When I spoke to a British editor of ARD (German TV) he said something that made me wonder:
Out of all Expats based in England, he claimed, the Germans took Brexit the hardest.
I wanted to protest. I have spoken to so many colleagues and friends from other Nations in a very similar way about Brexit. And also the3million, the Expat group I campaign with, are a mixture of all Nations. But when I look at it closer, yes, there are quite a lot of Germans involved.
Did the Germans really take it worse than others? And if so, why?
Clearly Germany’s 20th century history had a big influence on its self esteem. A fact that is described at great length elsewhere and which I don’t want to repeat here.
We Germans love our country (I dare to generalize this), but we have had a lively discussion and a great deal of collective soul searching in the last half a century about the horrors of World War II. Maybe in some places less than in others, but all in all, no German will have missed it.
When I talk to my German friends here in London, I keep hearing that Europe gave us Germans a new identity. You are allowed to be proud of Europe without a bad conscience, you can engage in Europe without fear of being accused of nationalism.
No wonder that the rejection of Europe by the English was taken by some (or many?) Germans as a personal affront.
And no wonder either, that nationalistic parties like UKIP, Front National and AfD are anti european.
The ARD editor I spoke to also said, that of course parties like UKIP know that very well and they use it. They describe Europe as a German project, with German supremacy that only benefits Germany. And as there is perhaps a nugget of truth in this, the message resonates widely, and not merely amongst extremists.
The right wing press in England keeps claiming that Merkel is the main problem in the Brexit negotiations, that the German car industry has to come to the rescue for Brexit by putting pressure on her, and occasionally even that Brexit is the only way to avoid the inevitable end game of the European project; that the Germans will finally win after 70 years (and this is not only in some online forums, but also in the print press. The Daily Mail proclaimed yesterday on their front page, that now poppies can be worn against Germany – of course only related to football….)
What does that mean for us Germans in the UK and for me personally? Should I back off and hope that other Nations will speak up?
Yes, I feel mainly European, then I feel German and British. And by the term Europe, I mean not the economic project, but the project that started after two devastating world wars, to come together and to create a new world of democracy based on values such as equality, fairness, compassion and dialogue; this Europe is for me a matter very close to my heart.
I won’t stand back. I won’t stay silent out of embarrassment, as that would clear the field for the facists of the last century and those who sympathise with them today. That is exactly what I want to stand against. Today. Not with weapons but with words. And not against the British but together with them.