How a fascinating trip to Germany gave me a new perspective on Brexit
PUBLISHED: 14:33 22 October 2019 | UPDATED: 14:34 22 October 2019
Sometimes stepping out of our bubble can be eye-opening, Liz Nice found
I spent the weekend in Berlin.
Having never been to Germany before, it was a fascinating experience.
I went to the top of the Reichstag and learned all about how Germany formed as a nation; how they broke apart and then came back together again.
I went to what remains of the Wall and stood beside Checkpoint Charlie, trying to imagine what it must have been like, not being able to move freely between parts of the city which had once been your home.
There is still a divide between East and West. The price of beer will tell you that if nothing else. We had 10 beers between us in an East German bar and spent around 10 Euros. In the café next to the Reichstag we paid the same amount for two coffees and a cake.
In one bar we met a man from Mozambique. His English was poor and my German not much better but we managed to establish that he had come to East Germany in the 1970s on a programme organised between the two then socialist countries.
He was an engineer, he explained.
He came to East Germany full of hope, only for his President to die in a plane crash, socialism in Mozambique to be dismantled, and thus he was never able to return home.
He was left in East Germany then where his socialist dream also died when the Wall came down in 1989.
He now works for a large burger chain, his dreams and former talents all but forgotten. Though not, of course, by him.
When we bought him a beer, having watched him and his friends counting out their coins between them, he was almost beside himself with gratitude.
Moments like this give you pause.
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Meanwhile, in an East German pub, we joined fans of Union Berlin watching their team. We could just as easily have been in a pub in East Anglia, watching Ipswich or Norwich.
The passion, the love of beer - it was just the same.
On the wall was a poster with a Union flag through the middle of it.
Keep Calm and Get Out of Europe, it said.
It struck me then that for many of our European neighbours, there must be a sense of, well, if you want to go, just go, and stop dragging it out; if they have any interest in Brexit at all, although, after all this carry on, you wouldn't blame them if they were past caring.
Many people here feel the same way.
Yet, we remain at an impasse. Watching and waiting to see which way things will go.
The things I saw in East Germany, the conversations I had, will stay with me forever.
I visited the Stasi museum and was invited to imagine a world where one might have to inform on one's brother, cousin, parent, work colleague or friend. Since the early 90s, anyone can now visit the museum's archive and read their file. Many don't, because they don't want to know who was informing on them. Many of those who have gone to find out have come away with their lives broken apart. One man, we were told, someone known to our guide, had discovered that his own wife was an informant. As soon as he got home, she left him. Although the pressure put on people to be informants was immense, and her husband understood that, she could not live with the shame.
It reminded me of the film The Lives of Others, which I watched again before our trip. The message there centres around a piece of music entitled Sonata for a Good Man.
It is good men and women that we need now to resolve this mess once and for all.
I hope we find them. I am not sure, yet, that we have.