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Friday, September 18, 1998 Published at 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK

Ill will bubbles up over health cuts

Gone are the days of free spa treatment for all

By Caroline Wyatt in the German resort of Baden-Baden

German Elections
It's a long cherished German tradition - taking to the waters in one of Germany's oldest spa towns, Baden-Baden. Until recently, all German workers could soak up the water's healing properties for four weeks every three years - all on the National Health.

Watch Caroline Wyatt's report from Germany's famous spa town
But in a bid to trim its budget, the government halved spending on spas, sending shockwaves through the nation.

"Our population has become aware that we have reached a certain climax, a plateau, and we cannot get more and more and better benefits," said Manfred Zipperer from the German Health Ministry.

But a country used to being pampered is finding it hard to adapt to a more stringent regime. Though Baden-Baden has branched out into modern beauty therapies, the number of visitors to the spa was down by 20% last year.

[ image: No more pampering by the state]
No more pampering by the state
For most people, taking a spa treatment at the expense of the state every three years has been seen as a German birthright. But like so many other benefits once taken for granted here, it has been drastically slimmed down by Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

[ image: Baden-Baden has seen a 20% drop in visitors]
Baden-Baden has seen a 20% drop in visitors
That is one of the reasons why many Germans say they now want a government that is prepared to spend more on health, education and welfare.

Even the conservative people of Baden-Baden are starting to think the unthinkable - voting for the opposition Social Democrats. Their plans to raise public spending while cutting taxes may not add up, but they are looking increasingly tempting.

[ image: Social Democrat MP Nicolett Kressl: 'confident']
Social Democrat MP Nicolett Kressl: 'confident'
"Talking to the people, I realise that they know, for example, that these cuts in health services were bad things. And so I'm very confident that they are voting more and more Social Democrat," said Social Democrat MP Nicolette Kressl.

Time is running out for Chancellor Kohl to convince the German people he is still the right man for the job.

Otherwise the nation that has long enjoyed Europe's shortest working hours and its youngest pensioners may decide to send Mr Kohl himself into retirement.

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