I’m a Scottish English teacher living in Germany, if that makes any sense to you. I graduated in History at the University of Sheffield in 1999 and haven’t lived in the United Kingdom since.
I left Britain in 1999 with a rucksack and a battered old suitcase belonging to my Granddad, intending to work in France as a “gap year”. Eighteen years later I live in the Ruhr area of Germany — with an ill-fated stop working in a Dutch venetian blind factory connecting the two.
I still have the suitcase but now have a cellar to put it in and a flat belonging to the cellar, both of which belong to me. I have two jobs: one teaching English and French to businesspeople, the other doing the same at the local university.
It’s not a rags-to-riches story: I’ve made slightly more smart decisions than dumb ones in my life and am doing just about okay. It’s not a gap year anymore; it’s real-life nine-to-five and more but I love what I do and I’m happy where I am.
I speak German without an accent, like a double agent in a bad spy movie. I have many friends here, I love the country and the region I live in. My life is here and I don’t want to go back to the UK. I might as well say it right now: I’m a committed pro-European and I was heartbroken when Britain voted to leave the EU.
Since the referendum the views of the million or so British people living in the EU and the three million or so EU nationals living in the UK have largely been ignored, reduced to side stories next to the political developments, often even the stuff of sick jokes.
It’s not that funny from this side of the table. There will a large number of very inexperienced negotiators doing battle over the next few months and any mistake could mean my life as I know it is taken away from me.
I’m writing this to record the events of the next few months from the point of view of one of the millions of people whose voice has so far not been heard. I aim to tell the story from the point of view of someone who will have to live with the consequences on a daily basis.
I began writing this as a British citizen and by the end of the exercise I shall most probably be a German one. Part of this is to do with Brexit but part of it goes much deeper than this. Becoming German means much more than simply acquiring a passport and I want to explore the various aspects involved in more detail.
It might be worth mentioning that in a few months time I will turn forty. In any case, it’s high time to stop and look at the world I live in through a wide-angled lens.
I’ve made the decision to revisit some of the weird and wonderful places in and around Germany that I’ve had the privilege of visiting over the years and also take in a few more out-of-the-way spots that I’ve always wanted to go to. All of them have stories I would dearly love to tell you.
Doubtless I will end up making the case for European unity; for this I offer no apologies. Britain will leave the EU but it will not leave Europe. When the last paper is signed and the last deal is done, we will still have to go forward together. How successful we are depends largely on how well we understand each other’s perspective and how well we can cooperate as fellow Europeans.
These are lofty ambitions and it should be an interesting task. As a Scot I can never let the truth get in the way of a good story. As a historian, I can never let a good story get in the way of the truth.
I hope you enjoy the results!