September 26, 2008 / 4:06 PM / 10 years ago

Paralyzed German crosses Alps in healthcare protest

BERLIN (Reuters) - A severely paralyzed German pensioner crossed the Alps in a wheelchair, making the 2,500km (1,550 mile) journey from Hamburg to Rome to try to raise awareness about the failings of Germany’s healthcare system.

After a nine week trip in a motorized wheelchair equipped with headlights, horn and indicators, Joachim Friedrich was this week received by Pope Benedict on St. Peter’s Square.

“I feel relieved, ecstatic and deeply sad that my journey is over,” the 70-year-old Friedrich told Reuters Friday.

“The first thing I did when I got home was eat real German baked potatoes and meat. I’m sick of all that pizza and pasta.”

Germany’s aging and declining population has put its publicly funded healthcare system under increasing strain in recent years, leading to painful cuts and popular discontent.

Reporting by Josie Cox; Editing by Louise Ireland

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