March 2019 saw me in my new home city in Central Germany and two years on I am living in a time of a pandemic.
I began writing these letters at the start of the pandemic in an attempt to understand Germany better and to get to grips with my relationship with the United Kingdom.
April 27, 2021.
I am an immigrant having elected to make my life in a foreign country.
The use of language and terms is a powerful stigmatising tool, and many like to describe themselves an ex-pat rather than a migrant or an immigrant. This allows people with a sense of privilege who are actual immigrants or migrants to moan about immigration and people stealing jobs.
I lost my freedom of movement and my right to stay in my new home of Germany when Britain left the European Union leaving me as a foreigner without legal long term residency status unless I had the right paperwork. When I first came here during EU membership, I followed local and national German residency requirements including acquiring health insurance, and because this was all in order in December 2020, I was quickly issued with an Aufenthaltstitel foreigners residency ID card allowing me to stay in the country and which I picked up today.
I am lucky and my heart goes out to those who find themselves in a foreign land without papers especially if it was after a flight for life. The flow of history is awash with people migrating to follow work or safety and I am happy to be bracketed as an immigrant. In general, so many people who bemoan refugees, migrants, immigrants etc., have a high chance of being from such a family line. Furthermore, people might be surprised to learn that their forbears may not have been made welcome even when migrating within their country of birth. Near to my new home is the Friedland Transit Camp Museum and this tells a great story of migration, immigration and a refuge from terror.
In my new home of Göttingen I see traces of migration including the grave of Harry Karasek who lies in the Old Jewish Cemetery. Aged 21 he was a Commonwealth Soldier injured at Ypres and he died a prisoner of War (1916). His family story reveals just how we are wrong to see nationality as a simplistic doctrine twisted into a populist soundbite.
Harry´s parents were German; they had emigrated in the 1800s to London during a time when new anti-Jewish laws were being introduced and there had been a general mass migration of people from the German countryside to throughout the world. On Harry´s grave, is inscribed in English: ´Deeply mourned by his mother, sisters, brothers, and family´.
Until the German nation was forged in fire in 1871 by Bismarck the German political landscape was made up of many German speaking independent states. Napoleon knocked the 460 diverse autocratic fiefdoms and kingdoms etc., down to a governable level when he invaded the region in 1806. Prior to 1871 varying tolls and taxes had to be paid at each border and differing residency rules applied.
When the European Union introduced free movement, it saw people of member Nations in modern Europe crossing borders without much thought, but now after Brexit, I and other Brits must play by a new set of rules. I guess it is easy to laugh at those who voted for Brexit but who now are finding themselves at odds with national residency regulations in Spain etc., and most deserve a big dose of schadenfreude because they ignored the rules believing themselves to be exceptional and naturally above such concerns (I´m British!). Sadly, any delight to be taken from this is overshadowed by EU citizens in the UK experiencing a fraught process to have their status confirmed. These are not Brits who have failed to do right by local regulations and are screaming about the vindictive EU, rather these are people who are finding it hard to convince the UK Government of their rights of residency despite having contributed and done all they should.
To celebrate being given news that I would be issued with an Aufenthaltstitel or residents’ card we went on a bike ride where we crossed three State borders, one defunct international and a city border. None of which hindered our freedom of movement.
I have no issue being called an immigrant and if anything, I do like the idea of being seen as a bicycling alien. I am grateful, I am not a refugee and in Germany I am an Ausländer.