Gavan Reilly

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The German Way

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You don’t have to be there for very long to realise that despite their incessant, crippling urge to bureaucratise things like breathing and eating, the Germans have a tradition of doing things in a very sensible way.

Nowhere is this more visible in their rail system. Today* we were standing on the platform at the Hauptbahnhof waiting for our S-Bahn back to the airport. On the screens at the platform, we were advised (bilingually) that the rear section of the train would be the one going to the airport, while the front half would be splitting and heading onward. Hence, passengers should board the train “in the A section”. How was the A section signified? There was a sign at that end of the platform.

“The train will arrive in three minutes.” And it did.

“The train will arrive at the airport in 51 minutes.” And it did. And the airport itself? Voted the best in Europe for the last four years: easily laid out, open, warm, airy, well spaced out, and never cramped. All this from a city with a population of about 1.3m, not a huge amount bigger than Dublin’s.

Compare this to Ireland where you’d be lucky to predict which platform any train might arrive or leave from on an hourly basis; where trains cost more than the minimum daily wage, and where combination tickets for more than one public transport service involve brittle, unreliable swipe tickets that don’t work on most buses. And don’t get me started on Dublin Airport – though, to its credit, Terminal 2 really ought to be referred to as Terminal 4, because piers A and D would be named as terminals anywhere else in the world, not least for the reason that you could fit small eastern European republics between the check-in desks and the departure gates.

And that’s not the only example. When the Germans built roads, they did it the right way – big, wide, open, and with no speed limit (I don’t advocate their complete abolition, but when was the last time you heard of a fatal collission on a motorway?). In Spring of 2007 when I lived there, VAT was raised across the board. Now, when the economy gets sluggish? They’re cutting it again. Put more money in peoples’ pockets, and they have more to spend.

Clever, clever people? Not really – just a country who understand that the earlier you spend money, the cheaper a project becomes, and with the profound sensibility to simply think things through.

* which is now yesterday, as I couldn’t get online to publish this post.

Written by Gav

January 16th, 2009 at 3:57 pm