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Business

My Brexit Diary: The red man

No matter where Gerhard Elfers goes, he can't escape The Question: Why would Brits ever want to leave the EU? The answer, he tells them, can be found any time you see Germans waiting at traffic lights.

I was walking to a café near the office in Berlin with two German colleagues recently, and of course, "The Question" came up. Wherever I go at DW TV's broadcasting center in Berlin these days, people approach me and ask The Question.

It is mainly because I have lived in and reported from London for 13 years now. I commute between Berlin and London every two weeks. With ease, I might add, as a happy EU-citizen and member of the easyJet set. It makes me the go-to man for The
Question.

Gerhard Elfers

Gerhard Elfers is a DW business correspondent in London

In the newsroom, the cantina or even the gent's - yep, that actually happened - people are worried about The Question. It's not: Will they or won't they vote to leave? As most Germans are romantically involved with the European idea, they are much more confused about the "why." Why do so many Brits want to leave the EU? Don't they love us Europeans any more?

On our way to the café, The Question came up at the very moment we were about to cross the busy Brunnenstraße. We approached a pedestrian crossing, and, in my usual London stride, I checked both sides of the road, saw no traffic, ignored the red man and deftly walked right on.

My two German colleagues waited for the light to go green. When they joined me on the other side, they looked at me sternly. I knew they'd tell me off for crossing a red light, as Germans do, so I quickly said: "By the way, this is why many Brits want to leave the EU. Even if they know that their economy will probably go down the drain. And their Mallorca holidays will get much more expensive. As will their chardonnay."

"This," I said and pointed at the traffic light, showing red again, "is basically why."

Both looked at me in bewilderment. Unlike us Germans, I explained, the British just don't like to be governed. They don't like their government to get involved in all sorts of everyday decisions. They believe that they know best what's good for them. The road is clear on both sides? I walk. Why do I need the government to tell me that it is safe to cross? I can bloody well see it! No Londoner EVER stops at a red pedestrian crossing, even if a policeman stands on the other side and watches.

It is a sure-fire way to identify German tourists, they are the only people you ever see waiting for the green man on an empty London road. Because we Germans LIKE to be governed, don't we. And we don't mind whether we're governed from Berlin or Brussels. Hey, someone has made a rule! Love it!

Most British people, on the other hand, deeply mistrust any form of government, even their own in Westminster. Why should they trust Brussels and all those strange rules and regulations, both the real ones and the imaginary ones, made up by the Brexiteers?

They have kept their ancient first-past-the-post electoral system for a reason. Keep it simple. Pick someone we trust, send her to parliament to fight for our interests in the bigger picture. Just leave us alone in our daily lives, thank-you-very-much. They resent interference from any governement, and the one in Westminster is already intrusive enough.

Sometimes, as an honorary half-Brit, I wish my German compatriots a healthy dose of that sentiment. It could be a good cure for any heartbreak resulting from the whole Brexit-bruhaha. Whichever way it goes.

Gerhard Elfers has been in journalism for nearly 30 years, working, among others, for WTN, NBC News and German broadcasters ARD and RTL. Since 2008, he's been DW's business correspondent in London. He is writing a regular column in the run-up to Britain's referendum on European Union membership on June 23.

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