My wife Barbara came from a small village in the Oberpfalz region of Bavaria and, before my first visit there in 1986, I imagined a bucolic world of thatched cottages, connected by grassy paths and farmers. Instead it was indoor swimming pools, well-polished Mercs and motorways with no speed limit.
The main culture shock was the language given that I did not speak any German when Barbara and I met. We had a LDR (long-distance relationship) for over four years before I moved over to Germany in 1990. During these early years I attended night school in Edinburgh to learn German only to be confronted with “Oberpfälzisch”, the local dialect, when I visited every three months or so. This dialect is on a par with Doric for difficulty but eventually I was able to understand my future father-in-law’s jokes.
British Airways and British Telecom were draining my financial resources so I decided to move to Germany in July 1990. We were married in the “Schottenkirche” (Church of the Scots) in Regensburg, a Roman city on the Danube, later that month. Working in a local law firm was also a shock in many ways. In the practice in Edinburgh I had been used to lots of interaction and regular nights out drinking with my colleagues. But there was no question now of fraternising with my fellow lawyers who worked behind closed doors all day and then went home to their families every night. Work and play did not mix in southern Germany back then.
We now live together in Munich and have brought up two bilingual children here. Our daughter lives and works in Edinburgh and our son is studying at Regensburg University. I love living in Munich, in normal times the quality of life is tremendous, the connectivity to other parts of Europe by road, rail and air is perfect. And the city itself is a safe, clean and culturally stimulating environment. Education is mostly free for schooling and for university which takes the financial pressure off parents.
From a business perspective Germany has a very different culture from the UK. It is intensely competitive here but without being obviously so – which makes it dangerous for incoming companies. There are strict but unwritten rules about how to operate as an external adviser and it takes time to learn these. However, the systems and procedures generally make sense and there exists a high degree of trust in the marketplace which makes commerce flow.
I am fully integrated, also in terms of my pension and healthcare, so Brexit is certainly a disaster but not for me. In fact, I am now also a citizen of Germany having fulfilled the necessary requirements. The threat of Brexit encouraged me to take this step as I did not want to be dependent on the vagaries of a xenophobic government administration in the UK. Unfortunately, my wife may well have difficulties if we ever planned to return to live in Scotland after the end of 2020.
I know plenty of expats here who do not share my comfortable position or do not want to become German citizens. Many are extremely worried about freedom of movement, health insurance and cross-border care of ageing relatives. A good friend of mine, David Hole, has organised a lobbying and information initiative “Brits in Bavaria” to try to help people in this very difficult situation.
Brexit impacts on my own business in that all the German companies that are engaged in business in the UK have suffered difficulty and losses. In Bavaria exports to the UK have declined by 20 per cent, which is equal to a total loss of €3 billion since the referendum. This equates to thousands of very unhappy people who have lost trust in the UK as a stable political and economic partner. The long-term damage caused to our country’s reputation by more than four years of uncertainty is incalculable.
– David Scrimgeour MBE was the Scottish Government’s investment representative in Germany and Austria in the 1990s and is the founder of the British-German Business Network