Munich Conference 3-6 November 2017
Signing Up to the Organisation Online
I signed up to the organisation Stand Up for Europe 1.0 online in about May or June last year in 2017 about a year of after the referendum campaign. I was feeling very upset and depressed arguing with the victorious Brexiteers online and some of them were calling me a Nazi and a German and to get back over to Europe with my friends and I just needed bit of moral support really. They posted several things on their Facebook presence and eventually they sent me an invitation to a Conference at Munich Philosophical Faculty at Ludwig Maximillian University where I was to go down and meet them all. It turned out to be a bitter sweet moment because it was and is one of the finest young people’s institutions of its type, that was inclusive and accessible to older people as well. It turned out, as you will see from the history of Stand Up over the last half a year or so, that it proved a bitterly divided one held together with lots of sticky-back plastic. Basically, a boardroom debate about who was boss degenerated into a bitter dispute within the organisation about how to administrate it and it’s very sad because it isn’t easily solved at all. Basically, people with experience in America are some of the toughest on the planet and so are Cambridge graduates and it’s really been a bit of really difficult pistols at dawn which has now caused our movement to split in two. All in all though, my first trip to Munich city centre was a fantastic experience.
Booking Flixbus and the Journey Down
At first, I thought it was going to be too expensive to go all the way down to Munich. All the travel options were about £200 alone, the Eurostar trains being the most expensive of all. However, there was one killer option and that was to travel down there on a company called Flixbus. Flixbus is a new German company with aspirations to be the Greyhound of Europe. Offering low cost and long-distance bus travel for next to nothing but the price of a Mitfahrtzentrale. A return trip to Brussels will only set you back 38 euros and a complete 24-hour journey down to Munich via a one-and-a-half hour stop at Cologne airport will see you with change out of ninety pounds with baggage all in. So, I decided to opt for that. It’s an amazing adventure doing these long-distance coach trips. They are relatively easy to book these days, with the availability of a useful Flixbus App which actually works offline as well for ticketing quite unlike its counterpart from Eurostar as I found doing subsequent trips to Brussels that requires internet or it will log itself out. You just download your tickets onto the Flixbus App and present it to the driver who processes it with his mobile phone and show him your passport just to prove you have one for inspection.
To reach Victoria Coach Station from Colchester for the 9:30 to Cologne you have to get the 4:47 train to London, take the Circle or Metropolitan line from Liverpool Street to Kings Cross and then the Victoria line down to Victoria. With a big backpack on and early in the day it’s not easy, but you cope with a good coffee and sandwich in hand. When you get to Victoria there is a good half hour wait until the gates open & you are checked onto the bus complete with baggage. It’s then a three hour ride to the Channel Tunnel shuttle terminal where you are allowed out in order to go to the loo and grab something for lunch for 20 mins, and also have your passport checked, though the timing is particularly strict and they will go without you if you don’t make it back on time.
There is about half an hour of faffing about at various checks until the whole coach drives onto the train and you have to stay in your seat parked whilst the train makes its 35 minute journey through the tunnel. It’s rather hot and sticky because the air con is switched off at that stage. When you get to the other side and the drivers turn the engines on you get a good dose of fumes as well stuck inside the train like a sardine in a can. Normally, the large vehicles park just inside the divider and this then lifts when the tain comes to a halt at the other end.
Passing through the area where the refugees used to live and try and jump the trains to Britain at Coquelles you notice that security has been drastically improved and two or three massive fences seal the entire area off like a new age version of the Iron Curtain. It’s about another 3 hr ride to Gent where there is a short stop to buy a drink from the driver and about an hour on from that it’s Brussels North Station, around which you simply don’t want to be at night that being the red light district of Brussels. Just after nightfall there is another 3hr ride to Cologne / Bonn airport. It’s about an 11 hr ride to there with one further stop for a change of driver at a motorway garage somewhere in Limburg to grab a sandwich.
When you finally arrive totally wasted in Cologne, there is a 1.5 hr opportunity to stretch your legs and have dinner at the sandwich shop of Schnitzel in a bread roll or something and then it’s on the southern route from Essen to Munich that you have to get on half way down on and find a seat. There are then 8 stops to Munich, but the drivers are a bit nicer and like to provide you with some lovely German beer like Veltins from their chillers such as I enjoyed at Frankfurt Train Station 2 o’ clock in the morning. The last stop is Augsburg about an hour from Munich and you arrive at about quarter to nine so the entire trip is 23:15 minutes when on schedule. They are remarkably well-timed changeovers. 1.5 hrs is really sufficient time so that you don’t miss your connection. That’s German efficiency for your, very impressive all round, nice coaches and seats too. Pity that the loos aren’t always in working order.
The Hotel in the Schillerstraße
The hotel was in the Schillerstraße in Munich. It was the MK city hotel costing around 80 pounds per night. What I didn’t realise, was that it was in the middle of what consists of Munich’s red-light district. I didn’t know where I had to go so I just got a taxi there and he was very derogatory about the fact that he would never stay there because it had a night entry facility to bring your girls in and that the area was populated by what he referred to as “Turks”, which we would never say in England to refer to people of all non-white nationalities living in a working class district. Apparently, it is a very safe red-light area though as there is hardly any crime in Munich according to Reddit a woman I sat next to at dinner later.
The hotel itself was run by Jo who was surprisingly very kind indeed and her father was a real sweetheart who came up from the Bavarian countryside to help her out with running the hotel at weekends. He talked to me over breakfast and I told him I was standing up for Europe and they gave me a free upgrade on the last night. The room itself was spacious with a walk-in shower. When I arrived I couldn’t check into my room I was too early, but they did allow me to have breakfast for eight Euros and drop off my bags, but as you can imagine after a 24 hr bus ride I was pretty knackered and unimpressed. It wasn’t their fault though and when I came back from town they allowed me to wait there for my room. One of the other members of Stand Up was able to check into his room before me and felt quite guilty and asked if I wanted to use his shower.
In town I visited the area around the old town hall and had a McDonalds and had a peek in the Cathedral and even asked to join the Munich Cathedral Choir.
The University Quarter and Taxi to the Venue for the First Time
Jo, the proprietor of the hotel called a taxi for me and it arrived within five minutes. I had arrived that day and had eventually been let into my room for a shower and a long power nap and I now had lots of energy and was ready to meet everyone at the philosophical school. We arrived and talked to people to introduce ourselves for a little while and we were allowed a free welcome drink and a basic ID badge with our name and where we were from. We then sat down and had a chat about how to improve the EU in terms of transparency. We split into three groups to discuss topics relevant to communication, and transparency, and planning I believe.
Our talk was hosted by Sonia Stutchtey and it was here that I met my friend Hélène Decottingny for the first time. We had a really heated debate and I was instantly attracted to her, but Sonia was nice too. I really got into expressing the reasons why I thought the referendum result went their way. The long lines of communication, and various units that were supposed to be working together acting in an uncoordinated way and descending into chaos. Some people simply not trying were given to much leeway and space. The leafleting was not organised enough around a central theme and thus Nigel Farage with his entrepreneurial instinct and keeping his cards close to his chest was able to deceive and infiltrate our arguments with ease.
The Philosophical School of LMU
The philosophical school was a lovely building inside with a sizable lecture theatre, and downstairs area where we could stand and chat and have lunch.
The Fiasco with the Leadership Election; The Initial Email and Attempted Cover Up
On the way down to the conference I received a rather nasty legal email saying that we were not allowed to vote on a new board (which was after all the purpose of assembling) due to a legal challenge. Little did I know at the time that this dispute was of a rather nasty nature and still eventually served to dissolve our positive institution that stood up for EU rights into two halves on the 28th April 2018. Basically, they really made a silly decision to try electing one of two complete board teams based on two potential presidential candidates; Richard Laub and Pietro de Matties respectively. Richard provided most of the funding for Standup 1.0 and Pietro was a star graduate. Richard was the president. Most of his friends were on his potential board. He liked to keep it within the family. These included the person the person I’d just fallen in love with at the time Hélène and her boyfriend Balint, a Hungarian guy, as well as originally also, Alessandro the leader of the Brussels group who has become a good friend in Stand Up and former Stand Up circles.
On the other side is Pietro’s team included Stuart from the London team on his board. He was supported by my friend the head of the London team Alex Gunter who wanted me to vote for them. Pietro wanted to be my top chap and was very friendly, but because of my friendship with Bàlint and Hélène and Alessandro I have to be really careful about dismissing Richard out of hand especially as I don’t know him that well. I was trying to stay neutral, but I liked David Zülke the IT guy as well and he expressed a distaste for Richard for causing the split. Sonia is also on the other side. Anyway, this letter was a harbinger of really bad news for Stand Up. They spent hours in the cooler and very nearly split on that day.
So many people didn’t enjoy the conference because they wanted to vote and had really came to Munich to vote and couldn’t do so. The origins of the split go back to the federal nature of the institution. The idea was to ‘federalise the federalists’. That meant to amalgamate a lot of smaller independent Pro-European Groups into a conglomerate. One of which was the European Federalist Party and I think one called Stand Up for the European Union. It was the initial success of Stand Up for Europe as a model for using social media in political activism in a new way so successfully, that made us think it could work. It didn’t. The honeymoon period was glorious but it was coming to an end. It had lasted well over a year.
Indeed, with had over 8000 members then and over 100,000 likes on our Facebook presence. That’s why we had the full support of Emmanuel Macron the French President and the European Commission. The founding members had real talent. It’s just that they were their own bosses and remained bitterly divided. It’s really sad because until they tried to solve the issue of leadership. We were enjoying ourselves and just doing the job of promoting Europe efficiently. David, in particular, really missed this time back then.
Ellen’s Impromptu Speech
It all came to a head when a German lady called Ellen blew the lid off the whole thing. She told the whole conference the truth. It was shocking as a new member of the organisation having had such a great start, but I suppose it had to be done simply to vent the amount of anger surrounding the issue. They were trying to put a sticking plaster over the fact that Richard as a richer person than Pietro, had indeed paid people’s expenses to the conference in order to pack the hall with his supporters and win the vote for his team. This was not only controversial but illegal. So, the head of the organisation and the management teams were not present for the rest of the conference and had gotten together with some lawyers trying desperately to save the institution from imminent collapse. They agreed on having an interim board of four people in order to negotiate further for four months before pressing on with the agenda before the elections to the EU parliament in 2018. The problem still hasn’t been solved. The lawyers were bearing down on us. We were waiting for another six months or so for the hammer to fall and the final axes to grind.
The Plenaries with Jaques Santer, Henri Malosse and Co.
There were some really interesting plenary discussions that took place on the future of the EU with a TV presenter interviewing people like Jaques Santer and Henri Malosse and other members of the EU commission whom we also got to meet and socialise with after the talks. Jaques Santer was a very impressive leader of the EU. He was brilliant when he made his speech. He was a really good, captivating speaker and he didn’t attempt to speak in English but opted for spontaneous translation with an English version of the speech running in the background. It worked that because some of the other people’s attempts to speak in English were a problem. They sound wonderful in their native German or French, and their English is brilliant but some of the things they think of as fun being brilliant linguists most people in England find eccentric as native speakers. They are so sweet because I’m like that when I speak German. I think that might have been a problem that Nigel Farage exploited. He called them wooden and bureaucratic and they aren’t they are just trying to work in a foreign language and he was very unsympathetic.
Carrying On and Getting the Job Done Discussing the EU Constitution
The discussion continued on without the board. Sonia and a number of the others chaired a debate on the future of the organisation as a political entity. We had an initial vote on whether we should stand for elections or continue as lobbyists. A lot of people voted for standing for election in some way. The majority was for stand for election if not in 2018 then at some stage in the future when all the management issues had been sorted out. That is exactly what I voted for, but I’m possible standing for local elections in 2018 anyway because we have gone for that option as a group. Secondly, we drew up an active criticism of the new EU constitution and actually got to put new suggestions into a draft proposal to inform the debate in the EU parliament on a formal EU constitution. Some of my comments were taken seriously.
Nights out and food
We had a couple of lovely nights out. Despite the chaos and pandemonium surrounding the leadership of the organisation no one could fault the hosts. We had a lovely time in Munich socially. The choice of restaurants was exemplary. On the first night, we went walked across the Arabella park with torches at night and to a traditional German restaurant where they served about 100 of us all at once, the food came together, and it was hot, very impressive. I had a light German wheat beer and a great schnitzel with sautéed potatoes for about 20 euros. It was here that I got talking to two members of the London group and formed a friendship with Alex Gunter and also Anita Sepreyni. She was an interesting girl from Eastern Europe studying in Andalusia with family in Catalonia. So, we were discussing the breaking political upheaval in Barcelona. The food at the conference on the Saturday was a buffet lunch with some of the commissioners and all the members of Stand Up together and we had some pasta, salad and Frikadellen. That was nice. I went for a bite to eat down the road at a café where they served great wraps as well. On the Saturday we went with a woman called Reddit to a Greek restaurant. She ended up chatting to this guy form Antwerp, who was more her age and I swapped places with him because he was doing rather well with her. Reddit was a Münchener, but a bit disenfranchised with the whole fiasco she had helped in the planning of. She mentioned she might spend more time with the sister institution Pulse of Europe if they don’t sort things out. It wasn’t her fault.
After dinner I went home to change and freshen up before having a night on the tiles, which is actually quite rare for me now. We reconvened at about 10 pm at the Lovelace hotel in Munich city centre. Which had one of the best bars I’ve ever been to, a classy penthouse bar with platforms you can climb and look out of over the city. There are also a number of smaller places you can talk more privately both inside and outside and a hall for dancing with some lovely rich German girls. Very classy joint that Reddit liked and arranged for us. Beer wasn’t too expensive there only 3 euros 50.
The Night Club
After that I went onto a club with some other members of the team until about four am with Munich Team Leader Thomas Zschocke. He said to me as we left Lovelace pointing at the European flag “Isn’t that the most beautiful flag you’ve ever seen!” I said “Yes, it is” and then as it was his birthday he produced a bigger flag from his mate car and we all danced in the street and sang our national anthem, “Freude schöne Götterfunken” together. I was so happy I actually attempted to pull Hélène in hard grunge club, and she was pulled out of my way by her best friend.
The Pulse of Europe Demonstration
The next day at the end of the conference Alex Gunter and I and his friend went for lunch at a café in Munich and then, we joined the Pulse of Europe demonstration for about 10 minutes in the pouring rain and sang their song with them at the end. Someone stole my Stand Up for Europe flag, I’d been given for the protest as I was attempting to sign a petition. We are supposed to have been sold the flags for five Euros each, but in the end they were simply given away. To save all the tears Alex Gunter gave me another one which I still have. It meant a lot to me.
Making It Home with No Money Whatsoever
I just about made it home with no money in my wallet whatsoever. We arrived at the Eurotunnel terminal at Coquelles at about 3 am. I was asleep when we went through the first check for illegal persons on and attached to the bus. I was woken up by the French police when the driver asked if we could skip some of the security checks. I heard a very loud “Bullshit, you can go on slip!”, what that implied was horrific at that time of the day. You drive another five miles down the road. Get off the bus have to take your baggage out of the back of the bus and have your passports checked by the French then get back on again drive 200m, get off again and go through the Mr Farage’s passport checks, go for a pee, buy a packet of crisps or a drink if you an afford it, and then get back on. After doing that for 1.5 hrs we had to wait for a whole additional hour for the train at 5:20. We just parked, and slept on the slip, having been the first in the queue missed the previous train by just five minutes.
I had just enough to get breakfast in Victoria at the Prêt à Manger across the road form the station. It was half way home that I realised I’d lost my train ticket home from Victoria to Colchester and there was no way of recovering it. I had no money to buy another one. I had to phone home and she went ballistic but transferred 30 quid an hour later at 9am for me to buy one. Standing around like a lemon on Victoria station for an hour because your mother doesn’t trust anyone to do transfers over the phone with a rucksack on your back after a 24hr coach ride is not pleasant, but that is mum.