Hear the word ‘Europe’ today, and chances are your mind will turn immediately to the forthcoming referendum. Or, if you’re a football fan, to the European Championships currently taking place in France. But for most of us, our relationship with Europe will have begun many years ago. A package tour with our parents, perhaps, or a slightly more anarchic school trip. The sights, the smells, the people, the food – all those memories probably linger on.
As a nation, our relationship with Europe goes back even further. Which got us thinking – of all the things we take for granted today, which can we trace back to our continental neighbours? From bratwurst to boulevards, here are 10 innovations to thank Europe for…
1. Continental cuisine
From delicious Neapolitan pizzas, to succulent German bratwurst, Europe has always tickled our taste buds. But we should also honour the French confectioner and brewer Nicolas Appert, who came up with one of the most important, if slightly mundane, culinary concepts: the tin can. In the late 1790s he developed the canning process to help preserve food for the French army. Perhaps without him, the humble baked bean would never have been born!
2. Road safety
In 1893 – a full 42 years before Britain – the French introduced the driving test in a bid to improve safety on the roads.
3. Street life
The French also did some sterling work to improve the lot of our postmen and women, and it was the avenues and boulevards of Paris which first displayed house numbers, an idea which the British soon borrowed.
4. Hospital health
There’s a distinctly Gallic feel to our hospitals too. It was the French, after all, that first developed the ambulance, antibiotics and the stethoscope.
5. Ingeniously clean
Not only is the multi-talented Spaniard Manuel Jalon Corominas credited with inventing the world’s first disposable hypodermic needle, but he also came up with the idea for the humble mop too, which he made from a broom handle, strips of cotton, and a bucket with pedal driven rollers to drain the water.
6. Computer games
It might surprise you to learn that it wasn’t the boffins from Silicon Valley, or even our own UK gaming experts, that developed the first computer game. Just before the outbreak of war in 1914 – long before Space Invaders or Tetris – another Spaniard, Leonardo Torres Quevedo, developed a mechanical game of chess.
7. TV first
Think of the origins of TV and the name John Logie Baird is sure to spring to mind. And while the Scot did play a leading role in developing the goggle box, it was German student Paul Nipkow who is credited with the first electromechanical TV system in 1884, while Baird later had the foresight to see its commercial value.
8. Boring Belgium? Think again
Don’t let centuries of sprout growing fool you. The Belgians are also responsible for developing some 800 different beers, and producing an incredible 220,000 tons of chocolate a year.
9. Bit of a gamble
There’s a hedonistic streak to the Belgians too, who gave us the first health resort, in Spa, and Europe’s first casino, LaRedoute, which opened in 1763.
10. Germanic folly
Of course, not every European idea that we’ve assimilated into our lives has been a great one and there’s one particular nineteenth century German fashion that we really shouldn’t have encouraged across the Channel. The German town of Gräfenroda was famous for its kitsch pottery and is the birthplace of a monstrosity that has been invading Britain ever since – the Gartenzwerg, or dreaded Garden Gnome. Danke schön for that!