My Brexit Diary: The Brexit and the Beast | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 06.06.2016
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My Brexit Diary: The Brexit and the Beast

A recent drive through the English countryside revealed nostalgia for the Britain of yesteryear, when the country was free from the clutches of the European Union - and Brits in Bentleys won prestigious races.

It was around 1928 when a group of wealthy British men, "united by their love of insouciance, elegant tailoring, and a need for speed" set out to renew the success of one of Brits most legendary car brands. The "Bentley Boys," as they were later nicknamed, drove their famous British race cars with the "winged B" from victory to victory.

01.2016 DW Business Moderator Gerhard Elfers (Teaser)

Gerhard Elfers: DW correspondent in London

I had the enormous pleasure to be taken out for a spin in one of the few surviving examples of these marvelous driving machines the other day. My friend Richard and his wife Christine took me to Luton Hoo for High Tea. It was a sunny day, and the sight of the glorious, 88-year-old open-top car put a smile on the face of everyone who caught a glimpse of it. "The Beast," as Richard affectionately calls it, is hard to miss. It announces its presence with vicious growls from its colossal 4½ liter straight-four OHC sixteen-valve, twin-carburetor, twin-spark engine. (Since you asked.) Or maybe people smiled because I looked so supremely silly on the tiny back seat, wearing an oversized sheepskin jacket and a rather Snoopy-esque leather driving-helmet.

Once we had left London, Richard navigated tree-lined country roads and narrow alleyways, expertly steering the car through the quaint villages of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. We passed grand country houses, discreetly hidden behind ancient walls, and picturesque cottages with exquisitely tended front gardens, some of which were adorned with not-so-discreet "Vote Leave" signs. This is Brexit-country. Polls show a large majority for "Leave" in these parts.

Our destination was as magnificent as our transport: Luton Hoo is an 18th-century country estate with a rich history, now a luxury hotel. Winston Churchill once addressed a crowd of 100.000 here. The gardens were designed by the famous landscape architect "Capability" Brown. The hotel's head doorkeeper invited us to park the car right in front of the opulent main entrance. It was all very "Downton Abbey." People started taking pictures.

Let me take you back to Britain in 1928, the year Richard's Bentley was built, Luton Hoo is the private home of a very rich diamond merchant and art collector. In the same year, Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin. A Briton is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Another one demonstrates the world's first color television transmission. And two Brits win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In a Bentley 4½ liter.

As we had our Earl Grey and scones and cucumber sandwiches in the drawing room, I understood that everything I was enjoying that afternoon represented a country at the cutting edge of progress, a true global power, proud of its independence, its scientific and economic prowess. A Britain that, according to many "Leave" campaigners, will miraculously reappear from the ashes of history if Britain only votes to leave.

If you take a closer look at Richards car, you notice that, in all its magnificence, it is quite battered. The paint comes off in many places, it looks its age, charmingly worn around the edges. Richard wants it that way, he doesn't like classic cars to look like straight out of the showroom. He's been driving it all over the world for thirty years. It already was a relic of the more glorious times of British motoring when he bought it. Today, the Bentley-brand is owned by Volkswagen. Luton Hoo belongs to a hotel chain, and to get us there, Christine used a Dutch mapping-service, receiving signals from US-military satellites, running on a tablet computer manufactured in China.

Here is one of the catchier slogans of the Brexiteers: "The EU is a 1950's solution to a 1930's problem." There's something to that statement, but it seems to me that many Brexiteers want to go back even further. Will they find anything useful there to tackle the challenges of the 21st century? I have my doubts.

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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