I have just read this story on the BBC web site entitled The Blind Breast Cancer Detectors. Here’s the first paragraph.
Women being screened for breast cancer in Germany may find themselves in the hands of a blind examiner. The idea has been around for a few years, and unpublished research suggests that it really works – that blind people can in fact detect tumours earlier than their sighted counterparts.
Now I’ve never had cancer, but C had breast cancer and she found the lump herself, which the GP discounted. It was later confirmed by a specialist.
But in Penang in Malaysia, we were staying at the Mutiara hotel. My back was giving me trouble, so C suggested I had a massage.It was probably the most successful massage I’ve ever had.
And the masseur was blind! They explained that the Malaysian government was training them to work in the luxury hotels of the country.
I thought at the time, it was a good idea. I still think it is and after reading the BBC article, I think that the sensitive fingers of the blind may go a lot further than relieving tension in my spine.
The train arrived in Basel on time, but due to a misunderstanding with the public address, I got out at the German station rather than the Swiss one.
So I lost about half-an-hour on my way to Mulhouse. I then had to go to virtually a separate station to get my French train.
Surely for reasons of efficiency, the three stations should be more integrated.
Deutche Bahn is not the most difficult railway system to use, but from the German part of my trip, it is worthwhile following a few rules.
1. Learn to use the ticket machines
The standard DB ticket machines work well, and as well as issuing tickets are a good way of finding the train to do a later or next day journey.
2. Don’t expect the same frequency you get in the UK
I’ve just looked up Kassel to Frankfurt and compared to say Norwich to London, which is a similar journey, there are perhaps half the trains.
Because of this always make sure you plan the train you are going to use for the next leg of the journey before say you explore something you’ve come to see.
Turn up and go often means a two-hour wait for even the simplest journey.
As an example, at Darmstadt I checked and found the next-but-one direct train to Karlsruhe left in three hours, which was good for my break and explore in the city. So I bought the ticket there and then.
There were other trains, but they meant going back to Frankfurt to get an ICE. These tickets were more expensive.
3. Use the regional trains
As I did between Kassel and Frankfurt, don’t ignore the regional trains, as often they are cheaper and usually pretty comfortable, and often with a panoramic view from a top deck. They may be a bit slower, but often they are less crowded.
4. Take as little luggage as you can
Often German trains are not the level access we see so often in the UK, like on the Overground, so cut your luggage to a minimum, unless you want to lug cases up and down steps.
5. Be prepared for lots of steps
Some stations have lifts and escalators, but most just have steps and some are exceedingly long.
6.Plan your route in detail before you leave
7. Investigate the Bahn cards
If you do a lot of travel on German trains, a Bahn card may be a good idea.
8. Don’t expect to see helpful staff
You do occasionally, but usually you’re left to your own devices and the excellent ticket machines. And if things go really wrong, like they did for me last year at Osnabruck, you won’t get a hotel.
9. A warning about on-line ticketing
When you buy on-line there is no problem and I think it can sometimes be cheaper than a machine. But as in some UK machines for shorter journeys the machines now give a best price, if you discount a specific advanced purchase.
I bought my ticket for Brussels to Kassel on-line before I left and as Deutsche Bahn don’t accept Amex, which is my usual travel card, on-line, I used another credit card.
The ticket inspector needed to see this, as of course I didn’t have an identity card. I don’t think passports are acceptable, as your identity card must be entered in the on-line purchase.
These sort of rules, are perhaps a good reason to use the ticket machines for all shorter journeys.
Work out your methods and at least plan your route before you leave. But don’t bother to buy lads of individual tickets, as German trains do seem to drop me in it, more than say Virgin, East Midlands or First Great Western.
When I left the UK, my aims were to travel to Kassel, Karlsruhe and Strasbourg and a few other cities, I’d not visited before as a tourist.
I was also intending to see and ride on some of the tram-trains that seem to be used in the area.
I started my journey on a 73 bus and finished it in a taxi. More on why I used a dreaded taxi later.
These pictures tell the story.
In some ways it was an easy but boring journey, which because of the extremely dull weather past Liege there wasn’t much to see.
Personally, I can’t wait for a direct London to Frankfurt train, which would make trips like this so much easier.
Some people, especially politicians, who’ve never run anything more difficult than an office with perhaps one employee, despair that a lot of our trains and buses are run by foreign companies. They think they should all be nationalised.
But then there’s this article from the Guardian entitled National Express To Run Nuremberg’s Overground Urban Trains.
This is the second such contract, National Express has obtained and the article talks about further contracts.
As an aside here, German trains have a lot of characteristics that we have long banished from our trains and buses, like bad customer service, as I experienced at Osnabruck.
Hopefully National Express will impose some of the excellent principles they use on c2c between London and South Essex.
I was reading an article in the Sunday Times about how Germans are leaving churches in droves as they don’t want to pay the church tax. Here’s the jist.
When it comes to a choice between God and mammon, German churchgoers are overwhelmingly choosing mammon.
Hundreds of thousands of citizens have been leaving the German churches every year, appalled by child sex abuse scandals and outrageous spending by clerical fat cats.
It would appear that for the average wage earner, it could be several thousand euros, which all church members pay to their chosen church.
There’s more about the so-called church tax in Wikipedia and I was surprised at how many countries have one. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the tax in Austria.
Church tax is compulsory for Catholics in Austria, with a rate of 1.1%. This tax was introduced by Hitler in 1939. After World War II, the tax was retained in order to keep the Church independent of political powers.
The Sunday Times said that some Catholics in Germany, who don’t pay the tax might be refused a religious burial. How charitable is that, when apparently the Catholic Church in Germany is said in the article to be worth £341bn.
Many of us moan about tax rates, but at least here’s one tax, that we don’t have to pay.
I’ve just read a report in The Times, which says that Munich Technical University, one of German’s best, is going to teach Masters courses in English.
It reminded me of a story told by a Frenchman, who had immaculate English and worked for I think IBM. He went on a company course in Germany, which as participants were from all over Europe, was being conducted in English by a German.
On reaching a concept that some on the course found difficult, he addressed everybody with “We have ways of making you understand these things!”
Somebody had to explain to him, the laughter that followed.
Putin’s Russia is increasingly becoming a problem to the rest of the world, as the events in Ukraine show. I’ve also been to Poland recently and talking to Poles, some are getting quite worried about Russian intentions.
We may impose sanctions on the Russians, but the real problem with our relationship, is that many countries in Europe are highly dependent on Russian gas. Germany is especially dependent and has the direct Nord Stream link through the Baltic.
But how do we replace all of that gas?
We already have a Langeled pipeline from the UK to Norway, the Interconector to Belgium and the RBL pipeline to the Netherlands. We are also importing compressed natural gas from the Middle East. We may also see the benefits of fracking in the next few years. So as far as the UK and our near Continental neighbours are concerned, it’s probably a case of “I’m Alright, Jack”
Gas may be a cleaner fuel, than the coal the Germans are rushing to use, but it still is a fossil fuel, although it only generates about forty percent of the CO2, that coal does when you burn it.
On my trip to Iceland, I saw how you could use geothermal and hydro-electric power to create heat and electricity to power a country and energy consumptive industries like aluminium production and data centres.
But they could generate a lot more and that zero-carbon electricity could be plugged into the European electricity grid. A project called Icelink has been proposed that would link Iceland to the UK and onward to Europe.
There is even plans on the drawing board in other parts of the world, where electricity is used to convert aluminium oxide or bauxite to aluminium in a smelter. The aluminium is then transported to where you need more electricity and then burned in a conventional power station to generate that power. After burning the aluminium is turned into oxide, which is then shipped back to be re-smelted into metal. It sounds crazy, but get the designs right and it might well be financially feasible and considerably cheaper than laying an undersea cable.
Connecting all of Western Europe’s gas and electricity systems together will allow everybody to share resources to mutual advantage.
If we do bring Iceland into this network, it will all help to make Russia’s abundant energy unnecessary and give Putin the cold shoulder, he deserves.
Whether you think this German side is good is irrelevant, but the Brazilian side has about as much commitment as a bad Division One side!
Will anybody beat the Germans?
Yes! But I don’t know who will!