Lloret. He is the head of two dozen local holiday reps for his employer Abi4Life (Abi being short for Abitur, the school-leaving exams given at gymnasiums, Germany's college preparatory high schools), a firm that organizes tours for kids who have just passed their exams and graduated. By the end of the summer season, as many as 8,000 high school graduates from Germany will have visited Lloret.

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