Even before the current movement, I’ve often asked myself what my country of origin, Germany, has learned from the Third Reich. Has the past given us some level of immunity for the future? I’ve got my doubts, but also think there’s hope.
When I was 15, I first came to the UK. And fell in love.
I stayed with my dad at his uni friend’s place for a week.
My dad’s friend had studied in Cambridge, worked in London for a bit, and now settled into the suburbs of the city.
He lived with his wife and his two formidable children in a spacious villa. An English dream.
Stories of German tourists and unconditional friendliness
Like the worst German tourists, we had notoriously planned the trip. Every day of my visit, we’d take the Tube into the city. We were guided by a little tourist guide, our London bible. The book told us exactly what we had to do, where we had to go, the route we had to take, no thinking required.
One of my fondest memories is how my dad and me explored Canary Wharf. We were travelling around in the DLR, when a fine English gentleman, seemingly well off, offered me his seat. I asked for a reason, but instead, he just insisted. I was deeply astonished by such unconditional friendliness.
Back at our host’s place, I was working on my English. Their 6‑year-old son pointed out to me that English wasn’t quite good, and that he might be able to help.
Private school, a necessity for success?
I guess he enjoyed his school, that he just started. Private school, a necessity to get into the best universities, as his father explained to me.
By the end of my stay, I would think for the first time in English, maybe also with a little help of my little friend.
The most astounding aspect of my very English week was though: the father was German, the mother Mexican. They had found love, worked hard, and settled in the UK.
They had made this brilliant place their home. At the same type, they had adopted some of the worst and best parts of UK society.
The future of the Union
The UK of today feels different. When I walk around the streets of Oxford, I often see the Union Jack.
It makes me wonder.
It makes me wonder what it stands for, and what the future of this once marvellous country will look like.
What once was for me a symbol of love, internationality, and openness, now reveals cracks and divides.
And, I am left wondering whether I still feel welcome.
This has been one of the darkest weeks of my time in the UK. I was there in 2016, around the time of the referendum, studying in Edinburgh under the EU exchange programme Erasmus.
I met Connor, with roots all over the UK, and my epitome for European friendship. Will others be able to have similar, rewarding experiences, and study within a Europe without borders? There seemed to be still hope.