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Gibson: Berlin emerges as economic powerhouse post-Brexit

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Germany's designated chancellor backs COVID vaccine mandate

Customers wait in front of a Christmas Market on a rainy morning in central Berlin, Germany, on Nov. 30. According to local authorities, except of shops for essential needs, only people which are vaccinated or recovered from coronavirus are allowed to enter shops.

BERLIN — Flying over Germany into Berlin, wind farms appear in every direction.

Sometimes only five or six huge Mercedes-Benz-like blades slowly spin. Other times, fields or hills topped with 20 to 30 towers are seen capturing electric power from the breezes.

Germany stands far ahead of all other European countries in wind power production. At the end of 2020, there were 29,608 onshore wind turbines in Germany. Solar power also is big as structures from solar arrays and building tops attest in a nation not well known for a sunny climate.

My flight into Berlin was for a pleasurable visit of just more than two weeks as a recent retiree with my eldest daughter, her German husband and their two young daughters. Two weeks of touring the city with these loved ones restores my faith that climate change and cultural change can be successfully addressed together.

Berlin, with its rural outskirts filled with farms capturing the wind for green power, is rapidly growing into an international technology, business and cultural capital thanks in part to London’s difficulties with Brexit, the vote moving the United Kingdom out of the European Union early last year.

More than 100,000 people born in Great Britain now live in Germany, a number continuing to climb in this nation of 83 million. The number of British nationals emigrating to European Union countries jumped by 30% after the Brexit referendum, with more than 30,000 choosing to become naturalized German citizens since the referendum.

Many of these new Germans land in Berlin. A welcoming city in the European Union, Berlin offers job opportunities and, like the rest of Europe, maintains more freedom of movement and trade than England now allows among the 27 EU countries.

Ever more an international city, Berlin’s multiculturalism reflects most every part of Asia. Immigrants to Germany bring their food and cultural traditions from places such as Turkey, Israel, China, Japan, Iran, Syria, India and Pakistan.

I attended a basketball game in Berlin on Nov. 11 between the city’s top team and a rival from Istanbul. The Turkish team appeared to have at least a few thousand fans cheering every basket the visiting team scored as it ran away with the game, winning 90-63.

Many Americans consider our country to be a beloved land of immigrants, yet in recent decades, Germans have done a stellar job rebuilding their nation from the disaster left by World War II and the tensions of the Cold War with the help of millions of immigrants, many of whom have come from Eastern Europe or Asia and stayed.

The share of people with a migrant background in Germany rose to 21.2 million a few years ago. The largest group hails from Turkey, and around one in three German residents born abroad are from the EU.

The past two years are marked by more people choosing Berlin over London thanks to the changes brought by Brexit. Given a choice for business in expensive London or increasingly expensive Berlin, more are now choosing this city of 4 million, the largest city proper in the EU.

About 26% of German residents were born in another country, a figure higher in Berlin, where people born in 190 other countries live, work, play and go to school.

The proof is in the food. During my most-recent two-week trip to Berlin, I enjoyed food from Israel, Iceland, Italy and Iran, just to mention four straight-up “I” countries.

People eating at Berlin’s restaurants or its many markets still eat outdoors in November, and public transportation by tram, bus, subway or train is much easier than in any large American city.

Transportation allows American tourists to catch glimpses of how well this international city works, even in times of pandemic infection increases. Germany is experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19 as the number of infections climbs dramatically across Europe.

Every user of public transit wears a mask, and not just any old cloth mask but a medical-grade, more protective mask.

Visitors to restaurants or indoor events such as the Berlin-Istanbul basketball game I attended are required to mask up and show proof of vaccination.

Visiting world-class museums on Berlin’s Museum Island, I was surrounded by mask-wearing folks from several continents enjoying the freedom of touring with real masks yet aware that the pandemic is far from having run its course.

All domestic and international flight passengers are masked except during meals, which appears to work well as far as I could tell.

The gentleman I spent nearly nine hours sitting next to flying across the Atlantic was a Nigerian-born Marylander who works as a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology with an artist daughter living in Berlin. He showed me his photo of a brilliant African mask artwork painted by his daughter and recently sold at auction. (Entirely different sort of masks.)

The sight of so many wind farms from the air — and from the top of the city’s iconic TV tower — reminds me of how green Germany is becoming thanks to its status as a world-welcoming economic engine of change. The new national government housed in Berlin is becoming a coalition of libertarian business, liberal and green parties.

Gibson is a member of the Virginia Commission on Civic Education and recently retired as communications director at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

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