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Berlin Brits share fears and beers over Europe vote

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"There's only one thing for it: we'll have to drink beer and have an argument in the pub". Photos: DPA
10:32 CET+01:00
One pub in central Berlin played host to a very British evening on Wednesday night as some of the city's many residents from across the Channel asked what the looming in-out vote on Europe could mean for them.

A panel of speakers, including EU blogger Jon Worth, Berlin correspondent for The Guardian Philip Oltermann, and writer and translator Brian Melican took the stage to explain just what to expect in the coming months.

With around 100 people gathered in a pub basement over beers, the numbers present were a small fraction of the roughly 107,000 of Her Majesty's subjects living in Germany.

The latest official figures report roughly 5,600 Brits living in Berlin – although the real number is likely higher as some British migrants do not bother with German registration procedures.

“This is an important issue for the individuals,” Jon Worth told the crowd. “What does it mean for us [if Britain votes to leave the European Union]?

“Do you [in Berlin] want to persuade friends back home to vote one way or another? Or is it about getting German citizenship as your alternative – maybe Berlin matters more to you than returning back to the UK?”

Four months to decide

With a referendum now set for June 23, there are four months for the “Leave” and “Remain” camps back home to make their cases.

And the battle lines are already drawn, Guardian journalist Oltermann explained, with Outers convinced that a deal struck by David Cameron at marathon negotiations two weeks ago is meaningless, while In campaigners say it fundamentally changes Britain's status in the Union.

Roughly 40 percent are firmly for each side and the remainder undecided, leaving the race just as close as the vote on Scottish independence in 2014.

Graphic: Financial Times

That's why Brian Melican - who recently obtained German citizenship - was on hand to walk other potential Germans through the process.

“I'm not much of a risk-taker – I live in Germany,” Melican told the crowd to a burst of laughter.

“Germans like to know what's going to happen in the future and I'm very German in that regard, so when this whole thing kicked off – for me the Conservative government being voted in meant that on the horizon there was a possibility Britain might not be in the EU.”

Berlin Brits fear for future

Many of the people in the audience told The Local that they were concerned about what Brexit might mean for them.

“I'm increasingly anxious,” Mancunian journalist Sophie Atkinson, 27, said. “I wanted to see in the worst-case scenario what my options are,” such as taking German citizenship.

“I worry that Britain will leave,” said Emily Wright, a 32-year-old student from Birmingham.

“I thought initially it's quite good that we're having the debate, because it's been festering so long. It would be great if we resoundingly voted to stay in, but that's clearly not going to be the case.”

“Having not just lived in Germany but also for a while in Spain and in Poland, there are so many benefits of being in the EU,” said Bedford native Melissa James, 25.

“Personally I've benefited and I don't really see the disadvantages.”

Becoming German

Plenty of people present were readying themselves to follow Melican's route of taking German citizenship.

That's an option for those who've lived in Germany for more than eight years – or more than six if they can demonstrate “special integration achievements”, like mastering the German language or doing voluntary work.

Those who have married a German citizen only need to demonstrate that they've lived in the country for three years.

“I've lived here for seven and a half years, so I'm quite far along for the citizenship application. I'd like the security,” said translator Ian Farrell, 29.

“No-one knows what's going to happen with the EU if we vote to leave, and I don't trust the British public to understand the situation properly – everyone just follows the media frenzy.”

Please don't go

The Local asked all our interviewees what their message would be for people back home.

“I wouldn't like to tell anybody how to vote. Try looking beyond what the mainstream media is telling you, try looking at what the EU actually does – the UK media just reports the negative,” translator Farrell said.

“We are quite grateful for the position we're in as British citizens and citizens of Europe,” said Rohit Kakar, 27, a human resources controller at German energy giant Eon.

“[Leaving] would be a selfish decision by the UK, there are plenty more problems out there.”

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“Europe isn't perfect, it has a lot of issues and it's going through a difficult time right now,” Emily Wright said.

“But we have to look at the long-term perspective. There are so many issues these days – the environment, climate change, immigration – maybe geographically Britain is an island but politically it's not.

“It's better to be in the EU, to co-operate with our neighbours and find common solutions that benefit everyone.”

SEE ALSO: 'It is a fair deal': Merkel defends EU-British accord

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