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To Germany and back in 10 Days

Sat, 23 Oct 2004 Source: GNA

A GNA Feature by Boakye-Dankwa Boadi

Accra, Oct. 22, GNA - The Royal Dutch Airline Flight KL 590 took off from the Accra Kotoka International Airport on Friday September 10 on schedule. On board were six Ghanaian Journalists including this writer, whom the German Government was gratuitously sponsoring to witness state elections in the Free State of Saxony and Brandenburg. The Flight was smooth and landed safely at the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport at dawn on Saturday. We had to rush to board the connecting flight to Berlin.

At Berlin Airport we discovered that our luggage did not come along with us. One of us remarked: "This problem is everywhere and yet people start complaining if the Ghana Airways fails to bring in luggage of passengers as if it were peculiar with the national carrier."

Yes the problem is everywhere but we soon discovered that the handling of the problem was what made all the difference. All that the Lady, who was at the Airport to meet us, did was to take us to the Luggage Tracking Unit at the Airport to report.

At the Unit they asked for the description of the luggage and the tag numbers and promised to deliver it at the hotel where we were to lodge and true to their word the luggage was delivered six hours later. Berlin could be intimidating to a person visiting Europe for the first time. The tall and huge buildings, wide streets with tram lines and the large number of cars.

When this writer got into Delag Hotel, where we were to lodge for the first three days, he soon discovered that he had to stay with "ghosts".

The lights in the corridors came on automatically as one walked along and went off when one entered his or her room. The doors were opened with cards, just like that of Elmina Resort in the Central Region.

The television set in the room had every detail about the lodger the name, the period of stay and information on how to use the facilities in the room.

The bathroom was fitted with mirrors that made it possible for one to see one's back. If the top of the tap was lifted and turned left it dispensed hot water and cold water when turned right.

Having quickly taken a shower this writer went down to join his colleagues and guides. The male guide had come to join his counterpart.

They informed us that they were taking us out for lunch. They took us down into a hole and soon we got to an underground train station. We changed trains three times underground and when we eventually came out this writer could not help but to remark: "Nkrofuo ye adane yen nkusei" literally meaning "these people have turned us into rats".

Berlin could be described as the "Eternal Capital of Europe". It has numerous restaurants that served food from virtually every country in the world.

After lunch we had our first appointment. By the time we got there our host was at the door to receive us. This we later discovered was the standard practice since everything was done according to time.

Our interaction with the top brass of German Political Parties was very revealing. It came out clearly that theirs was not a make or break affair. They were very accommodating of each other. The only party the rest did not want to hear about was the National Democratic Party (NPD), which they saw as a Neo-Nazi Party.

The proportional representation system of Government might be the cause of this accommodating attitude since votes obtained in areas where a party lost are put together and where they reached five per cent of the total votes cast could earn it a seat in Parliament.

The system works this way. For example in the present Ghanaian Parliament of 200 members, 100 of the seats would be for candidates elected directly. The remaining 100 would be distributed to the parties according to the total number of votes they received during the election.

This would have meant that the National Democratic Party (NDC) could have obtained some additional parliamentary seats from the votes they got in the Ashanti Region, which went to waste in the present system.

In the same way the New Patriotic Party (NPP) could have obtained some seats from the votes that it got from the Volta, Upper East and Upper West Regions that went to waste.

Those to be given the seats are determined by the parties before the election. This system is worth considering for adoption in Ghana. One would not want to bore the reader by talking about the huge architectural edifices, the beautiful layouts and the forests within Berlin that guarantee that the Great City would for a long time be free from smog.

Some of the buildings have the latest electronic devices. Washrooms are fitted with urinal pots, which flush automatically once used. They have soap and water that must be used after attending to nature's call. Taps do not have to be turned on. One has to just put the hand under the taps and the water would flow out. Some toilet doors would not open after use unless one washed the hands.

One strange thing that shocked this writer was the way lovers caressed each other in public. It reminded him of what used to happen among the ... when they were on heat on Opanin Kofi Boadi's Farm at Mangoase in the Ashanti Region in the early 1960s when this writer was about nine years old. He would take a stick to chase them around while his Mother would be shouting: "Boakye leave them alone! Leave them alone! You will fall down and hurt yourself!"

During a boat trip on the Elbe in Dresden there was this young couple that kept on caressing each other in the full glare of other passengers. This was unthinkable in Ghana.

The journey from Berlin to Dresden was by bus. The German countryside is very beautiful. There were no dusty feeder roads. The highways had toilet facilities at regular intervals. So there was no question of a passenger saying: "Driver find a place to stop so that I can urinate".

There were no junctions along the highways. All the roads crossed at different levels and since they were dual-carriage the question of head-on collision of vehicles did not arise.

Dresden has castles and monuments and boasts of a rich history of aristocracy. The people are very pleasant. There was not a single occasion that any of us was made to feel detested.

We went out and stayed deep into the night and walked back to our hotel through the parks without any incident. The Cabbies had the history of the town at their fingertips and they told wonderful stories about the city.

There was the legend about the "Blue Wonder", a steel bridge over the Elbe, which was painted green but the inhabitants woke up one day to find out that it had been repainted blue.

Cabbies in Ghana should learn such wonderful stories about the cities where they operate and tell them to tourists as a way of boosting tourism in the country.

The return journey to Berlin was by train and was very smooth. Unlike in Ghana, the trains did not have to wait at stations for trains coming from the opposite direction since there were outbound and inbound tracks. Needless to say, the train left on schedule and arrived on schedule and by the time of our arrival the bus that was to pick us to our hotel was waiting.

One thing that came out clearly was that the German system is based on trust and the assumption that people would behave responsibly. It is unlike Ghana where some "smart" guys would always try to cheat the system.

For example one had to slot money into machines to take tickets for trams and underground trains. If one got on board one was expected to go to the stamping machine to stamp the tickets. Nobody came round to check, at least not on the occasions that we used the facilities.

This was very different from what happens in our beloved Ghana. Before we left for Germany new ticketing machines had been installed at the Accra Kotoka International Airport. This writer had to pay 10,000 cedis for parking the Ghana News Agency vehicle that took him to the Airport.

When he returned after only 11 days stay he discovered that the guy operating the system at the Airport taxi rank had devised a way of cheating the system. He was able to get the bar lifted for the taxi this writer had picked to go home to move out. When the taxi driver wanted to pay him he said he should go and come.

When this writer questioned the taxi driver he first denied any wrongdoing. But when he told the driver of his identity and the possibility of taking them to task he admitted that if he went back he would pay the man 5,000 cedis instead of the 10,000 cedis so that both of them would gain from the transaction.

The rate at which taxis move in out of the rank the guy would make not less than 100,000 cedis illegally in a day. This is Ghana. Do we have to blame anyone for our economic woes?

Columnist: GNA