I’ve lived in Berlin since 26 October 2013. At that time I could not have known how the politics of the UK, the country in which I was born and whose passport I hold, would change.
I moved to Germany for a combination of personal and professional reasons, and – having lived in Berlin for a short period in 2001-2002 – somehow felt I still had more to discover, more to understand, in Germany’s capital. It is a city that always made me feel at ease, a place I could imagine calling home. It is not just Berlin though – I learnt German as a child, and spent a lot of time on language exchanges in Lahnstein. There is no country other than the one in which I was born that I know as well as Germany. There is more about my motivation for my Berlin move from my blog posts at the time – announcing my move, and explaining it.
But I cannot say that I came here with the intention of becoming German. In 2013 it had never really crossed my mind, because as an EU citizen I had not needed to think of getting another passport.
But Brexit changed that.
I was forced to order my own thoughts on all of this when I was interviewed by the Dutch newspaper Trouw last week about why Brits in Berlin are thinking of becoming German. You can read the interview in Dutch here.
The first main question was easy – when I made the decision to apply for a German passport. The answer to that was immediately when the Brexit referendum result was known. It was obvious that this would make life harder for a UK passport holder in the rest of the EU, and so to live in the same way as I have been doing for a decade – traveling across Europe for work – would necessitate an EU passport. Germany is where I was living at the time of the referendum in 2016, so a German passport it would have to be.
But a further question from Wilfred van de Poll, the Trouw journalist, rather floored me. When did you feel German? he asked me.
Do I feel German?
My struggle to answer that meant it did not make the editor’s cut into the newspaper article. But I am going to try here.
It starts with a story from September 2017. I was at an alumni dinner at Merton College in Oxford. Discussion with other fellow former students at the table about Brexit had already been a little awkward, with anti-immigrant sentiment dressed up as legitimate concerns of the people. There is a kind of complicit behaviour of the British establishment, closing around itself to try to make the best of Brexit, rather than facing the issues head on. Politeness first, with little in the way of ethics behind.
But it was a toast that showed me how far I have traveled. “Now we will drink a toast to the Queen!” stated the Warden. “No I won’t,” I blurted out. “I am a republican.” It’s not that my views on the royal family have changed – I have always opposed their existence. But as a student at Oxford, politeness would have dominated and I would have joined in with the toast. Now I am behaving with a German bluntness, and it is winning out over my British politeness.
Does that make me feel German? Probably not yet still. or not fully. But that evening in Oxford made me aware of what has changed, how distanced I now am from the UK and its ways.
And where does that leave me with my effort to become a German citizen?
Normally citizenship is only possible after 8 years in Germany, or 6 if you show a special effort at integration (besondere Integrationsleistung) – and that falls on 26 October 2019, i.e. after Brexit is supposed to have happened. The process is explained here. But I am already starting on the road to citizenship, gathering the paperwork necessary to submit an application on the very first day that I am entitled to do so. I have an interview on 14th June to then take the citizenship test (Einbürgerungstest), and a language test will follow.
I’ll blog about this process of becoming German, and the hurdles I am going to have to pass. I am not yet German, either in terms of papers or psychologically. But I will get there.