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Rick Steves

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Thinking In German

Posted: 07/18/2012 7:00 am

Traveling into Germany, it becomes clear that the Germans know how to motor an economy. They seem disdainful of the tax cheating, inefficient bureaucracy and the corruption plaguing the Mediterranean countries they will be bailing out. Suddenly, all around Europe, German efficiency seems like a good idea. It's amazing to think that Germany has built itself up (with US aid after WWII) from near-total destruction to become Europe's economic powerhouse. For sixty years, they've simply worked hard and paid their taxes.

Germans I've talked to admit that they've benefitted most from the euro currency. And now they recognize that they need to prop up the euro and give a little back to the other European nations. One German's thoughts on Greece: "Greeks have learned from their heads of state to be corrupt. Brussels believed in their false numbers when they applied for membership in the eurozone, and since they joined, there's been no control -- just wishful thinking. Today we have a big problem with Greece."

You see lots of construction around Europe, but in the south, it's often stalled. Traveling through Germany this last week, however, I've seen thriving construction projects everywhere. A beautiful thing about Europe (compared to the USA) is that there are no electrical wires overhead. They are nearly all buried. A local told me that much of the wiring is from the 1970s, and throughout Germany, it's being dug up and modernized.

One night in Munich, I walked over a tidy sidewalk into my hotel. The next morning, I stepped out and had to walk the plank over a deep ditch with tractors, orange-vested workmen, and industrial-strength tubing and wires everywhere. That afternoon, I came home...and the sidewalk was tidy again. I wondered how long a job like that would take in Italy or Greece.

2012-07-16-takeapartstreets.jpg
German sidewalks are designed to deconstruct and reconstruct economically.


Germanic people even seem efficient about hedonism. Every country seems to have its own firewater. While I gingerly sip it, locals throw it down in a gulp. Finally a local friend gave me a tip: "My Granny taught me that you should first breathe deeply in, then take the shot, then breathe out." It works. Ahhhh.

On the topic of languages, a German friend observed that the Spanish and Italians speak as if talking to God, the French speak as if talking to a lover, and the Germans speak as if talking to a dog. They seem to be barking, even when agreeing with you: Stimmt! Genau! Richtig! I said I like the sound of German, but it's difficult for me. My friend said, "German's an easy language. Even children speak it."

Meeting a lot of Americans traveling -- including families and people well into their adulthood who are out of the States for the first time -- I've been thinking about how travel helps people blossom. If we are like seeds, the travel experience provides the dirt. The act of traveling plants us. And the people we meet in our travels are like watering the garden. Combine the dirt, seeds, and water properly, and you get the blossom. Happy travels.

 

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