That is how I called it, the land that I fell in love with when I was 16 years old. From the first day of my exchange student summer I knew that one day I would live here.
It was 1981 and I spent my first summer without my parents in another country. In a bus full with teenagers singing to the songs of Shakin Stevens and Soft Cell we arrived in Hastings and already on the way there from Heathrow I knew that this country would play an important role in my life.
It was a magical summer with meeting new friends, going to London, spending days and evenings at the beach, getting to know and hate salt & vinegar crisps and fish paste sandwiches, tasting flakes, doughnuts, fish & chips and tea with milk for the first time, giggling about the Charles and Diana wedding hype and enjoying the freedom as only a 16-year old can, who does not have a worry in the world.
After that I went to England every summer. The following year I spent 4 weeks on the Isle of Wight and in 1983 I was an exchange student in Torquay. Torquay set the course for my future. My host family was the nicest family you could imagine and despite staying in a room wallpapered with Spiderman for 4 weeks I really felt I was part of this family. They took me everywhere. We drove down to Land’s End and they showed me the beauty of Cornwall, we had Cream Tea, explored Dartmoor and Exeter and followed the steps of Agatha Christie at Babbacombe beach back in Torbay. I was so included in this family that I ditched the exchange student program after that and visited them several times a year for another 3 years. Torquay became my second home.
But something else happened in the first year I was there: I fell head over heels in love. Right there in Torquay, right by the harbor on a mild summer night. We both knew it was special. But he was, just like me, only on holiday and had come down from Swindon where he spent the summer to visit his mother’s side of the family for the first time, because he lived in Colorado, USA…
Years of heavy letter writing followed with the occasional phone call in between. Those were the 80s and the world was a lot bigger then… He joined the Army and finally got stationed in Germany. We married the following year and I moved with him to Colorado.
Our daughter was born there, we had a lovely house and 4 years later our son was also born in Denver. But I was homesick. I missed so many things that us Europeans take for granted. Without health insurance, sick pay and many other things the safety net was missing. I felt myself getting much more self-centered in order to survive and I did not like myself much anymore.
But where could we go? My husband did not speak enough German to even consider moving back to Germany. But luckily a German passport did not restrict us to just one country. Thanks to the EU we could take our pick and we did not have to think long before deciding that finally the UK would become our new home- the home where we wanted to raise our children, to fulfil our dreams, to build a future.
Starting over is never easy, but we had the great advantage that his mother’s side of the family lived in Wiltshire. Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins all right there and happy to have us there.
I finally felt home.
Happy years followed. We got on the housing ladder, had another son, our kids had dual citizenship (US and German) and were brought up bi-lingual. I learned how to make Cornish pasty, spent bank holidays with family and friends picnicking in the forest, ate bangers at barbies and Trifle for dessert, took the kids to bonfires on Guy Fawkes night, bought them school uniforms and watched school plays about Henry the 8th countless times and saw my daughter off to the prom. My husband opened up a restaurant and I worked in the IT industry for an US company. I belonged.
Over the years we had countless visitors from abroad. Friends and family, but also colleagues of mine from the USA, Germany, Denmark and the Philippines. I proudly showed them around – took them to Avebury, Stonehenge, Salisbury, the White Horses, the Cotswolds and London- introducing them to Cream Teas, Steak and Ale Pie and Fish &Chips with vinegar. This was my home and I was so proud of it.
Just our marriage did not survive. We divorced and both remarried. His new wife was US citizen and my new husband was German. Both of them moved to us to England in 2003, because that was our home.
Our son was then born a year later in Wiltshire: German parents and delivered by a Scottish midwife which replaced the Danish midwife from the shift before and we were looked after by a German anaesthetist and a Swedish doctor.
2007 my husband and I decided to move back to Germany. This was not an easy decision & was prompted by a lot of different circumstances and responsibilities towards our elderly parents, but my heart was bleeding leaving the UK. What gave me comfort was the thought that I could always come back when circumstances change.
While my eldest son decided to stay to finish college and then go to Uni in the UK, the other 3 kids came with us to Germany. My daughter did a 3-year apprenticeship in Germany and then moved back to England to marry her British school sweetheart and I now have a wonderful granddaughter.
So now I have my 2 USA-born kids living in England and my 2 England-born kids living in Germany. No problem if there would not have been a certain referendum, which changed everything for us.
My choice of returning back to England has been taken from me and my kids in England are now in Limbo.
What this means for me is that the option to move close to my kids in the UK again when I get older is gone, this door will be closed – closed by Brexit!
For my kids it means uncertainty and Limbo.
My daughter was 4 years old and my son was 4 months old when we moved to the UK and all of a sudden their status is in danger. They feel British, they sound British, but they do not have British citizenship. In order to get it they would have to give up either their German citizenship, which is their entry ticket to the EU or their US citizenship.
Nothing will change, they said…
And yet they now have to apply to stay in their own home in a country where they lived almost all their lives.
They will lose their right to vote in local elections, their Settled Status could be revoked if they would leave the country for a few years or the government would just change the rules again, as they just recently did. For the rest of their lives they will need to prove that they are entitled to lead the life they are living, their sense of identity is shaken, their home country has been split into “we” and “they” and they no longer belong to the “we”.
For the Settled Status application they need to provide proof that they lived in the UK for 5 years continuously. Gathering bills, flight ticket stubs, P60s, explaining gaps, getting and paying for a criminal records check, holding off on any travel plans abroad after October 31st in fear they are not allowed back in, fearing to lose their jobs and again a lot of hoping, praying…. And still no agreement on citizens rights in writing from the government, still no guarantees. Everything could still change. How do you live with this, how do you plan your future?
I still have so many British friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues and family in the UK and it makes me so angry sometimes that a lot of them act like nothing happened. They go on with their lives, make plans and seem completely oblivious to the fact that their country is on the brink to suicide.
I used to see people from the UK posting stuff on FB that made my blood boil because it just screamed ignorance, populism and false facts and when I tried to correct them by giving them facts, I was just dismissed because I was “scaremongering”.
Lately nobody posts anything about Brexit anymore- almost like it does not exist. I detect a lot of British politeness and a lot of „Don’t mention the Brexit“ attitudes, because many do not want to offend somebody who may feel differently about it…
I have had discussions with people I had known for over 20 years, always known them as kind and compassionate people, people I laughed with, I cooked with, I travelled with, I shared my Christmas dinner with – now telling me that I had no business fighting for Freedom of Movement and my right to spent my old age with my children in England, because I had left and gone back to Germany. I was also told that I do not understand Brexit, because I am German and not English. And then the silence set in again.
But I do understand, maybe even better than they will ever realise. My country has a history that taught us what “staying quiet” can lead up to. If there is something I really know, then it is that we must speak up! So I keep speaking, marching &posting #InLimboVoices, preparedness notices, facts about the EU, Trade implications and so much more and I am usually not getting a single reaction.
I am reading from Leavers when they are travelling to other European countries and watch with disbelief how they even declare that they love it so much that they could imagine living there and I feel so helpless because I have no idea how to reach anybody, how to make them understand that because they voted “Leave” living in another European country is not an option for them anymore.
They talk about EU migrants, but they never mean you.
No, not you, but all the others. There are just so many… The many migrants they are talking about are just the ones who are not their friends, their nurses, their doctors, their teachers, their cousins, their colleagues. The others, the ones who talk in foreign languages in the tube- those are the ones who are responsible that they have to wait so long for a doctor appointment, that they cannot find a job, that life in general is bad. Once they leave the life of the British people will be great again. But you, you will be fine. You don’t have to leave. You have nothing to worry about.
I am missing the collective screams of disapproval from the British people, the standing up in solidarity, the voices of outrage about the treatment of the EU citizens who have built a life in the UK, built houses, raised families and yet had no say about their future. I am listening so closely now and the silence is so deafening.
I want to scream sometimes „Hey, it is us, your friends, your neighbours, your colleagues, please wake up, please raise your voice for us!”
And then I remember that I have already done that, not just once, but many times and yet the silence prevails…
Not too long ago I spent a week in the UK and that made me realize something:
When you are inside the eye of the hurricane you do not feel the devastating and destructive powers around you.
Whenever I am visiting my children in England now everything feels so normal – just like it always was when I lived there before the referendum. It almost feels surreal to me- like the Britain after the referendum was somewhere else in a parallel world. I almost got caught up in this- it is hard to connect the dots which make up the facts with the dots from the „normal“life. They seem to be on different pages…
I am so proud of my kids dealing with the uncertainties of their futures. My daughter and son-in-law fighting for the future of their daughter by writing letters to their MP, attending information and discussion evenings, joining the people on the street peacefully demanding another People’s Vote, connecting with groups like the InLimbo Project, the 3 Million and local Pro EU groups. My kids are not bitter, they deal with it with their heads held up high, exploring options, raising awareness and educating others.
Yes, I am proud, but my heart breaks when I watch helplessly how my children are exposed to the same populism my grandparents had already listened to. I am afraid what will happen to my kids. They are at an age now to start their families, to buy their first house, to build their future and everybody around them acts like they should just go ahead with all of this, that there is nothing to worry about. My granddaughter is 2 years old now and I do not know how one day we can possibly explain to her what we have done with her future…
Last year I joined the In Limbo Project as an admin, helping out with the social media accounts. I just needed to do something, give those a voice who never had a vote or a voice and since then every single day I hear and read about the heart-breaking realities of so many people.
I am technically not counting as one of the 5 Million, I am just a German living in Germany now and yet this is also my fight, as my family is deeply affected by it… So many people suffering who you will never even hear about…
I feel helpless, tired and still unheard and there is a deep, deep sadness for my land of the lonely trees…
Beate Metz, Germany
First written September 2018 for the In Limbo Project – this updated version above was first published October 2019
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