Saturday, September 3, 2016

Trip Notes: Germany

As I prepare to leave clean air and cool weather, I reflect on what makes Germany so unique and desirable a place to live, compared to other countries. Not just China, but for refugees from all over.


seems to run like a well-oiled machine. From large societal concerns like transportation to smaller, local customs, there seems to be no discord – unlike the cacophony of getting anywhere in China. Seldom did I hear any horns honking for their right of way in Germany, nor did I see any traffic jams. The bus lanes were reserved exclusively for the buses, even if that meant that all the cars had to line up in one lane.

The German bus system should be the envy of the world! Each bus stop, no matter how far out from city center, had an itinerary posted that indicates which bus you can connect with at any given stop along its route!

Besides that helpful tool, there are LED indicators at the bus stops, showing when the next bus is due. Riding double-decker buses in Berlin, I spied WIFI antennae on single-deck bus roofs that broadcast the vehicle's position, so that the readouts are always current.

As I understand it, China is moving in this direction but, so far, the LED readouts are not necessarily accurate, and smaller towns are deprived of this technology altogether.

Paying for transit could not be easier. As a guest, I had the option of buying one of several tickets: a single ride or a 4-ride ticket (good for 4 trips, obviously), a day pass for any one or all zones. Residents can buy a Monthly fare card, either for the lines they always ride, or a comprehensive card, good for all of the buses in one zone. Month Cards have a set price, adjusted for students, elderly and handicapped, and can be reloaded every month. You can ride any bus included in your Month card as often as you want. To prevent someone stealing and using your bus card, it has your picture on it.

China's elementary 'pay-per-ride' system is not bad, either. Especially if you have a fare card. And, if your city operates as Wuhan's mass transit does, if you change buses within 90 minutes of paying a fare, your second bus ride is free – even if it is a return trip. However, visitors have no options beyond paying a per-ride fare and smaller towns do not offer a bus card option, that I know of.


I mentioned in a previous post how Sam commented about Germany remembering her history. He hit the nail on the head, and there's really not much more to say about it, other than as compared to China. During China's rebirth some sixty years ago, a lot of ancient architecture and religious compounds weredestroyed. Only belatedly did China reflect on the historic significance of the Beijing Hutongs, for example. Now, amidst new construction and ever taller buildings and more roads and subway systems, China is scrambling to reprise her heritage sites. Temples and landmarks are being rebuilt across the country.

Not so in Germany. Centuries-old buildings are still standing and still in use, in spite of 2 World Wars and other ravages. Significant edifices, such as the Reichstag in Berlin, have been converted into museums. Furthermore, many of these solid structures are being modified to include modern conveniences such as solar energy and wireless networks – to wit, the church I took a break in, that offered free WIFI.


 as I understand the education system in China, students test at around 10 years old to determine aptitude and are educated according to that test result: trade school, middle and professional. Each division offers a more difficult curriculum. However, the great leveler in China is the GaoKao: a pass/fail indicator of whether the student is permitted to attend college and, if so, which college s/he can matriculate at. Every student takes the same exam, regardless of which 'path' s/he was educated on.

Germany follows the same system: a test around age 10 which determines the educational path the student will take, with curriculum dedicated to either trade, mid-level employment or professional.

The Gymnasium, the only 12-year school, prepares students to enter college. The mid-level schools whose curriculum ends at 10th grade, cater to the majority: those who might go into a trade or management. Students in the trade school divisions can test up for the mid-level school and 'middle school' students can test up to Gymnasium level.

Only Gymnasium students take an exam called the Abitur, equal to the GaoKao, to determine their college entrance qualifications. Upon achieving satisfactory marks, students can enroll in any number of universities, according to their interest/aptitude.


 Germany still operates on Church schedule. Thus, you had better get your weekend shopping done by Saturday at noon, lest you be without bread for Sunday breakfast. Nothing is open on Sunday (stores, bakeries and so on. Restaurants do brisk trade, even on Sunday). Even though society is mostly turning away from religion, the banks, post offices and stores still uphold the centuries-old timetable of closing for the Sabbath.

Any wonder why I felt the culture shock, after having been in China for so long, where banks and post offices are open 7 days per week?


Germany has the world's oldest national social health insurance system. Depending on your level of income (or if you are a refugee), you can subscribe to AOK, the general health insurance coverage; KKH, insurance for management personnel and doctors, or you can opt for private health insurance. AOK is funded in part by equal employee/employer contributions, KKH is more of an 80/20 employer/employee pay-in, and private health insurance is paid for solely by the person holding the policy.

Germany being a socialist country, patient needs are parsed out sparingly, but still sufficiently to treat/ cure the patient. A person with private health insurance does not receive better care than a tradesman, for example, but they receive more benefits such as a private room or an at-home nurse, should their situation call for it.

I do not know enough about China's healthcare and insurance systems beyond what I experienced to make a comparison with Germany. I can attest to having to pay for per-service fees (lab, X-ray and such, for each of my doctor's visits, with the promise of reimbursement from the insurance company. How much my employer's health coverage defrayed the cost, I have no idea.


There were 1 terrorist attack and 1 shooting during the 2 weeks I was in Germany. Thankfully I was nowhere near either of them, but they gave me pause.

In spite of the flood of refugees, the drug underworld and hightened terror threats, Germany's security is surprisingly lax. At train stations, on metros... nowhere did I have to go through any security checkpoints. All of the platforms are open. Anyone can walk into the train station and occupy the platform, and even board a train, whether s/he has a ticket or not. In fact, I saw quite a few people buy tickets from the conductor on the train. Not that I think like a terrorist, but I think it would be incrediblyeasy to board a train without having to buy a ticket, and blow it up, mid-journey.

 Heavens forbid, that ever happens!

As someone who cannot conceive of the need to blow a train full of people up, I prefer the German system. It harkens back to an older day, when travel was adventurous and exciting, and upstanding citizens were the norm. The stations are full of little restaurants and snack bars and shops; one can idle the time away till the train takes off without having to submit oneself and luggage to scrutiny.

 That contrasts sharply with the mad stampede to get onboard a train in China, but I have to give props to China for being so very security conscious. I think anyone would be hard-pressed to even think of blowing up a train, after showing one's ID to get a ticket, and then showing that ticket and ID to gain access to the station, and then again to board the train, and then again once on the train, and then again to leave the train station upon arrival. And I haven't mentioned having one's bags X-rayed and going through a body scanner yet! (Well, now I have).

  That is a lot of redundancy but it works well to deter anyone from contemplating any destruction.

   Security at the airport, flying out of Germany, was also minimal. I was able to keep my lighter and a small pocket knife I always carry on my travels in my hand luggage instead of my checked bag. There was a body scanner, but no subsequent patdown, as in Chinese and American airports.

In spite of the lax security and seeming terror just around the corner, I felt very safe in Germany. Maybe because I was snugly in my hotel room by nightfall, or perhaps it was the police presence. It seems that, on all levels, Germany has an organized society, with well-established boundaries and theseterror cells are outliers of the norm. in fact, just minutes after the shooting at the shopping mall, I overheard one young man say to his friends: “Hmm, there's been a shooting at Olympia.” and that was the end of the subject. Perhaps it is that very German attitude of normality that causes such a 'normal' feeling.  

You might think that I prefer one country over the other but the fact is, every country has its strong points and its flaws. A 2-week stay in Germany does not give me any more authority to determine its value any than 6 years in China can teach me everything about this beautiful land and her people.
Leaving Germany, I ask myself the question I always ask, after leaving any city/country: could I live there?

The answer: YES!  

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