The best of GermanyBy Queen N. Lee-Chua
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Germany is the strongest European economy, and the fourth largest in the world.
Though lacking in raw materials (it imports most of its oil and natural gas), it is the second biggest exporter of automobiles (BMW, Mercedes Benz, Porsche), chemicals (Bayer, Merck, SAP), industrials (Siemens, Bosch, ThyssenKrupp) and even clothing (Adidas, Puma, Hugo Boss).
Unlike the questionable speed limits on our expressways, no restrictions are imposed on Germany’s autobahns. While our roads are full of unsightly signage, their roads are free of distractions.
No traffic enforcers lurk at every stop, ready to pounce on motorists. German bikers often do not wear helmets. They down wine and beer as substitutes for water, yet they seem fine.
Despite the lack of regulations and traffic enforcers, Germany has the best road safety record in Europe, with the fewest accidents and possibly the most polite motorists, who give pedestrians and bikers right of way, even if they are outside their designated lanes.
In our country, security people, traffic aides, police abound everywhere—at mall entrances, toll ways, LRT stations. The unspoken message is that, if you do not watch people, they will try to get away with something when they can. Ironically, despite all these watchers, we never feel totally safe.
Germany was a refreshing change. In the Berlin subway, we got day passes, which were not checked at the cashier’s or turnstile. The government expects everyone to be honest and, generally, everyone is. For two weeks, we never saw a police officer. We conversed with friendly locals (most of whom speak excellent English) and strolled on the streets at night, feeling safe at all times.
Rising from devastation
How can this nation, devastated by World War II, now single-handedly prop up the Eurozone? More than 95 percent of Frankfurt and Berlin were devastated by the time the war ended in 1945, but Germany was determined to rise from the rubble, even as it set aside, wisely, 30 percent of its land area for parks and greenery.
Two reasons for Germany’s resilience: Determination and discipline.
Famed for modern infrastructure, construction technology and industrial research, Germany nevertheless is always mindful of its history. The restoration of ancient and medieval structures (made famous by the Brothers Grimm) continues unabated: 16th century shops and cobblestones in Rothenberg, Hansel-and-Gretel-like cottages along the way to Dresden, a hundred or so castles on the banks of the Rhine and the gorgeous Moritzburg Castle, home of Saxon kings.
German ware, including souvenirs produced by artisans, has long been synonymous with quality. We could not resist getting a cuckoo clock from the workshop of Adolf Herr, whose family has been carving them for generations.
We glimpsed the nation’s “dark pages,” as our guide somberly put it. In Dachau, the first concentration camp in Europe, we walked through the gate with the stark motto “Work sets you free,” and passed the rooms where inmates lay, stacked one over the other, the strongest on top, the weakest at the bottom. We stood mute at the gas chambers, with tiles and shower heads as in a communal bath.
Now Dachau is a sacred site, with churches of every denomination standing on hallowed ground, praying for the eternal repose of souls and for world harmony.
In the former East Berlin, the Soviet War Memorial to the fallen of World War II was majestic yet poignant. We traced the path of the infamous Wall, built overnight in the heart of a city, cutting off families and friends for a generation. We lingered at parts of the Wall that remained, now decorated with murals of peace and remembrance.
At Checkpoint Charlie, United States citizens used to enter and exit East Germany under guard. Now the site is a museum, featuring newsreels of the Cold War and displays of ingenious escape contraptions, such as false luggage bottoms and secret car trunks.
Sausages and dogs
My husband and my son raved about frankfurters and wieners, with neither artificial preservatives nor lackluster fillings like those in what pass for hotdogs and sausages in most of the world. German law requires sausages to have generous amounts of solid meat.
I loved the croissants, feathery and light, unlike the heavy starchy ones here. Paris may have set the standard for pastries, but the eponymous cake in the Black Forest can rival that in the most uppity boulangerie (bakeshop).
The most surprising thing about Germany, though, is the national love for dogs. In Wiesbaden, 30 minutes outside Frankfurt, dogs of every size and stripe are everywhere. But we seldom heard them barking—the dogs are as disciplined as their owners.
Dogs (all on leashes) wait patiently beside the subway track, unmindful of the noise; trot up the escalator in swanky malls, nap quietly while their masters munch on pretzel in cafés and stroll smartly through airports and obligingly enter their cages for travel.
Ultimately, the mark of a civilized people may be in how we treat animals. It is about time that public places in our country start welcoming dogs, too.
E-mail the author at email@example.com.
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- Do not forget the poor
- Everyone is blessed
- Exceeding expectations
- Lessons from a dog