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British traders in Berlin worry about impact of Brexit

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British traders in Berlin worry about impact of Brexit
Tea towels at English Traders, Photo: John Masters
17:18 CEST+02:00
Purveyors of Britishness in the German capital are 'appalled' and 'sad' as the UK's in-out vote on EU membership approaches.

Dale Carr, the owner of the British imported goods store Broken English in the west end of Berlin, opens up shop at 11am with great haste.

She has several interviews with reporters on today's schedule as well as a TV news crew coming in to shoot. And they're all asking her about the same thing: Brexit.

With the UK's EU referendum only two days away, you can tell that tensions are high. Customers come in to buy tea, cider, or biscuits. As they're paying, each one asks "What do you think about the Brexit debate?"

Dale, originally from Sheffield, opened Broken English shortly after the Berlin Wall came down. Initially, the idea was for it to be a gift shop geared towards Germans who would like a taste of Great Britain.

"[Broken English began as a] small little shop that sold jam, gifts, and maybe a bottle of whiskey or two."

Dale had every intention of keeping Broken English as a gift shop, and she vividly remembers saying "I'll never sell beans." Now there are shelves full of baked beans, and much more.

The shop's concept expanded when British people started coming in and requesting products that weren't on sale in the store. Dale would then order them to Berlin from the UK, and stock grew bigger and bigger.

Broken English's customer base is "a mixed bunch", she says. People from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and of course native Germans come in when they have a craving for something British – a good Strongbow, a Scottish Irn-Bru, or some Cadbury chocolate.

"It's no hassle bringing in goods," explains Dale as she stocks the freezer with British sausages. The European Economic Area Agreement (EEA) allows free movement of goods throughout the whole European Union.

If Britain does leave the EU, this could change.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has warned that a Brexit would been Britain saying goodbye to the single market, which would mean taxes goods imported from the UK would come into force.

What's most frustrating for Dale is that she has lived in Germany for longer than 15 years, 38 in fact, which means she is ineligible to vote in the referendum.

"I find it appalling that the government thinks that it is okay to take away a British citizen's right to vote," she says, as she stops stocking the shelves and pauses for a moment.

"I have a British passport. I'm a British citizen. Like it or not, when we're abroad, we represent our country."

'Sad, but I won't starve'

John Masters, from Stratford-upon-Avon, runs English Traders in Neukölln, Berlin. John wanted "to sell quality stuff that lasts, from mostly fairtrade and sustainable sources."

The concept is different to that of Broken English. There is a big mix of imported kitchen and garden equipment from all over the world, from the USA to South Africa.

According to John, he also has "Berlin's biggest collection of weird tea towels."

"I don't run an English shop," he explains. "I'm an English trader."

For him, the issue with the Brexit debate is not whether he will be able to continue importing goods. "I'll be deeply saddened [if Great Britain leaves the EU], but I won't starve."

He explains that although taxes on goods imported from the UK will likely come in, he has enough worldwide sources to remain strongly in business.

The problem John has with the EU referendum is that it's happening in the first place. German customers visiting English Traders all have the same reaction to the EU referendum's existence: "What a shame."

He believes that the referendum itself, regardless of the result, has changed EU citizens' views on the British. He says his German customers tend to be worried that British people don't like Germany or the rest of the EU.

John is proud of his country, "but only in terms of culture and heritage."

He says that problems with international relations begin in earnest "when people start waving flags, becoming more nationalist, and when their worldviews get smaller."

Before settling in Berlin John travelled around Europe, experiencing the culture of many different countries.

His main fear is that, if Great Britain were no longer part of the EU, generations of British children will grow up not having the freedom to explore Europe almost limitlessly.

By Ali Butt

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