A love letter to Glasgow’s gig scene

Twice I’ve seen Beach Boys’ legend Brian Wilson perform and twice I’ve had some kind of out of body experience. The first was at T in the Park when my pal and I became great friends with a hippy couple for the whole of his set.

We swayed around the dark tent holding on to each other, listening to Good Vibrations. It’s testament to the gig that I wrote a note in my diary when the Pope visited Glasgow in 2010.
“It’s quite unbelievable to see how many people worship the Pope,” I wrote.
“To those people it’s like how I felt at the Beach Boys, sorry, Brian Wilson, at TITP concert. That was spiritual.”

The second time was the Pet Sounds 50th anniversary tour in Glasgow. Glasgow to me is the spiritual home of gigs, of live music, of guaranteed good times. I watched Brian Wilson there with my friend, a music critic, who was reviewing the gig at the time. This was 2016 when Wilson’s health had become worse and at times his bandmate Al Jardine was clearly holding the gig together.

Don’t Worry Baby still makes me want to cry. A song about a guy needing comfort before a car race! It sounds even better live. Sloop John B still reminds me of my dad, who always used to sing it when my sister and I were kids. During the seated gig my friend commented on my “1960s dancing” – a sign that I was experiencing pure joy. There was no way I was sitting still.

That gig was at the Royal Concert Hall but my ultimate favourite venue is the Barras. Sounds like a cliché, everyone says that. There’s a good reason for it, though. The entry to the East End of the city, just past Glasgow Cross is frozen in time. Apart from one or two trendy coffee shops and a bit of green space that happily replaced a nasty, neglected site, the area has barely changed in decades.

At the Gallowgate the smell of fat from the chippers (or chippys if you’re not Aberdonian) hangs thick in the air and the smell gets stronger as you approach the glitzy fairground-style lights of the Barrowland Ballroom. The stairs that lead up to the hall look like they haven’t been touched in 50 years. The burnt red coloured stars and squares spread across the roof also give the impression that it could still be 1950.

The entry to the East End of Glasgow, near my old flat
There’s a makeshift bar selling plastic cups filled with beer or cider at one side of the venue. On the other side there’s a small bar, which you’re guaranteed to arrive at covered in sweat from making your way through the packed crowd. (I don’t know what it is about cider but every time I drink it I seem to turn into a jolly red-faced farmer who’s ditched their cows for the day and got drunk in the hay bales. Basically, few things make me happier than being tipsy on pints of cider.) Don’t expect to leave the venue clean – you’ll be dripping in sweat, covered in alcohol and probably smelling of cigarettes.
The bright lights of the Barrowlands on the Gallowgate. Police vans are a common sight there
Everyone has their own experience there, the Barras caters for all. I’ve seen the Pixies, the Libertines, Teenage Fanclub, Arcade Fire, the Manics. New Young Pony Club and CSS (see the New Rave movement circa 2007) to name a few. There’s also a roller-skate night, which I previewed for the Evening Times but regrettably never managed to attend. Rollerskating on that bouncy dance floor under that sea of stars sounds like heaven.
The Libertines playing in the Barrowlands and a close-up of someone’s hair

***Here’s an experience in Glasgow which sums up why I love the city’s gig scene so much:

In 2007 a group of us split up into a few different cars and drove from Aberdeen to Glasgow to see Wakefield indie babes the Cribs at music venue, King Tut’s. We were in our early 20s and our lives revolved around discovering new bands, listening to music and going to gigs. I once made a pilgrimage to Preston to watch the View. Preston! The View! I know.

When we arrived in Glasgow it was raining (obviously) and it kept getting heavier. Disaster struck when King Tut’s flooded. We thought the gig was off but we were told the event was moving to a pub down the road called the Admiral. We shuffled down the road to the bar, near Central Station, and packed into the tiny venue. It was way too small for the King Tut’s sized crowd.

The Cribs – a band that makes me think of house parties, mixing drinks and surfing down stairs on an ironing board (an ouch moment for all involved) – set up on a pretend stage and began thrashing their guitars.
Minutes later the gig was stopped by Gary Jarman, one of the brothers in the band, who was worried about the crowd trampling on each other because it was so wild.

The music stopped. Everyone feared the gig was off but after some minutes, someone had the idea for the audience to sit down. So we all sat down!  Most people were cross-legged. And there we were, sitting down, swaying on the ground listening to indie rock.

It was bizarre but also a gorgeous gig experience that sticks in my head.

Adapted from my newsletter, on the road with eu, published on September 8

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The politics of language

There’s a chapter in an English as a foreign language text book called: ‘How to avoid saying no directly’. I burst out laughing when I saw it. Is there anything more stereotypically British?

I came across it at the language school I work at, where we regularly teach the art of small talk to students. Things like how to apologise for everything and hide your true feelings – you know, the British way of life.

Although stereotypes can be overegged and unhelpful, I have to admit; I’ve definitely come across a few of them since moving to Berlin at the start of the year.

It’s true that Germans communicate more directly (believe me, you grow a thicker skin living here) and I actually think they’re quite proud of this fact. “Why not?” they’d probably reply if you asked why they always got straight to the point.

And so I wasn’t surprised at a recent news story, in which CDU politician Jens Spahn complained about too much English being spoken in the capital’s restaurants.

“It drives me up the wall the way waiters in Berlin restaurants only speak English, said the junior finance minister.

He added that “co-existence can only work in Germany if we all speak German”.

Why mince your words, Mr Spahn?

In some ways I agree with him. I think it’s important to learn the language of a country you’ve chosen to move to. Not only that, I think language learning should be taken far more seriously at school, whether you move away or not.

Who am I looking at when I say that? The Brits, of course! Oh how lovely it would be to have had one foreign language under my belt before I moved abroad. Unfortunately I think education on the island falls way beneath the mark when it comes to this subject – I had very little to show after my measly four years of German.
Friedrichstraße in Berlin’s Mitte district. Jens Spahn says waiters in the capital are speaking too much English. 

So here I am today, still struggling with the gender of words and all that goes with it.

Sometimes I feel life’s too short to learn German grammar and maybe I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than go through another minute of it. But really, I want to learn. I’ll keep trying because I want to understand the world around me.

I want to hold a conversation with the man in the bike shop next to my flat and I’d really like to not embarrass myself again by asking for whipped cream to treat my mosquito bites in the chemist.

I’d like to understand menus in German and not have to Google translate when somebody asks me something simple like ‘close the door, please’.

Jens Spahn’s experience of Berlin is a little different to mine. Yes you hear a lot of English here – from Germans, from other nationalities and from native English speakers.

But I often find myself surrounded by a group of people speaking German, nodding along and smiling without a clue in the world what they’re talking about. I understand the odd word but there’s no way I can keep up with a regular conversation.

It’s not always that the people I’m with can’t speak English. Sometimes I think they just want to talk in their mother tongue with their friends rather than cater to the non-German speaker. Not everyone speaks English all the time and why should they?

Berlin is home to so many nationalities and I love it for that. On one U-bahn ride I often hear about six different languages and I dream of a future (which is far, far away obviously) when I’ll understand them all.

Right now, though, I need to focus on trying to improve my German and do the work that comes with it. Who knows? One day I might even ditch the polite small talk and become more direct. Then you’ll know I’ve really nailed this language.

Adapted from my newsletter, on the road with eu, published on August 18

German Election special: The main players

One of the many things I’ve learned since moving to Germany is that politics doesn’t start and end with the UK. Obviously world politics has always been interesting – and is a hyped-up crazy spectacle right now – but I feel the UK is fairly inward looking.

It always frustrated me that the newspaper industry in Scotland, for example, didn’t see the value in properly covering foreign affairs. Yeah, yeah, I know: budget cuts, etc. But still, I think audiences want wider international content (as well as local) and in an ideal world where newspapers weren’t being run into the ground, editors would recognise this as a priority.

So I like that no-one really cares about Scottish independence in Berlin. Sometimes I shove it down peoples’ throats but on the whole, it’s good for me to look at the bigger picture and not just focus on my home country.  Every day I meet people from all over the world – Russia, Spain, Moldova, Italy, Poland, Australia, Slovenia, Israel and Saudi Arabia – there are many political situations to discuss.

Here in Germany the elections are on September 24 and I’m enjoying watching the campaign unfold because I love mud-slinging, desperate politicians who prepare like it’s a Mayweather v McGregor fight. Except it doesn’t seem to be like that here. Everyone seems a bit more….measured?

Of course there’s a bit of drama: The SPD’s (Social Democrats) Martin Schulz accusing current Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the CDU (Christian Democratic Party), of being aloof and disconnected from reality. Then there’s Merkel hosting rallies in far-right stronghelds and being booed by protestors. However, it’s not quite the bite I’m used to but maybe that’s a good thing.

So here’s a little taster of the parties/people campaigning in this election. The German voting system means the winning party usually doesn’t gain enough seats for a majority so has to form a coalition. Right now it’s a CDU/SPD partnership (along with the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union) but with lots of smaller parties gaining more support, other coalitions are possible following the Bundestag election.

CDU
Let’s start with Mutti, the nickname given to Merkel because she’s always there for you, apparently, like your mum. The centre-right CDU’s election posters show ‘Sicherheit und Ordnung” – security and order – are high on the agenda. Interesting because many Germans believe there was zero security and order in the way the country took in refugees (more than a million arrived in 2015), and this appears to have fuelled the rise in support for right wing populist parties like the AfD (more on them later).

Still, Merkel’s been admired for defending her policy and that’s a breath of fresh air for politicians who are usually so scared of losing votes they’ll say anything. She was also named TIME Person of the Year in 2015, which was probably neither here nor there for her because she doesn’t seem to be the excitable type. But it seems like a good thing.

A few voters have told me they don’t like every policy but they feel they can trust her, that she’s a safe option. The Germans like safe options, I think.

From an outside perspective the CDU’s message appears to be similar to the Tories recent catastrophic ‘strong and stable’ crusade except it’s bound to do better because Theresa May isn’t anywhere near Germany. (AND EVERY DAY I AM GRATEFUL FOR THIS GEOGRAPHIC FACT.)

Even though Merkel voted against gay marriage – a nod to her conservative roots and supporters – she still allowed the vote in the first place which passed in parliament, and this has been viewed as a smart political move rather than a damaging one.

The CDU is also focusing on family values, employment, public investment and tax cuts. So let’s see if the country will go back to mummy. That last sentence really made me cringe.

Merkel, above. The message translates to: ‘For a Germany in which we live well and gladly.’
‘For security and order’ 
SPD
Next up and representing the centre left is the SPD’s Martin Schulz, who was President of the European Parliament and therefore has a continental feel about him.Earlier this year the party experienced a high in the polls and it looked as if it might have been a ‘Wendepunkt’ for the SPD – a turning point. But since then they’ve consistently dipped.If I were advising the party (they haven’t employed an Aberdonian for this purpose yet) I’d look to Corbyn.  Yes, Jeremy Corbyn of messed-up UK Labour fame. Get Schulz into dad clothes, get him to appeal to the kids, the Glastonbury generation or whatever the equivalent is in Germany. Get him talking about the working class and social justice, but in a way that the millennials are going to get on board with. Get him on a stage wearing Vetements-style sportswear and a bakers boy cap and get the lefty, artsy, young attractive family types who cycle their kids around Berlin in mildly dangerous ‘Kinderanhänger’ on his side.When the gay marriage vote was announced the SPD and Schulz were quick to jump on the ‘we’re more liberal and open than Merkel’ train. They even stuck a rainbow flag above their headquarters. But it might have been too little to late.

The SPD were lucky to have a spike in supporters but I don’t think Schulz will capture the imaginations of the youth or anyone else. Currently the SPD are in a ‘grand coalition’ with the CDU which may well happen again.
But, really guys. You could have done better!

 

Martin Schulz, above. ‘It’s time to solve the problems in Europe, instead of exposing them.’
Your dad, above. Or Jez Corbyn. You decide.
The Left
Who might capture the millenials’ vote? Well, maybe Die Linke. The Left.
Voters have told me this party is a “hangover from East Germany” because that’s where the group descend from. This makes some people suspicious but they have clearly spent A LOT OF CASH on a shiny colourful advertising campaign, with messages laid out in all sorts of different fonts that equate to ‘redistribute the wealth’ and ‘kill all rich people’. That last one isn’t true.It’s your classic far left innit? I have a feeling a lot of Germans are into this, possibly more from the younger generation. The party is led by Sahra Wagenknecht who looks extremely confident in the campaign posters around town. In my area (Kreuzberg) there’s another dude called Dietmar Bartsch who looks like he’s stepped out of the Danish political drama Borgen and another called Pascal Meiser, who resembles a lad they pulled off the street to pose in a campaign to prove politicians are just people like you and me.The group is also campaigning for a rise in national minimum wage and the dissolution of NATO. They are likely to gain a fair few votes. I’d also like to award them the award for Best Poster Campaign. I especially like the ‘I love MDMA’ and ‘rave on’ chat that’s been scribbled onto Mr Bartsch’s face. 

Die Linke’s Pascal Meiser, above. ‘Directly to Kreuzberg: Wages up, rent down!’
‘Rave on’ graffiti over CDU and Die Linke placards near Südstern in Kreuzberg
FDP
Next on my list we have the Free Democratics or FDP. The FDP’s hopes are pinned on their “charismatic” 38-year-old leader Christian Lindner. I know! Isn’t he young! That’s the reaction they hope for. The campaign posters show him playing on Snapchat or Instagram with messages like: ‘digital first, concerns second’ and ‘impatience is also a virtue’.  Meanwhile, Lindner avoids eye contact with the camera as if he’s in a Hugo Boss ad. The party is pro-business, campaigns for tax cuts and to remain in financial markets. Also, my sources say the party has friends in the media so this won’t hurt them.They’ve thrown a lot of money on image and marketing but will the Germans buy into it? I did speak to one person who had been won over by FDP, so maybe.
Christian Lindner, above. ‘Digital First. Concerns second.’ 
Greens
I don’t have a lot to say about Germany’s Green Party (Grüne). Their campaign seems a bit boring except they do have pretty sunflowers on their placards which are worth a mention. But I know a lot of voters are into this party and their focus on the environment and social policies. So they are likely to have a fairly big role in the Bundestag.

 

Afd
Last we have the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the right-wing populist party, which many people believe/fear will gain the 5% needed to get into the Bundestag.

Their campaign is the most offensive, with posters of scantily dressed women and the tagline ‘we’re into bikinis, not burkas’. Another placard shows a pregnant woman with the message: ‘New Germans? We make them ourselves.’ Worrying, especially in a country that lives with the legacy of the Nazis.

The party’s hardline anti-EU, anti-immigration views have attracted voters from almost all of the other parties, especially among lower income households and they’ll be relying on these votes when Germany goes to the polls.

Some more trivia: The party admires Trump, makes regular racist outbursts and is a fan of German-produced Haribo sweets (When I interviewed them once I was offered bucketloads of these sugar treats. I was also invited on party trips which I almost went on out of curiosity – how do racists party?! Would there be hot tubs or saunas? Do racists flirt with each other? Do they dance?)

If you’re in the Trump/Nigel Farage club then this is the party for you.

One of the AfD’s campaign posters, above in Grünewald, Berlin. ‘Burkas? We’re into bikinis’
On a side note I’d like to show you one more campaign poster, which I found near my flat. It’s from the Pirate Party which campaigns for privacy. It reads: ‘Mutti (Merkel) doesn’t have to know about all of your weird toilet/ porn habits’ or something along those lines.

‘Mutti doesn’t have to know everything’

Now, which party would you choose? HAPPY VOTING (if you can vote).

NOTES
These are obviously my opinions. I’d love to hear your views so please get in touch.

Adapted from my newsletter, on the road with eu, published on September 1 

When Nigel Farage visited Berlin

Here’s a short tale about the time a man, nicknamed “Mr Brexit”, was invited by a far-right political party to speak at a rally of their supporters in Berlin.

It was a slightly bizarre setting. A renaissance fortress, in Spandau, west Berlin, was taken over last Friday by members of the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party to host a pre-election event. But not just any rally – AfD politician Beatrix von Storch had invited a guest – ex UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Police stuffed into riot vans and patrolled the streets around the building in anticipation of Farage’s arrival, while protestors, who stood in the drizzly rain, carried placards. One read: ‘British Berliner against Brexit.’

Reporters, cameramen and women plus photographers had to pass three security checks to enter the building and bags were searched. At the last security point a German journalist joked that it was “very funny” how we were the ones being searched when arguably the real danger was the politicians inside the conference room.

The AfD had their logo decked out across a stage and around 200 chairs were set up. Two interpreters (carrying out English and German translations) sat in a cabin beside the stage and headsets were given out to people who needed them. There was tea, coffee, wine and finger foods. No expense spared. To an onlooker, without any knowledge of politics, the situation could have appeared to be a friendly soiree.

Not the case. The AfD is populist party, which is expected to win its first parliamentary seats in the Bundestag following the September 24 election. If it does, it will be the first hard-right nationalist party to enter the country’s parliament in the post-World War II era. It has an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, Eurosceptic agenda and party members make a habit of sprouting out hugely controversial statements. (see my story here, this Politico story and this from the Independent. Their election campaign ads are also super offensive.

Farage and von Storch, both MEPs, hosted a press conference in which they praised each other (get a room, guys?) and talked up their own agendas before it was the turn of AfD supporters to hear the pair talk.

The room was full of white people. There were a lot of older faces but also, many young people. They were mostly Germans but some Americans. It was a visible reminder that despite the Berlin bubble of left-leaning, open-minded thinking, the city and country is not immune to the lurch to the right that we’ve seen in Europe and the US.

As von Storch talked up her party, there were murmurs of agreement throughout the crowd. When Farage was introduced the room came alive: he received a standing ovation and deafening claps.

Von Storch said Farage was a “role model” and “the man who made the impossible possible”, in reference to the Brexit vote. There were belly laughs among the giddy crowd as Farage slagged off EU leaders, UK and German politicians. He called Angela Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to migrants and refugees the “worst decision by any western leader in modern political history”. More cheers.

In the question/answer session, one man stood up and said: ‘Mr Farage you’re amazing on youtube and you’re even better in real life, thank you for coming!’

Another audience member asked for advice from Farage on how to avoid a Rotheram child abuse-type scandal in Germany, linking it to the influx of refugees/migrants.

At the end of the discussion Farage was invited to share wine with von Storch and supporters – but I had to quiz him first…

What interested me was how desperate he seemed. He’s touring Europe urging people, like in this rally, to support the anti-EU movement. He seemed terrified that Brexit won’t work out as he hopes for the UK. It was intriguing to watch him interact with the crowd because he does have charisma and attracts media coverage wherever he goes but who knows if he has any real influence outside of the UK.

At the rally Farage urged the crowd of AfD supporters to lobby Merkel to start talking about a free trade deal with the UK. He said he was surprised that Brexit was not playing a bigger role in the German election campaign. Farage said Brexit was “very important for Germany and the United Kingdom is very important for Germany, we are a very serious market place”.

He added: “Merkel needs to know that unless she tells Brussels to come to a common-sense accommodation, then she will be putting the interests of Brussels above the interests of common people.”

When I spoke to Farage after the event he said he was “worried” that the UK would not reach a trade deal with Europe after Brexit and that negotiations could be a waste of a time.

.
Farage and von Storch at the rally

He said Brexit negotiations were coming up against “real pigheadedness” from EU leaders in Brussels and criticised the UK Government for being “ill prepared”.He said: “I think the UK Government were ill prepared, very slow out of the blocks – it took nine months to trigger Article 50. Then the General Election which took three months out of the period. I would say now they’re beginning to get it together. I think some of the thinking, the papers that have been released – we’re getting there but we’re coming up against real pigheadedness in Brussels.

“I personally want to have the best relations with Europe, I think a trade deal is in all our interests. So yeah I’m pretty worried about the way it’s going now. I’m worried that we could be wasting two years of our life on a negotiation that they (EU leaders) don’t seem to want to have a good resolution to.”

Farage, who resigned from Ukip in the wake of Britain’s 2016 vote to leave, said he believed he was helping the cause by speaking directly to people in Europe and appealing to them to start a discussion on Brexit and the future of the European Union.

Farage said he was going to a do “a lot” of these events “all over Europe”.

He added: “I’m in Prague next Friday. I think the EU is standing as a barrier between the United Kingdom and the people of Europe.”

The AfD is currently polling at around 8 – 11%. Farage said it would be a “historic achievement” if the party entered German parliament.

But polls can be wrong. Germany votes next Sunday and we should all watch closely to see what happens next.  Whatever the result is I think there needs to be more analysis from the media by speaking to voters to find out why there is growing support for the far right.

EXTRA NOTE: This is one for the Scottish readers…Farage also told me Scotland would never split from the UK and that Brexit was “ironically more exciting” for Scots supporting independence because it will deliver more powers to Scotland than indy. Thoughts?

Adapted from my newsletter, on the road with eu, published on September 15 

March 5 2017: Extremism on the march – Nazi shadow hangs over Germany’s resurgent far right

Sunday Herald, March 5 2017

AMONG all of Germany’s political parties the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) was the only one to cheer on Donald Trump’s surprise presidential victory.

The party, founded just four years ago on the back of the Euro debt crisis, may appear to stand alone but it has managed to gain huge support, sparking concern that this could be Germany’s most significant right-wing force since the 1930s.

AfD achieved success last September in the regional elections when it secured MPs in 10 of Germany’s 16 state parliaments, winning 14 per cent of the vote in Berlin while Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU scored 17.6 per cent – its worst-ever result in the capital.

The anti-immigration party, which gained a surge in followers in the aftermath of Merkel’s controversial “open door” policy to refugees, is aiming to win its first seats nationally in the federal elections later this year.

It is led by Jörg Meuthen and Frauke Petry, who has previously said border police should “use firearms if necessary” when dealing with refugees. The AfD’s dramatic rise has been fuelled by a similar anti-Islam and anti-establishment rhetoric that elevated Trump to power in the United States.

Ronald Gläser, spokesman for the AfD in Berlin, said its supporters “love Trump”.

“He is anti-mainstream,” added the 43-year-old over a plate of German-produced Haribo sweets in Berlin’s grand state parliament building in Mitte. “This is 100 per cent AfD style. Donald Trump and the United States is different to Petry and Germany but if you look at what we have in common – the anti-mainstream resentment.”

However, cracks are appearing with recent polls down amid party in-fighting. Although the farright has been gaining support in European countries for decades, many Germans felt Nazi history would stop a similar populist uprising.

Kai Arzheimer, professor of political science at the Unviersity of Mainz, said: “In Germany, the elite and public consensus prevented the rise of such a party but the political issues have been on the agenda for a very long time.”

Despite dips in the polls, Arzheimer said he was convinced AfD would be represented in parliament. “For the first time this sort of acceptable farright party has emerged,” he said.

“There have been predecessors like the NPD but they have all been tainted by their fixation with Germany’s Nazi past so it was quite easy to label them as right-wing extremist parties. The new thing about the AfD is that it was started by people who were acceptable.”

Gläser, whose parents came from East Berlin and fled to the West before he was born, said many AfD voters came from former East Germany. “The average voter for AfD would be male, between 30 and 50, and middle or lower middle class,” Gläser said. “In Berlin, we got every seventh vote (in the regional elections). We were the biggest party among working men.”

Gläser said voters live in “communist skyscrapers” in areas of Berlin including Marzahn and Treptow-Köpenick. The party also supports lowering taxes, less interference of government into people’s lives and “any kind of aggressive feminism in Germany”, said Gläser.

Among the voters is Paul Detto, originally from Bearsden near Glasgow who has lived in Berlin for four years. The 27-year-old, whose father is German, put the popularity of the right-wingers down to an increase in terror attacks.

“I think the AfD gets a bit of a bad rap,” he said. “People are very concerned about immigration.” Is he comfortable with the far-right tendencies of the AfD? “If people say we want women to go back to the kitchen and have babies, of course that’s not something I agree with. But you’re never going to be in full agreement with any party.”

MELANIE Amann, a reporter for Der Spiegel and author of Angst für Deutschland (Fear for Germany), said supporters ranged “from Conservatives to right-wing radicals”.

Amann said fans of the Pegida movement – a German nationalist, anti-Islam, far-right political movement founded in Dresden in October 2014 – were also attracted to the party but there were “well-educated upper middle class” voters too.

In recent weeks, three separate polls have shown support for AfD slip below 10 per cent, down from a record high of 15 per cent last September.

A crisis was sparked in mid-January when Björn Höcke, who leads the party in the eastern state of Thuringia, called for a “180-degree turn” in Germany’s culture of remembering and atoning for the Nazi era, during a speech in a Dresden beer hall.

The centre-left SPD (Social Democratic Party) could also create problems for AfD. It has been surging in polls since Martin Schulz announced his candidacy, while Merkel’s conservatives are losing support.

Among the left swing voters considering Schulz is Julia Schwenke, 40, a German massage therapist who has lived in Berlin for nearly a decade. Schwenke said there was a growing fear over the rise of the far right among left voters in Germany.

“It’s very concerning especially with the history we have in this country,” she said. “You do wonder why people are drawn to such an ideology.”

Simon Brost of the state-funded Mobile Beratung gegen Rechtsextremismus Berlin (MBR), which works alongside groups like Berlin Against Nazis to fight extremism, said the growth in right-wing politics was always accompanied by violence.

“Right now we are experiencing a series of attacks in Berlin on people who are speaking up against right-wing extremism,” Brost said. “Their cars are being burned, their apartment windows are smashed, insults are written on their walls to try to prevent them from speaking up. Since May 2016, we counted as many as 42 of these attacks and 34 of them in Neukölln.”

Back at Berlin state parliament, Gläser is confident about AfD’s future, with six months to go until the election. “It’s safe to say that Alternative für Deutschland will stay a major force for politics over the next decade,” he said. “It is unlikely we’ll get more than 20 per cent in Germany.

“People are not ready for that, it will take one or more generations to make us the biggest party. We’re only four years old. Having 10 per cent in the polls is a very good thing, I think.”

February 17 2017: Helping refugees in Berlin – it’s no joke, but a Scots comedian is doing his bit

Positively Scottish, February 17 2017

For tens of thousands of refugees who have fled war-torn countries, settling into life in a European city like Berlin is not easy.

But Scottish comedian and former DJ Neil Numb is hoping to give them something to laugh about.

The 43-year-old from Edinburgh has teamed up with charity arts project Mosaic, based in the German capital, in a bid to bring comedy workshops to city refugee camps.

Neil is also organising an English language comedy gig, which will take place at Belushi’s bar in the Mitte area of Berlin, tonight to raise money for Mosaic and is collecting clothes to be donated to refugees.

His efforts have been welcomed by charity workers, who say volunteers are working tirelessly to integrate refugees in Germany.

Neil, who has been living in Berlin for around six years, said he was motivated to do something because the issue could not be ignored.

Chancellor Angela Merkel made headlines across the world when she announced Germany was to open its doors to refugees – known as “fluchtlinge” – in 2015 at the height of the refugee crisis. The decision brought in hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in that year alone.

In Berlin, camps, including at the former Tempelhof airport and in Kreuzberg, were set up while authorities searched for permanent housing.

Neil said: “It’s dead easy to sit back and say yeah that’s terrible but I just thought we should do something. Comedians in Berlin are a tight-knit group so I thought, why don’t we put something together?”

Proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the project’s work with teenagers and young people.

Neil said: “It’s about giving them creative stuff to do. If you’ve been misplaced from your home, you’re in a foreign country and you’re 14 or 15 years old, that’s when the trouble can start. There’s always potential trouble at that age.”

As well as collecting clothes, Neil also wants to bring comedy into the camps. He said: “I’m speaking to the project about doing some workshops at the camp – we’ll get comedians up there and work with them. My friend who’s an artist is going to do art workshops too.”

Despite the linguistic differences Neil believes comedy is an international language and he hopes it can help bring some light relief to camps in Berlin.

In the last eight years the English language comedy scene has exploded in the capital. There are now multiple shows every night and the scene attracts big names, including Ardal O’Hanlon and Josie Long.

“There’s been a massive rise in shows,” said Neil, who is behind events including Cosmic Comedy. The twice-weekly show is popular with all nationalities, including Germans, and is number three on Trip Advisor, behind the Berlin Philharmonic and the cabaret show Friedrichstadt-Palast.

“It’s great, we’ve managed to build a really big open mic scene and now we’re working on showcases,” said Neil. “We have open mics to grow new talent and the showcases pull in bigger names and it really encourages people to up their game. Even German comedians are doing English language comedy now which shows how big an impact it’s having.”

Tonight’s fundraiser will be hosted by Californian-born stand up David Hailey (above) and will feature comedians including Tara McGorry and Toby Arsalan.

New York-born Bill Caccese, 35, who is founder of Mosaic, said he was looking forward to seeing what the comedians could bring to the project.

He said: “We always want people to come and work with us and do creative projects. We have language groups, we have arts classes and we have the young men’s project where we take men between the ages of around 15 and 30 to museums, plays and social events. We encourage them to interact so they can be integrated into life in Germany.”

Bill set up Mosaic after working in Syria as an archaeologist and witnessing the effects of war. The charity relies on people helping out and there is a pool of around 50 volunteers. Refugees who attend the project come from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iranians and Eritreans.

Naz Ali, 26, a Kurdish Iraqi who is studying international affairs at university in Berlin, volunteers with the project by helping refugees with administrative tasks.

She said: “Keeping the young men busy is probably one of the things that’s most important and sometimes gets missed. It has an effect on radicalisation too. Even though we’re not working specifically on anti-radicalisation, we are at least countering the buds or nipping them in the bud.”

Naz said non-governmental organisations like Mosaic, along with volunteers, were extremely important. “If you freeze all the organisations like Mosaic things would completely fall apart. We’re stopping it from going completely catastrophic in Berlin.”