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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.”
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