Berlin and Britain: Brexit puts cultural links to the test

Freddie Frinton as Butler James and May Warden as Miss Sophie in "Dinner for One" Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Freddie Frinton as Butler James and May Warden as Miss Sophie in Der 90. Geburtstag, or Dinner for One

Stop almost any German in the street, and mention the names Pomeroy and Winterbottom.

In an instant, they will recognise the central characters of Der 90. Geburtstag, a British comedy sketch from the 1960s, shown every New Year's Eve on national television.

It is as much a part of the holiday festivities as the Christmas Day goose.

German culture has long been saturated with British influence, and some of the UK's greatest artistic exports, from David Bowie to Christopher Isherwood, have flocked to the country's capital, Berlin.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption British model Georgia May Jagger poses at the presentation of German jewellery company Thomas Sabo at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Berlin

Jessica Hannan is one of thousands who have followed in their footsteps, and was "devastated" by Britain's decision to leave the EU.

"It kind of makes you not want to move back at all," she says. "We feel let down."

A graduate of London's Central Saint Martins arts school, she emigrated to Germany two years ago to pursue a career in fashion journalism, and now works for the English language Sleek, a high-end, glossy print magazine that is published in 35 countries.

Image caption British cultural giants such as writer Christopher Isherwood made Berlin their home

'Fewer restrictions'

Jessica's move has been artistically liberating.

"There are fewer restrictions," she says, citing the ease with which people can find housing and employment in the city, as well as the late licensing laws.

"Berlin has always had that 'poor, but sexy' thing. It's a bit more free."

Image copyright AP
Image caption British-trained designer Marina Hoermanseder at Berlin's Fashion Week

Jessica's arrival in the capital has also been a boon to her German boss, Christian Bracht.

Mr Bracht, who owns a group of magazine titles, many of which are published in English, says he "loves to work with Brits".

"We need native English speakers, and they really work on a very high creative level," he explains. "They think outside the box, which Germans are not used to.

"British artists and writers are much more flexible, they come up with more surprising results than even the Americans."

Image copyright Jessica Hannan
Image caption Jessica Hannan moved to Berlin to pursue a career in fashion journalism

The morning after the referendum, on Friday 24 June, was the "saddest moment in my business career", Mr Bracht adds.

"Most of the Brits who work for me were crying."

'More in common'

The evidence of the British presence in Berlin's artistic community is apparent on the 15th floor penthouse of the Waldorf Astoria hotel, where the Sleek brand is based during Berlin Fashion Week.

Young graduates from some of Britain's best art schools mill around, picking at the gourmet canapes, or getting a manicure while admiring the panoramic view.

Image copyright Sleek
Image caption A third of Sleek's employees are British

According to Mr Bracht, the ease with which they integrate into the city's cultural scene is no coincidence.

Brits and Germans in fashion, he says, are "swimming in the same artistic pool".

"Berlin and London have more in common than [any] other two fashion hubs in Europe," he says.

British fashion, he adds, is "a little bit more punk, and the Berlin fashion is a little bit more street-style". Both cities are focused on wearable, practical pieces, as opposed to the more experimental and abstract styles in Paris and Milan.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Babelsberg's recent productions include Bridge of Spies and the TV show Homeland

This link, Mr Bracht says, cannot be destroyed by Brexit.

"The European arts scene comes together here in Berlin.

"All the idiots who campaigned for Leave should have come to Berlin to see how well it works."

'Strong links'

Just 20 miles down the road, another leading figure in the local arts scene is less jubilant about British involvement in his industry.

Charlie Woebcken is the chief executive of the historic Babelsberg film studios, one of the oldest in Europe, where the likes of Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder all but invented modern cinema.

The cavernous Marlene Dietrich Hall, at the centre of the studio's vast campus in the centre of Potsdam, is where classics such as Metropolis and The Blue Angel were filmed.

Image copyright Studio Babelsberg
Image caption Babelsberg, one of the oldest film studios in the world, was also used to produce propaganda films during WW2

But now, despite some high-profile clients like Steven Spielberg and Roman Polanski, the sound stage is often quiet.

Generous cash rebates handed out by the UK government to British studios have led to a boom in the country's film industry, at the expense of German companies such as Babelsberg, who find it hard to compete.

"We have always been a bit jealous [of the British model]," he says.

The volatility of the pound in the aftermath of Brexit has landed a further blow.

"If Brexit really happens it won't be good for the British film history, but in the short term the pound is weaker than the euro, and this will probably lead to an advantage for Britain, because it is cheaper to produce in Britain," says Mr Woebcken.

Image copyright Studio Babelsberg
Image caption Babelsberg Studio is vital to the local economy in Potsdam, near Berlin

Even if the pound does stabilise, restrictions on freedom of movement could limit the number of UK-German co-productions, like the recent Monuments Men, that the studio can accommodate.

But while business links may suffer, Mr Woebcken is confident the cultural links between the two countries will hold.

"Hitchcock said, 'All I learnt in film, I learnt in Babelsberg,'" he says.

"These are strong cultural and historical links that aren't going away."

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