What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us
Brexit

A tale of two sister cities with massively different views on Brexit

Lizzie O'Leary Jul 8, 2016
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Hauptbahnhof railway station in Stuttgart, Germany.  Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Brexit

A tale of two sister cities with massively different views on Brexit

Lizzie O'Leary Jul 8, 2016
Hauptbahnhof railway station in Stuttgart, Germany.  Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Stuttgart, in Germany, is the sister city of  St. Helens, in Northwest England. But there’s little resemblance.

Just take a walk down one of Stuttgart’s streets. It’s impeccably clean with boutiques, restaurants, modern buildings and a violinist playing for change. The city’s opinions on Brexit, the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union, also could not be more different. The old industrial town of St. Helens voted heavily to leave the EU.

“I feel sorry for  the English, that they made such a decision,” said Gunther, a sidewalk cafe patron in Stuttgart who wouldn’t give his last name. “We need a union. We don’t need customs. We don’t need borders. We need the freedom of movement. We need to be able to choose where we work, and we can only have these things in a unified Europe.”

The two cities established their relationship after World War II. St. Helens made glass, and Stuttgart, which Allied Forces  had bombed heavily, needed glass. But as St. Helens’ fortunes declined in the postwar period, Stuttgart’s rose. It now has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Germany, and the city’s residents are in favor of a unified Europe.

That idea, of a Europe where people can move back and forth freely,  didn’t fly with voters in St. Helens.

But free movement of labor is the bedrock of the economy in Stuttgart.  Forty-five percent of people in Stuttgart are either foreign-born, or the children of immigrants. And they’ve been coming here since the 1950s to work at some of the most famous companies in Germany, including Mercedes, Porsche and Bosch.

Andreas Richter, the head of Stuttgart’s chamber of commerce, said people come to the city because the wages are high and the schools are good. And Germany wants them to come. It has an aging population and it needs skilled workers.

“My wife and I, we have four children. This is a very rare decision,” he said. “So, it’s a demographic problem in Germany…we have a lot of business to do but we have not enough people to do the business.” 

To hear the whole story, click on the audio player at the top of the page.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.