We wanted to write about cycling. Now I see the head of Francesca´s post — obviously she wants to write about health insurance.
I know there was thunder and lightening in the US about Barack Obamas proposals for a new health insurance system. When we last met, Francesca got excited, too. I couldn´t. Health insurance isn´t an issue, it is a fact.
Everybody in Germany is insured, from the first to the last day of his or her life. Everybody in need is cared for. My health insurance covers medical treatment in all of Europe. I show my card, the doctor accepts it, my treatments are paid, that´s it. If I earn a lot of money, I pay more; if I earn less money, I pay less. Children and spouses without income are covered by my insurance as well.
If I earn enough money to be able to advance the medical bills before my insurance company reimburses the bill, I´m allowed to go private. But I can decide to stay with the public system as well. In this system, my insurance rate depends only on the amount of money I earn, not on the money the insurance company spends on my medical bills. When I´m young I pay more than I cost the insurance. When I´m old I kind of get this money back, because then the medical costs are higher while the insurance rates still stay the same. There are several insurance companies in the public health system I can choose from. Each of them has a slightly different profile. But all of them have to stand by me when when I´m ill. They can´t end the contract the moment I need health insurance. They can pick me, but they can´t leave me. One of them even has to take anybody who pays the rates – no questions asked.
Pretty simple, isn´t it?
My duty done, I can proceed to the joy of cycling.
Though this turns out to be an health issue, too. Cycling burns fat, kills stress and strenghtens the immune system.
Cycling is a natural part of German life. You will find at least one bicycle in 80 percent of the German households–there are more households with a bike than with a car! On average, there are 1,8 bicycles in a household. Family with kids always have bicycles. Chances are fifty-fifty that their over-80 year old grandparents own a bicycle, too.
So, bicycles are omnipresent, though they are not always present. In my lifetime, from when I learnt cycling at the age of 7, I have owned and lost a lot of bicycles. Most of them were stolen. Each year, roughly 400 000 bikes are stolen in Germany, ten times as much as cars. Especially in cities like Frankfurt chances are high that you loose a good bike within a year. Therefore, city-dwellers often have two bikes: an old, dull, undesirable working-bicycle for Monday to Friday, that can be left outside like a horse in front of a saloon, and a sparkling sleek machine for the weekend, which is kept protected in cellars specially designed for bicycles.
To ride a bike to work is common practice in Germany, at least in the cities. It takes less time to go by bike than by car or by public transport. These bikes are practical: wide tires so you don´t get stuck in the tramway rails, a sturdy carrier for the laptop case or the shopping bag, a mudguard so you don´t end up with a strip of dirt on your shirt on a rainy day.
If these bicycles equal marriage, weekend bikes are love affairs. There is no end to how much a bicycle may cost. Though, as in extramarital affairs, men are the main actors here. Women can resist the temptation of superefficent brakes, superlight frames and superhigh gears. Men can´t.
This said, I must confess that I can´t, either. Though I don´t look the type. I learned this the hard way when, one Saturday morning, the whole family set out to get new bicycles: first my husband, then my son, then me. While the men discussed the merits of this Shimano gear system over that Shimano gear system, I strolled through the shop and found my bike.
“Which bike would you like?”, the salesman adressed me, having to leave a highly satisfying talk of experts for the mundane task of earning some more money.
“I would like this one”, I said.
“This one?” he cried in disbelief, as his expression of professional friendliness changed to incredulous surprise.
“Yes, this one. Is there anything wrong with the bike?” I inquired. “Can´t you recommend it?”
“It´s good. But … women like you .. never ask for this bike.”
Maybe my black racing bike with dropped handlebars equals the red sports car middleaged men buy after their 45th birthday. It certainly offers open-top riding. But where is the blonde 20something to go with it?