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Prominent Germans Write To 'London Times' Expressing Brexit Remorse


Some of Britain's friends are feeling badly about the country's imminent divorce from the EU. A group of prominent Germans recently wrote to The Times of London expressing that very sentiment. They want Britain to stay close to its European allies, even after Brexit. As Anna Noryskiewicz reports from Berlin, it seems that regret though is more about culture than economics.

ANNA NORYSKIEWICZ, BYLINE: Stop almost any German on the street and play them this clip, and they will immediately identify it.


MAY WARDEN: (As Miss Sophie) Same procedure as every year, James.

NORYSKIEWICZ: That's "Dinner For One," a beloved 1960s British comedy sketch that has shown every New Year's Eve on German TV. But back in the U.K., almost no one has heard of it. It's a disconnect that gives an insight into Germany's relationship with Britain - a fondness for its culture coupled with a flawed understanding of the modern state of the country.

PETER LITTGER: We want our cliche of Britain to stay in the EU, and this is certainly not what this whole discussion should be about.

NORYSKIEWICZ: That's Peter Littger, an author and journalist who writes about the influence that the British and especially the English language have had on Germany. I met him at the Union Jack, a British pub in the heart of West Berlin. He says when he heard the result of the Brexit referendum 2 1/2 years ago, he was stunned.

LITTGER: I rushed to Britain to see my friends, to try and feel if something has changed. And it felt different. The ability to discuss controversial viewpoints in a very civilized but creative way was suddenly destroyed.

NORYSKIEWICZ: But Littger says he's not sure his fellow countrymen really care about Britain leaving the EU.

LITTGER: Britain is important to them on a cultural level. But in political reality, I guess that Germany was looking at Britain much more 100, 120 years ago than it is now.

NORYSKIEWICZ: It's a similar story in the business worlds - general sense of regrets but not much concern about the economic impact, even though Germany sells about $90 billion worth of goods to the U.K. every year. At Berlin's city port, where containers arrive from all over the world, I meet one of the managers, Lasse Sibbert.

LASSE SIBBERT: We are connected with the ports of Bremen and Hamburg. For them, it's a big topic. They also have to think about, will there be new customs regulations? What kind of new customs regulations are there going to be? When will they turn into effect? The insecurity on how everything will turn out to be is causing quite some headaches.

NORYSKIEWICZ: Even so, Sibbert says, when you break it down, the direct effect of Brexit on Germany's vast economy will be minimal. And he gives his own operation as an example.

SIBBERT: Our turnover of 150,000 overseas containers. Because of Brexit, perhaps we will miss a couple of hundred containers.

NORYSKIEWICZ: There may be some Brexit headaches for Germany's businesses, but there is a heartache among the political class. Burkard Dregger, the leader of the center-right party, the CDU, in Berlin's Parliament. He's also one of the prominent politicians who signed the letter to The Times.

BURKARD DREGGER: I love the British humor. I love the tradition, of course. I love the queen. I love the House of Commons. They are really a substantial part of Europe, and they should realize this.

NORYSKIEWICZ: Many Germans are disappointed that Britain's involvement in the European project always seemed halfhearted, even though both countries share a commitment to free markets, democratic ideals and fiscal responsibility.

DREGGER: I really am convinced that Britain and Germany are not strong enough to compete economically with China. If we have economical interests to join our forces, we cannot say Germany first or Britain first. We have to have a European conviction of joint interests.

NORYSKIEWICZ: Dregger says Britain leaving the EU is an emotional and political disaster. With Britain gone, Germany might even be able to strengthen its influence in the European Union, but there is no glee in the departure of a close friend and ally. For NPR News, I'm Anna Noryskiewicz in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anna Noryskiewicz