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Chinese Tourists Enjoy a Speed Rush on the Autobahn (July 22, 2004)

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A trip: in past decades, a trip, from a European perspective, was a curious gaze at less developed countries – sometimes an arrogant, sometimes a pitying gaze, but always with the certain knowledge that after two weeks one could return to one’s highly developed homeland. It was always the West that bent down over the others with an air of superiority. Now Guofeng Wang stands above Würzburg and looks down onto a world of cobblestones and thick walls overgrown with ivy. No chimney, no chip factory, no skyscraper, nothing. And from up here you don’t see the benefits of the welfare state.

Tour guide Ding makes a sweeping motion with his arm, tracing with his hand the hills on the horizon and explains to his guests the German Kleinstaaterei [particularism] with its prince electors and kings. “In principle that is also why the Germans founded the EU and introduced the Euro,” he then says. “So that they can keep up with America, Japan, and perhaps also with China.”

Solemn nods.

Suddenly globalization is more than just a word in the inaugural speech of the federal president. The worlds are shifting; just now Guofeng Wang is taking a snapshot with his Olympus camera. Is it the future or the past that he is photographing? Are the representatives of a new high culture visiting the remnants of an old high culture? After all, you can read everywhere in Doi Tse Lan: the nineteenth was the European century, the twentieth the American century – and the twenty-first will be the Asian century.

But is that really true, Mr. Wang?

[ . . . ]

The streets are crowded on this day. Again, motor homes. Station wagons. Bicycles on car roofs. Doi Tse Lan is on vacation. Oh yes, the Germans do have 30 days of vacation! Every year? Guofeng Wang has fifteen. Last year he didn’t take a single one, the year before that, the same. “Too much work,” he says. He works Mondays through Saturdays. No doubt, the FDP would surely like to have this man from the People’s Republic as a speaker at its party meeting.

On the horizon, pointed like pencils, the towers of Rothenburg ob der Tauber come into view. “Prepare to keep right,” says the navigation system . . . 100 . . . 90. . . 80 . . . yellow sign at the entrance to the town, like in the brochure, and once again old Europe. Chinese tour groups meet Japanese tour groups, Japanese tour groups meet American tour groups, the clattering of hooves from tourist carriages resounds through the alleys. Kan Chen photographs horse droppings. A BMW that is souped-up to the point of being unrecognizable distracts from the other attractions. In the stores are nutcrackers and beer mugs, the shop windows reflect Qing Li’s puzzled face. He hesitates briefly and then asks whether there are still people living in Rothenburg.

Thus they zoom through the days. From Würzburg to Rothenburg, and from Rothenburg to Dinkelsbühl, a town that looks like it was preserved centuries ago, neon signs prohibited. At the town hall, the mayor presents his “Chinese friends,” as he calls them, with certificates attesting that his guests have driven along the Romantic Road. In an almost pleading tone he then asks them to tell “all their colleagues in China” about Dinkelsbühl. There are already more Asian than American tourists in his town, many Japanese, but the Chinese are the future. They have only been allowed to travel to Germany for private purposes for two years. Estimates put the number of Chinese travelers throughout the whole at 130 million per year in 2020. Dinkelsbühl does not want to be left out. The mayor quickly gives the vanguard of the 130 million a picture book to take along.

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