I visited Germany’s capital for the first time recently, and discovered there was a lot to learn from the city, its history, and its people.
Berlin: A city which was torn apart by war and was then bitterly divided for so long, is now a symbol of unification and, like Coventry, reconciliation.
It is certainly a beautiful city. But as I walked through its streets, elegant buildings and monuments, and soaked up the relaxing atmosphere, it was impossible not to notice the scars of war it still carries. And it was impossible not to reflect on how much hope and trust must have gone into helping Berliners put the terrible history of their city behind them.
Berlin has a unique message for the whole of Europe, especially now as we talk about new divisions emerging – mainly the British referendum on EU membership, and the EU’s appalling response to the refugee crisis.
New walls are being built, literally and metaphorically, to stop people from seeking sanctuary in the EU, and member states are falling out over their responsibility for refugees. The fortress of Europe, the deals between states to stop refugees and the overall lack of leadership in response to the crisis, suggest that we are not learning the tragic lessons of the continent’s recent history.
As the epicentre of the Second World War, Berlin is a reminder of human suffering, but it is also a testament to a community that has learnt from the tragedy of war, division, and conflict.
We know that divisions, lack of trust and selfish acts led to a war that cost millions of lives. Divisions destroyed towns and cities across Europe, and today similar divisions are forcing over 60 million people worldwide to leave their homes in fear. Yet we still see our future in divisions.
In June the British public will be going to polling stations to cast their vote on Britain’s membership of the EU. There are rumours that other member states, including the Czech Republic, are also considering holding similar referendums.
In these difficult times, I believe it is now more important than ever for our leaders to learn from the experiences of cities such as Berlin and Coventry. Unfortunately, all we have been fed is fear: The fear of EU migrants taking our jobs and our housing, and putting pressure on our services similar to the fear of refugees posing a threat to our way of life and our identity.
The pace of modernity, the dynamics of globalisation and the lack of resources mean we need to live much more closely together. Turning a blind eye to the global problems we all face and being selfish is not a viable strategy. I don’t believe that Britain as an island on its own will do any better than staying in the EU, and working with other member states with whom we have a great deal in common.
With Britain in the EU we can have prosperity, security and influence.
Over the years our EU membership has brought a large number of investment opportunities that has led to the creation of jobs for the hard working people of Britain. British cities have benefited from the EU Regional Development Fund which has improved cohesion through community investment and sharing best practices from other member states.
I don’t believe the friendship of people, the unity of nations and what brings people closer should be put to a referendum. Instead, we need to focus more on what unites us to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
So in June when you are casting your vote, think about Berlin – about the consequences of divisions, and about the opportunities of unity and peaceful coexistence in a world that is facing so many challenges.
History shows that divisions can have a domino effect. First you divide countries, then you divide cities and then comes a wall right across a city, just like the one in Berlin that separated people of same culture and beliefs for so many years.