It might be thought that In the days after the Brexit vote, the Germans must be positively swimming in schadenfreude, after we had caused so much trouble in the EU. But among the people the writer of the book, ‘Exit Brexit’, one spoke to; government spokespeople, supermarket cashiers, diplomats and taxi drivers; the overwhelming emotions were sadness and disappointment.
A diplomat likens his melancholy to that of being dumped by a girlfriend. “I still have her jumper and I go round wearing it, hoping her scent will linger,” he says. He clings to the positive aspects of a Britain he cherished – from punk music to humour – and almost breaks into song: “They can’t take that away from me.”
Germans are also resigned – if frustrated – by British misperceptions, from Boris Johnson’s claims that a “German-led” EU is pursuing a Hitlerian superstate to the notion that Berlin would force the EU to submit to the UK’s Brexit demands in order to save the German car industry. They are also immune to the British tabloids’ assertions that Germany is morally indebted to Britain for the defeat of Hitler, and so should throw Theresa May a lifeline.
It’s a sign of the affection many Germans harbour for the UK that such feelings have not been dented. Even in their Brexit bewilderment, Germans still love holidaying in the UK, savour our lively parliamentary debate and obsess over the royals. But increasingly, they are coping with Brexit by separating Britain into two entities: cultural and political. Many kick themselves that they did not see it coming; some ask what what they can do to help reverse it.
But not everyone. A professor of risk assessment says the path to Brexit was long clear in Britain’s difficult relationship with the EU. “I think it is time Britain left now,” he says. “It doesn’t help anyone, least of all the British, for them to stay in.”
Thousands of Britons living in Germany have taken German citizenship since the referendum. A book on the process, Exit Brexit, has had an overwhelming response. That a Brit is prepared to embrace historically tarred Germany, in the way lots of Germans have embraced Britain, astonishes many.
“If Brexit doesn’t happen, will you keep your German passport?” one interviewer asked the writer. She assured her she had no intention of giving it up.