I VISITED Berlin recently to meet German parliamentarians.
Inter-parliament visits take place with many countries and are very important for both groups to get inside minds of counterparts and work together on issues we are tackling together, such as climate change.
This trip also gave me chance to visit Berlin, one of my favourite cities in the world. Heritage of the Second World War is not forgotten in Berlin. Many museums exist that retell the stories of the war including the ‘Topographies des Terrors’ that I visited recently.
The Berlin wall, which cut off West Berlin, has now almost all gone, but a stretch was left up and allowed artists to come and paint representations of what the wall meant to them.
War, holocaust and partition have left a deeper legacy in the psyche of the German people.
Berlin is an incredibly modern and vibrant city. Some of the old architecture still remains but many areas destroyed by war and defaced by partition have been rebuilt.
Architects competed from all over the world to create iconic new buildings and rebuild old ones such as German parliament The Reichstag, which was rebuilt in the 1990’s by British architect Norman Foster.
But much deeper than that I see attempts to shake that awful legacy through the incredible tolerance to different points of view.
I am told that over 2,000 protest marches happen in the streets of Berlin every year. I myself witnessed one protest against an increase in night flights from the airport.
When you’ve had freedom taken away and been told what to think, you prize the right to express an opinion even more and we see that in tolerance shown to all those marches, the desire to march in the first place and the openness which Germany shows about its past.
In the UK I sometimes think we take our freedom to think independently and to express ourselves without fear of persecution for granted.
Germany will never allow itself to forget its own experience, and the country is richer both physically and mentally for it.
I just hope that we in Britain never have to learn to appreciate our freedoms the hard way.