Column: Trading a Pontoon Boat for a River Boat

Column: Trading a Pontoon Boat for a River Boat

Once we had closed the Reston Farmers Market regular season and assisted in organizing the extended Fall Farmers Market at Lake Anne, co-Market Master Fran and I decided a change of scenery was in order. We traded in our pontoon boat on Lake Anne for a river boat cruising up the Danube with old friends.

The trip on a long, cigar shaped, 140-passenger vessel began in Budapest, Hungary and ended in Nuremberg, Germany. The weather was cool and cloudy, just like back home. The scenery along the Danube was charming—quaint old world villages, castles, and cathedrals dating back a thousand years in the Wachau Valley and the Black Forest. Towns along the way were busy setting up their Christmas markets, complete with hot mulled wine to warm a traveler’s cockles.

As we walked and shopped in the mom and pop stores in German cities and towns, I was impressed with the bustling markets and apparent prosperity all around us. Speaking with people in the shops and our tour guides, I got a short course in what makes Germany such a dynamic place. Some of the striking differences between what I was experiencing and the situation back in metro Washington and even Reston rekindled my progressive spirit.

Germans have universal health care providing immediate, free access to preventive care and a full range of medical services. As a result, people are healthier, live longer and are productive workers. Yet, Germans spend only 11.1 percent of their GDP on health care, while we spend 17.9 percent while 45 million people (over half the population of Germany) go without health insurance and care.

And, how about this—quality public education is free! That includes free tuition through college for all those with good high school performance. The German economy has come through recent economic crises better than nearly all others, in part because they have such a well-educated workforce in fields from industrial production to specialized agriculture and, yes, business.

Unlike our spotty public transportation system in Northern Virginia, public transportation there is affordable and works efficiently. People can get to where they need to go by a well-coordinated, multi-modal system featuring extensive bike sharing, light rail, subways and buses.

Germany is a prosperous country where nearly everyone is doing well. Prosperity is not reserved to the few, but is widespread, without the gaping and growing inequality we have at home. Workers have a voice in business, both as small business owner-operators and as board members of larger businesses.

Taxation is more equitable, too. The wealthier pay more, but are doing quite well, thank you. Furthermore, Germany’s political system seems cleaner. More, way more, people participate in elections, at the national and local level. Money plays a lesser role. There must be some lessons we can learn from these folks?!

New topic: Join the Audubon Society for a holiday get-together this Sunday, Dec. 8, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the National Wildlife Federation (11100 Wildlife Center Drive in Reston). Our guest speaker will be Claudia Thompson-Deahl, Reston Citizen of the Year Award winner for excellence in environmental leadership and Natural Resource Manager with the Reston Association.