Innsbruck to the Brenner Pass

On The Road Travel Essays

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Innsbruck to the Brenner Pass

Europa Bridge  This new bridge is one of Austria's engineering marvels. It stands 600 feet above the Sill River, which flows north to join the Inn River at Innsbruck. The bridge is the largest in Austria.

Brenner Pass  This pass is the oldest and most important route through the Alps between Austria and Italy. The Romans were the first to use it: they built a road which archaeologists have partly excavated. The strategic value of the Brenner Pass lies in the fact that it has the lowest elevation of all the routes through the Alpine range. The railroad that passes through here (and which we see from time to time) is the only one which crosses the Alps without using a major tunnel. The elevation is only 4000 feet.

Millions of Germans and Austrians drive through the Brenner Pass in the summer on their way to Italy and the Mediterranean. (You'll see that most of the cars are VWs and Mercedes.)

Europe's Dilemma  Notice the dozens of heavy trucks all lined up like dominos waiting for customs inspection. This gives us a chance to say something about a serious economic problem confronting Europe as it attempts to compete with the U.S.

Unlike the U.S., Europe is divided into a patchwork of relatively diversified economic regions and politically independent states. There are customs formalities at every hand: bureaucratic niceties to be observed with scrupulous detail, and the whole bric-a-brac of currency exchanges, border inspections, and cargo-declaration forms to be filled out in triplicate. This slows down trade, makes for general confusion, and permits much less economic coordination between the countries of Western Europe.

Small wonder, therefore, that Europe still lags behind the U.S., with its greater economic homogeneity, common language, and absence of internal boundaries. Somehow, sometime, Europe is going to have to deal with this problem. But how? Force everyone to speak Esperanto? It's hard to say. Finance ministers have been experimenting with an all-European currency system which major corporations use in carrying out international business transactions. Local people and travelers continue changing marks into schillings into lire, etc., but all major paper deals are made with this special international currency (Eurodollars). But that solves only part of the problem. There are still the border crossings, the customs tie-ups, the cargo inspections, and all the forms. There has got to be a way of standardizing them or doing away with them altogether.

As it is now, U.S. corporations are buying up one tottering European company after another, provoking justifiable anxiety in many European capitals. The problem here is anything but simple, but sooner or later Western Europe is going to have to face it, unless it's willing to have American firms pulling the strings of the European economy.

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