Helen Martin: We could learn so much from a German lesson

AS the EU in-or-out argument grinds on, it's interesting to contrast life here with elsewhere in Europe.

Tuesday, 15th March 2016, 2:11 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th March 2016, 2:18 pm
Berlin, Brandenburg gate, Germany. File picture: iStock/Getty

We returned from a five-night break to Berlin to find Edinburgh’s festival organisers complaining about how the city failed to meet tourist expectations on cleanliness.

Yet the first thing we noticed about Germany’s capital was the complete absence of litter. And the comparisons didn’t end there.

Something was missing in that city, something we just couldn’t put our finger on until it dawned on us that having strolled along its wide thoroughfares for several hours a day, we hadn’t spied a single pothole. We set up our own little competition – first to spot one paid for a couple of currywursts, Berlin’s favourite street food. By the sixth morning, the score was 0-0.

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We did come across a few “indents” in side roads, but only where the area was under construction because it appears Berlin is building its way out of recession and austerity, with a skyline full of cranes and apartment blocks springing up in every direction.

Our apartment hotel, just five minutes from one of the main tourist attractions – Checkpoint Charlie, the US sector crossing at the long-gone Berlin Wall – cost us about £300 in total for two people staying for five nights in a stylish en suite bedroom with a living room-kitchen attached, daily maid service and wall-mounted TV in each room with free UK TV channels. Tea and coffee were replaced every day, the mini bar was fully stocked, the hotel had a restaurant, offered room service and included was use of its swimming pool, sauna and gym – free slippers thrown in.

Conveniently located around the next corner was a Lidl, where a bottle of Pinot Grigio would set you back a whole £2.40.

The tourist tax in Berlin is four euros a night – another lesson for Edinburgh. Perhaps that’s how they can afford a magnificent transport system including buses, trams, underground, regional and national trains.

There may have been cycle lanes on some roads but we didn’t notice any. Most cyclists, many of them tourists, seemed to manage on the wide roads and pavements without incident. In fact, the very width of roads and pavements kept the traffic moving without the choking congestion we suffer here from the ludicrous narrowing of arterial routes.

High quality graffiti is celebrated in Berlin whether for its beauty, creativity, or political content, leading to huge works of art on multi-storey buildings, many of which feature in glossy coffee table books sold in art shops.

And unlike Scotland, where walking along the road swigging beer is seen as downright antisocial, it’s common to see middle-aged commuters sipping a bottle on their way home – though not on public transport.

Visiting a city like Berlin doesn’t give you the full picture. Of course residents might pay higher taxes for all I know. Perhaps local government has access to more funding. Housing rents could be higher (though I doubt higher then Edinburgh). And apart from some of its stunning modern architecture, it certainly doesn’t have the pretty, historical charm of our own city.

But there are certainly lessons to be learned from Berlin, not least spending money where it really matters, and keeping costs down for tourists.

Parents need to be on the bawl

I WAS, in some ways, a very lucky mum. The Young Master didn’t do tantrums – at least not in public. My own mother wasn’t so fortunate. As a toddler, tired out on a local shopping trip, I threw one spectacular fit when we passed a bed shop, drumming my feet on the ground and yelling that I wanted to lie down on the big, comfy bed.

Her response was to pick me up under her arm as I bawled and kicked, apologise to passers-by, and march off down the street, refusing to let me down until I behaved.

Today, some parents, such as Lindsay Robertson whose 16-month-old daughter Heidi let rip in Manchester’s John Lewis, seem to think the rest of the world should tolerate tantrums. Instead of instantly removing the offending sprog, she stayed put until customers complained and a staff member asked her to leave. Later, she accused the store of “embarrassing” her and making her feel like a “rubbish mum” – which unjustifiably earned her a £20 gift voucher and a bunch of flowers! Regardless of her maternal abilities, her responsibility towards others seems severely lacking.

No-one would blame such a young child for going off on one. It happens. What matters is that the parent has the manners to remove them, or the wisdom to avoid taking them into restaurants, planes or department stores until they know they have passed the stage of throwing screaming, bawling fits when they don’t get their own way.

Bailey was let down by system

IN the wake of Bailey Gwynne’s killing at the hands of another knife-wielding youth at Aberdeen’s Cults Academy, it emerges that schools do not automatically call in police when a child is found to be carrying an offensive weapon, partly because they don’t want to harm the school’s reputation and partly because they are discouraged from doing so by Scotland’s “social inclusion” policy. Hence Bailey, right, paid with his life. And the government wants to make teachers state guardians?