Pub in the English countryside

In Search of Home

Britain, Britishness, emigration, Germany, Life, politics

Earlier this year, on a rainy July day, I submitted a non-fiction piece based on the theme “Home Is Elsewhere” into a competition. Unfortunately it didn’t pick up anything, but that means I can give it the light of day here! It’s a poignant, reflective piece about what it feels like living in another European country as a British expat since the UK voted for Brexit.

It’s also a bit of an ode to Germany, the country I now call home – and as they’re holding a rather important national election this weekend perhaps the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

 

In Search Of Home

Home.

We all have somewhere we call home. Right?

It’s somewhere to belong, to live and grow; somewhere to hide when the world is too much. Somewhere to go back to.

But when home isn’t home anymore, where is home?

Having lived the expat life for the past five years, it’s a question I’ve found myself asking more and more the longer and further I’ve lived away from “home”. Home used to be somewhere safe to return to, a place of comfort and memories. Now my sense of home is falling apart. A derelict notion.

Home was a place my parents lived. A house I grew up in. A village of friends and enemies. Wide open fields in the heart of the English countryside, splattered with houses of all shapes and sizes.

Now, I don’t know how to drive home. Home is misplaced. It is a shadow, an echo of what it once was. A memory bundled with many others. Home has many faces now.

As a thirtysomething expat, it is my apartment in the heart of a growing city. It is where my Wi-Fi connects as I enter and my Netflix is already logged in. Home is where I sleep at night after long days at the office. But home is also that place I grew up. A country, a county, a village far away. A place someone else calls home now. That home is now boxes full of memories – forgotten in my parents’ new garage – that my past self once believed I would still care about 20 years later.

That home is a place I belong. But it is also a place I don’t belong anymore. It’s a place I’ve outgrown. It’s a place that’s changed. It’s a place that no longer exists.

The Home I Once Knew

I’ve heard people say that there comes a time when home no longer exists in the form you once knew it to. I’d always expected this to be a gradual change. That, as the years passed, slowly “home” in its first form would evaporate, replaced by the home I would create with my lover, my significant other, my own family. I never imagined that I would be able to pinpoint the moment home, as I knew it, would stop being home.

The day it happened, I woke up early with a taxi to order and a flight to catch. My phone’s alarm trilled into action. Subconsciously I reached for it from my bed. Alarm disarmed, I checked the news. The previous day had been an important one in my homeland and I was equally eager and full of dread to find out the outcome. That morning, June 24th 2016, was the day the home I had once loved, once fiercely identified with, ceased to exist.

It was the day the world discovered that 52% of the UK’s voting population wanted out of the European Union. Within 24 hours my homeland had gone from being kingdoms united to lands falling apart at the seams. But to be honest, the irrevocable changes had been well on their way for months, maybe even years. Thinly veiled xenophobia had littered the front pages of major tabloids and political campaigns had been bolstered on half-truths and vaguities that could be all too easily misinterpreted.

Picking up my passport emblazoned with the words “European Union United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” that morning carried an unexpected smack of sadness and regret. I thought that would be the worst of it. It wasn’t. As the consequences of the previous day’s events unfolded and the lurid abuse set in, the England I had so lovingly left behind in March 2012 no longer existed. I watched from afar, my heart breaking, as my homeland imploded on itself. I hoped it would be short lived. That we would pick ourselves up and recover, figure out how to make the best of a bad situation and shoulder on as we Brits do. But now, a little over a year on, I know that, should I ever return to the country of my birth, going “home” to live there again will never be the same.

In the 12 months that have passed since that day I’ve experienced emotions that I can only compare to bereavement. I know that sounds dramatic. But in truth I’ve felt so lost and displaced since that day. The country I had once spilled over in patriotism for is not there anymore. Long gone are the days of bursting with national pride – days like my very first expat summer, watching as the country of my birth hosted the world’s greatest sporting event and homegrown athletes won gold and silver and bronze.

Five years later, in its place stands a divided, hostile territory. England has become a land where people are yelled at in the street and told to go “home” – nevermind that they hold British citizenship and have spent their entire lives living on those shores. Brexit opened the gates to a wave of hatred no one really wanted to believe was there before.

As a removed Brit all I can do is watch and listen in horror as news reports and friends back “home” – British nationals and foreign expats alike – share stories that break my heart. Our government in a mess, our economy nose-diving, our people turning on each other. My friends facing uncertain futures where once everything seemed so clear. My own future hinging on my ability to master a foreign language and the generosity of another nation. And there’s nothing I can do. I’m powerless to prevent it. To protect the home I had once loved. To protect my friends and family. I can no longer feel proud of that place I once called home.

And as I lost my sense of home, I found myself displaced – lost; confused; my identity as a Brit thrown into question. I no longer want to be associated with a nation so full of hatred and xenophobia; a nation that has let such venom towards people rise to the surface. I cannot tolerate it.

Somewhere I Never Imagined

In just 24 hours home came to be not home anymore.

Over a year on, I still find myself occasionally apologising to European friends – both in the UK and Germany, where I live now – for the way in which the people of my homeland acted and continue to scapegoat EU immigrants as if it was all their fault. I apologise because in the five years I’ve lived in Germany, the country has offered me so much.

Germany has truly made me feel at home – after decades of muddling through life, school, university, and early adulthood not sure about my fit in the world, my first year in Germany was one that was full of feeling like this was it, I had finally found my place, finally found the right hole for this odd-shaped peg. Here, at last, was somewhere to belong. Here was my home. And to think, I might never have found it!

But now with Brexit negotiations in full swing, I face the possibility I could lose the country that has offered me a home seemingly unconditionally. Brexit means I could lose the home I’ve found – the home that, somehow, chose me. With arguments raging about the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in EU nations, no one really knows how this will end. No one knows what will happen to any of us European expats, regardless of the passports we hold and the countries we call home right now. The next two years hold questions no one can answer.

Add this uncertainty to the distress of seeing your homeland reveal its true colours of animosity and it’s no wonder I’ve spent much of the last year grieving the loss of home and national pride, and feeling displaced. Things that were once sure, that once made me proud, that would always be there, have been erased.

Home is no longer a place, no longer something tangible. It’s no longer somewhere from my past I can return to for comfort and security. Home is a sense. A notion I once created for myself, and am now forced to recreate and re-find.

Home is something else, somewhere else.

I hope I find it soon.

My (anti)Brexit List or Why I’m Vote #RemaIN

Culture, emigration, future, Germany, Life, politics, voting

 

I didn’t really want my first post back after a few months hiatus to be about Politics, but the thing is; I’m not sure I can stay quiet. Not that I’ve exactly been silent about the upcoming UK referendum, but, as more and more people tell me why they are voting #Leave, I feel it’s time I share why I’ve voted to #Remain. I’m going to try and keep it short but I’m not making promises. I could write entire 4,000-word essays on this topic ten years ago.

So while I’m praying my little ballot paper has already made it’s way back to the electoral commission HQ place to wait to be counted, here’s some reasons why I put an “X” next to “Remain”.

    • As an ex-politics student who studied the EU in depth for a good few years, I’ll be the first to tell you the EU is flawed. There’s a plethora of institutions and, honestly, even when studying it, it’s not always exactly clear what they all do. In fact, I’m pretty sure I once joked with someone about how complicated it was and that they just seemed to keep adding countries to avoid anyone ever really getting it.ANYWAY, I say all that to say, yes, the EU has it flaws. Yes, it needs reform. Yes, it’s needed reform for a while and yes, it’s been slow at that reforming process, but what do you expect? There’s a bunch of different countries, agendas and beliefs all bundled together, it’s going to take a while. But I still think we have a better chance to see change happen by staying IN it and being part of the change. The UK isn’t the only nation that wants to change the EU (whatever the media might tell you). As a Brit in Germany, it certainly seems like the Germans want to change it too and they’re watching our referendum with interest.

 

    • I’m a Brit living and working in another EU country and frankly, I massively appreciate the freedom of movement/immigration/emigration thing we have going on because of our EU membership. No one has yet, in my opinion, presented a viable option of how things would/could change if we left, so why would I vote to change things that could potentially make my life more difficult and less rich? Also, from living in Germany for four years and chatting with Germans, I have discovered the Germans have pretty much the same fears and concerns about EU immigration/immigration in general as the UK, so any argument based on anti-immigration won’t change my mind. The tactics employed by the #Leave Campaign concerning EU immigration is just terrifying, and that’s not the England I love.

 

    • I have a lot of friends who are EU nationals living and working in the UK right now and paying into the British economy. They have no voice to say what happens to the taxes they are paying. But my EU national friends in the UK can vote for MEPs to represent them either in the UK OR in their home country (but only in ONE of those places) and that, even if there’s not much achieved by MEPs right now, is a small step in a democratic direction.

 

    • On the topic of democracy/democratic deficit (I once wrote a lengthy essay years ago about that by the way), I know the EU gets a lot of flack for not being truly democratic but think about this:
      The EU has evolved to become what it is today, but because it’s politics and it’s multi-national and it’s bureaucratic, it hasn’t necessarily developed in the most streamlined of ways, meaning democracy isn’t necessarily there in the ideal way it should be. It’s perhaps a bit more diplomatic than democratic to be honest. But, like I said, it does give all EU nationals wherever they live in the EU (even if they’re not living in their home nation and can’t vote in state elections in their resident EU nation), the right to vote for someone who will (hopefully) represent their views at some level. I know it’s not the most ideal situation but speaking as someone who’s well on their way to loosing the right to vote in their home nation (unless I move back there), being able to have a say in the EU no matter where I live in it, is actually pretty awesome.Also, if you’re going to complain about the lack of elected representatives making decisions for us, have you looked at how the UK elects Members of Parliament recently? Our First Past The Post system means that you don’t need to win more than 50% of the vote to get a seat. You just need to win enough votes to be the party with the highest number of single votes in your area. Basically, if you manage to choose the biggest piece of pie, you win. At least the EU uses Proportional Representation which means pretty much everyone’s political views are represented no matter how much pie they got.

 

    • I don’t believe either side has been responsible in communicating the true predicted impact of what leaving or staying will really have. It’s been a lot of scaremongering, misleadingly represented facts and figures, and an absolute avalanche of opinions spun with emotions. In this situation I favour one of two options. Sticking with what I know (ie remaining in the EU) or making the government do what we elected them to do which is make decisions on our behalf, representative of our beliefs. But then, I don’t really trust the current UK
      government
      (see: Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt) so I’d rather vote to #Remain

 

  • And finally, I was going to write something here about the economics of it but if I’m honest, I don’t understand enough about the economic implications of staying or leaving to offer that as a reason why I decided to vote #Remain. What I do know is that, what I have read so far and tried to understand, to me, just doesn’t actually add up. Kinda in the same way that EU nationals can’t all be taking UK jobs and stealing all our benefits.

 

OK. I’m done now. Maybe you understand where I’m coming from. Maybe I’ve inspired you to go find out for yourself and make your own decision. And so, with that all said, however you decide to vote on Thursday, please do three things.

      1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK (to get you started, spend 20 minutes listening to this uni professor explain some things about the EU.)
      2. GO VOTE
      3. REMEMBER the history Europe had before the EU was born. The EU rose out of decades of unrest, where hate had bred hate, where extreme-wing politics (both left and right) had prevailed, and where people and nations had been torn apart. The EU wasn’t a first attempt at unification – there were previous iterations that had failed – but it has been the one that has survived the longest. To me, that indicates that there is something good in it. We need to work together to find that and improve the rest of it.

 

 

Life in Germany: All patriotic

Britain, Britishness, Culture, Frankfurt, Germany, Olympics

Perhaps it’s because I decided to leave England in the year the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee (although I do keep accidentally referring to it as her Golden, sorry Ma’am) and the year London hosts the Olympic Games, but since I landed in Deutschland I feel as though I have become more patriotic. I will fiercely defend my homeland against anyone who has a bad word to say about it. In fact, I recently virtually slammed my own brother (via social media) for being “typically British” and ergo negative about our Olympic preparation efforts to give one example.

This isn’t to say that I wasn’t patriotic before I left the UK. It just seems to have come through all the stronger now I’m no longer a permanent resident of the motherland. And, although I have always been a champion of the Royal Family, now, they are the iconic symbol readily available for me wherever I am in need of a Great British fix. If we were ever to loose our monarchy I would be distraught. Yes, I know they cost us money. Yes, I know they are archaic. Yes, I know they don’t really carry much political clout, but to do away with our Royalty is to remove one of the few synonyms of Britishness.

Sure, there are events in British history that some people would rather forget; things that even make me balk at the idea of being associated with Great Britain. (The way we treated the people of the countries we took to be part of our Empire for example.) But I’m 99% sure that there are things in any country’s history that the people of that nation would rather were buried and forgotten. Some of these events are more recent than others.

The iconic “Broom Army” photo tweeted after 2011’s
riots as people took to the streets to clean up.

Watching the Olympic opening ceremony my heart swelled with pride at the fact that my home country had pulled off something that amazing. (In fact watching the opening ceremony is what has encouraged the thoughts for this post). Alright, some of it was typically British in humour and style and probably fell by unnoticed by those watching who weren’t British. But the Queen jumped out of a helicopter with Daniel Craig as 007 – that was a stroke of British genius! Aside from the quirks, what the ceremony did was unite the UK. The current scenes of the Olympics in London is a far cry from the scenes on the streets of Britain last summer. Both, however, have united a nation.

Certainly for me, living in another country has served to make me feel even more staunchly patriotic than I was in the UK. Although I hope never to the extent that I will refuse to learn and adapt and accept that other nation’s culture and language. Perhaps it is strange that it has taken uprooting myself and living in a foreign clime to realise how British I really am, but then again, perhaps what I needed to fully identify my sense of being a Briton was to emerge myself in a culture vastly different to what I knew and was familiar with.

Life in Germany: A visit to the British Consulate

Culture, emigration, Frankfurt, Germany

It’s been an eventful few weeks of life in Germany since my last post, involving broken elbows (not mine), lost passports (thankfully also not mine) and seeing some beautiful German countryside as my train zooms through it.

Last Wednesday I accompanied a friend visiting from the UK to the British Consulate in Dusseldorf in order to secure an emergency passport for her return home.
Beautiful German countryside
on our way to Dusseldorf

Let me explain how we came to need an emergency passport in the first place. A few days prior to our unscheduled trip to Dusseldorf my friend, Charlie, lost her bag, presumed stolen, in Frankfurt’s Hauptbahnhof. The Frankfurt British Consulate office informed her she could get an emergency passport to travel home on. However, only the Dusseldorf office would be able to issue one.

Bright and early Wednesday morning (after I had convinced staff at Charlie’s hostel to let me in and wake her up at 5am using a muddled early morning mix of Deutsch and English), we boarded an IC train and started our journey across Germany.

Some hours later, Charlie and I arrived in Dusseldorf Derendorf and attempted to find the British Consulate. In a way that only Charlie can, she accosted a man who alighted at our stop and in the strongest English Midlands accent first said, ‘Sprechen Sie English’ and then before the man could fully give his response, Charlie launched into ‘Do you know where the British Consulate is? Passport problems you see.’ Thankfully the man obliged, explained how to get to the Consulate and bid us good day.

She can go home!
Charlie with her Emergency Passport.

The Consulate itself is an understated building. The only clue this was the Consulate was the four Polizei standing outside and the Union Jack hanging slightly limply from its flagpole. As we approached, a darkened (and probably toughened) glass door opened and a cheery but serious German guard greeted us. Once he established we had an appointment we entered the building where we were ordered to hand over all electronic items, our bags were searched and a metal detector was run over us.

And to be honest, that’s all there is to say on our trip. Our time in the Consulate wasn’t especially interesting being as it involved form filling and a lot of waiting, but she got her passport! So on that note, I’ll sign off for another day. Tschuss!

 

Life In Germany: A cinema trip to see Avengers Assemble

emigration, film, Frankfurt, Germany, Reviews

It’s a rare occasion when, still emerging from your oversized cinema seat, you mentally consider your next viewing of a film moments after you’ve seen the last of the end credits roll off the screen. But then it’s also rare a big, and let’s face it, hyped, blockbuster movie comes along to inspire that overwhelming desire.

In fact I can think of only a handful of times I’ve walked out of the cinema, wishing I could re-live the last two hours of my life. Titanic (the James Cameron version first time round in 1998) was one of those, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey another. Bill & Ted is a classic case of cult 90s film. For Titanic I claim a pre-teen obsession with Leo DiCaprio and misguided judgement on what a ‘timeless’ movie actually is.
On Friday I added Avengers to that handful.
Avengers. Now that’s a film definitely worth every cent tipped out of my purse and onto the cinema counter to pay for a mildly extortionate ticket. A ticket that allows me to sit in a large public room with a big screen and lots of people and wear two pairs of specs (contact lens and my eyes have a love-hate relationship).
In case you don’t know, Avengers is the latest blockbuster in the run of Marvel Studio films, and the culmination of Kevin Feige’s original plan to have four separate superhero franchises (The Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Ironman) and then pull them all together into one epic action superhero movie. It is, in short, every comic book fan’s ultimate dream.
Director Joss Whedon (probably most widely known for his creation of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer), has created a funny, clever, jaw-dropping and generally mind-blowing movie based on the simple plotline of ‘a selection of superheroes must save the world together’.
It helps if you know the superheroes back stories, or at least the idea that they have each emerged from their own set of comics and movie(s). But, even if you’ve no idea what Marvel is, the brilliance of the script will entertain with its comedy and action and the 3D graphics will amaze. Plus, there’s enough reference to previous encounters with each superhero to give you a basic grounding that will get you through and suck you into the story.

In fact, the only thing that was even slightly disappointing in my viewing of Avengers was the unexpected interval. Apparently in Germany it’s commonplace for a film that stretches into the two hour region to have a short interval mid-movie. The film is cut, the curtains swoop in front of the screen and the lights go up.

Having never experienced this in my life before I did, for a good few minutes, wonder whether in fact there was an actual problem with the film and how long it would be before we were offered free tickets to return to another showing. As those minutes passed, it became clear everyone else had been expecting this moment. ‘Do cinematic malfunctions have a high frequency in Germany’, I wondered? ‘No’, my German companions confirmed, ‘we just have breaks in long movies’. Right.

In the 48 hours since I saw Avengers I have tried to understand this concept of a break mid-movie, but to no avail. I really can’t see the point in cutting the action mid-scene. Sure, it has benefits, not least to the cinema who no doubt hope punters will leave their seats and shell out on snacks but really, when I’ve paid, let’s face it, a lot, to see a film, I don’t want my viewing interrupted. I can do that at home with the DVD.
However, the strength of Avengers is perhaps proven by this pause mid-movie. I doubt there are many films that can truly withstand a break in the adrenaline rush and excitement in the way Avengers did. It’s a cleverly put together film that will have you enthralled from the very first second and leave you on the edge of your seat until the credits are over. And refreshingly for a 3D blockbuster, it doesn’t rely on 3D and CGI to be its ultimate selling point. This has the added bonus of meaning it should be just as great in 2D and will translate well to DVD.
So, if you only see one movie in 2012, make it Avengers. Preferably in 3D.

(Just check first to see if there will be an interval. Great if you have bladder issues or are liable to need more snack food – not so great if you like to spend your cinema time fully immersed in the film and dislike surfacing before the last of the end credits has rolled.)

PS I don’t own the above trailer in anyway. It was posted by MarvelUK youtube.com user. You can check out the original here.

2012: Time For A Change

destiny, emigration, Frankfurt, future, Germany, Hope City Church

Over the last few months this blog has somewhat been lacking posts and for this I apologise. It is not because I have become slack at blogging. Far from it in fact. For the last few months I have found myself writing, editing and running blogs for others (most notably Anya 17 and Hope City Frankfurt). Only thing is, between that and holding down two part time jobs, it left me with no time to write in my own blog (although with probably only six readers in the whole wide interweb I doubt my ramblings have been missed too much!). But now it’s 2012, it’s time to pick up the old keyboard and screen and start over. 


I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions (mainly because I am abysmal at sticking to them), but for me, 2012 presents a long-awaited beginning which should at least be documented in the semi-permanence of the internet [purely for it to be lost in cyberspace and then one day rediscovered by some unsuspecting hacker who probably hasn’t even been born yet, you understand].

The dawning of 2012 marks the final steps towards probably one of the biggest and slightly more mental decisions of my life. In a matter of months, nay weeks (job, flights and accommodation permitting), my pale little English face will soon be finding home amongst throngs of German ones as I set up life in Frankfurt.

Yes, at 26 bizarre and wonderful years of age, I am going to leave my mother country and attempt to live in a land where to be honest, I can hardly order a coffee and my ability of asking for cake with it involves saying “Kanne Ich……….. [long pause as I point widely]…die kucken?” (Apologies to anyone who can actually speak German and is aware of the shocking language assault I just performed, please bare with me.) 

It might seem like a mad, hair-brained idea (my mother is less convinced it is now following several lengthy discussions about it over the last ten months) but I’m a believer of destiny and calling and I’m as sure as I can be that moving to Germany is part of an incredible plan for my life. Sure, if you’d told me three years ago that this is what 2012 would look like, I’d have probably thought you were, well, not altogether there, shall we say?

It certainly wasn’t part of my original life plan dreamt up years ago when, aged about six, a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. In that version of my life, I was probably the secret sixth member of the Famous Five, grew up on the dark Heathcliffian moors and could talk to any book character I pleased. Or I was a secret mutant human, part of Xavier’s school for the gifted, best friends with Bill and Ted and able to ride any horse I wanted. I probably also told this teacher I wanted to be a jockey or a vet or a Thunderbird or something. I definitely never imagined living in another country (living in fiction was enough, obviously). Not until I was 13 at least and began to harbour desires of being a journalist in the Big Apple a la Sex In The City (although I had no idea who the heck Carrie Bradshaw was) did my life plan ever consider a bit of healthy emigration.

But now, now I’m actually alive in 2012 and it isn’t some ethereal, slightly futuristic number given to a year in the distant future, now, I’ve come to realise that my life plan doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I live in the destiny I’ve been called for. I cannot wait to live in Germany no matter how daunting it may seem. There’s only one go at this life so I might as well give it my best shot and take the bull by the horns. 

You’re welcome to join me for the ride.