The regular reader has seen me writing a few posts about Germany. I left Germany in the summer of 2001. I failed German university in statistics, then worked for Hewlett Packard for a while, then pretty much finished my “pre-diploma” at a different University before moving to Aberdeen. This was it. Without knowing then, I left Germany for good.
A first class degree in engineering and an MBA with commendation later, paired with part-time jobs at university, halls of residence, schools and as a bouncer, I moved to London. After 8 years in Beckenham, we moved to Hassocks where I believe we are now settled until at least retirement. I give it at least 24 or more years.
I have arrived. I settled. I am now in the place my parents where when I grew up. After 12 years in a foreign country I still haven’t lost my accent. Most probably I never will. I am a foreigner after all. I took on some Scottish expressions my English co-workers don’t even understand, and I speak to my boys in German. We visit Germany frequently, I worked for a German company that was sold to an American one, and I speak some German at work. But I think, dream, live and work in English. England, the United Kingdom, London, Hassocks, is my home.
At my last trip to Germany something slightly unexpected happened. Normally when I am in Germany I feel a bit apprehensive, a bit uneasy. Not so much better, but I compare a lot. I realize that the German way of living is better. Better house insulation, better quality food, more restraint or control of one’s life, eating more healthy. German houses seem warmer than British ones and people seem healthier. This is not necessarily true and over the years I have noticed that actually I am very happy where I am. So on my last trip I realized: I don’t need to compare anymore. This is a huge step!
Germany is a country. Yes, I grew up there, but generally speaking they are doing what they are doing. They think they got the better technology, quality houses etc.
Britain is another country. Yes, I live there, but generally speaking we do what we do. We think we got a few things figured out that the Germans haven’t.
You see where I am getting at? I could go on. For the past 12 years I have compared Germany to Britain. Now I stopped. I don’t care anymore whether things are better or worse as long I am happy where I am. And I am. Our family is. We are! Very happy indeed. So it doesn’t matter whether I go to Germany, Italy, Turkey or Spain when leaving Britain. One advantage is that I speak the language in Germany. Another nice things is that Germany is a beautiful country and I have never really noticed it because I was too busy comparing. But when visiting it, when showing the boys where Daddy is coming from, it is easier to communicate. I became British really.
What about the history?
What about the history? I wrote in a Sunday Column the other day that I watched a BBC Four documentary about a person that survived the Holocaust and his children researched his last steps after his death. Six Million and One was available on BBC iPlayer. It had me in tears several times as thanks to their dad’s diary of the concentration camps, they, as a family, grew closer. They had different opinions about the things that happened though.
I don’t feel guilty about that anymore. As far as I know my generation of Germans have closed that chapter. With all respect we agree that it was wrong and should never be repeated. But it just doesn’t make sense to dwell on it.
One thing I learned from the documentary was that I need to make sure that I ask my dad, as I asked my granddad and grandma, to tell me their story. To even out any misunderstandings, any grief, any unhappiness before they die. Whilst we have a chance we should use the chance to say “I love you” to our parents, grandparents, siblings, partners and children. I think that is something very important to do.
On the other hand there is something else. I watched old movies from Germany, hobbyist footage. It made me sentimental as it showed the Germany I left and I still associate myself with. It showed the circumstances after the war, the winter of 1947 when a lot of people starved to death. That was 65 years ago. But it still shows pictures of my childhood and things I grew up with in the 80ies and 90ies. The cars, the attitude, the sentimental signs, the way the Germans drink, celebrate and have a good time.
I guess I don’t have those associations in the UK. I didn’t grow up here but stepped into a life at a certain point: I was 24 when I came to the UK. A good time to adopt, being adventurous and try things. I suppose I did. I loved Aberdeen and enjoyed living as a young couple in the suburbs of London. Now, living in the country side, being able to almost let the kids run around freely in the village, is nice. That is where I belong and what I enjoy. We got the family home, living the family dream I suppose. Trautes Heim, Germans would say.
We haven’t it all figured out yet as a family. We are still learning, making wrong decisions, making good decisions. But it doesn’t matter anymore whether I am from Germany or not. It doesn’t bother me that I know Germany is more advanced in certain things than Britain. Neither does it make me proud if Britain is more advanced in other things. I don’t watch the football but probably would cheer for the Brits rather than the Germans when it came to it. I might even prefer England over Germany, but given my wife’s Scottish heritage, Scotland would probably be my favourite team. There we go again….
I can now safely say that I closed another chapter in my life. That doesn’t mean I forget my heritage or dismiss my roots.
I love you, Germany.
I don’t mind you anymore or any less, and I do enjoy visiting you. But quite frankly, it isn’t about where it is better or worse. Let’s celebrate the difference, the uniqueness.
Amen and Peace.