Photo by Maia Schoenfelder
Place of Birth: British Crown Colony of Hong Kong
Nationality at birth: English
Date of Birth: September 30, 1965
Eye Colour: Hazel
Hair Colour: Grey-brown
German citizen since: October 2010
Background: My mother is of German extraction; my grandmother comes from Berlin. My grandfather on my mother’s side comes from Wetzlar, but they left Germany in 1933, because my grandmother, although she was a practicing Catholic, had a Jewish maiden name, Ashkenaz. My grandfather was a left-wing liberal when Hitler came to power and he had the foresight to emigrate to Brazil, which is where my mother was born. So I have German blood in my veins, essentially. Not that I think nationality should be defined by blood lineage. But that meant there was always a German influence, and my German grandparents were always keen on me learning German, which was, well, a long, hard process!
Why did you come to Berlin?
I first came here to Berlin for a year abroad for my studies, and I eventually fell in love with a Berliner. So after finishing my studies and journalism college, I eventually came back to try my luck as a freelance journalist.
Twenty years later, here I am, still in Berlin, married to a Berliner; both my kids were born here. I like Berlin: it’s a very diverse city. It’s a political city now and it’s a great place to spend free time.
Berliners are a specific race of people. They can be very funny and charming.
Why become German?
I wanted to come closer to my German heritage. And after 20 years here, it felt right. I wanted to be able to vote.
Also, a couple of years ago I came to realise that there are many things about Germany that I very much approve of, that I’ve not only gotten used to, but that have become part of me. For example, what Germans call Vorzüglichkeit, this genuine desire for people to be happy and materially secure, and to develop. There is a quite intense feeling among Germans that they want to solve social issues in a way that you don’t see in Anglo-Saxon societies. There is a very real concern: how are we going to solve unemployment? How are we going to make sure no one ends up on the street? I know London and Berlin very well.
England is essentially a class society, and the classes are much, much more separate. There’s a lot more social mixing here, which is nice. I think Britain has a lot to learn from Germany as far as that is concerned.
How difficult was the process?
Well, Germans, especially the conservatives, used to be tetchy about dual nationality. About six or seven years ago I did a TV report on a colleague’s process of naturalisation, and although at the time legally dual nationality was already formalised, most of the authorities that dealt with him were not aware of that. So he was asked to give up his English passport! But that’s changed. Although it took quite a long time, the best part of a year, to get naturalised, I didn’t encounter any problems.
Any fond memories?
Funnily enough, the civil servant that dealt with me has an English name, her name is Frau Flint. She now lives in the same part of town that I do, and her son is an athlete and my son is also an athlete, so we occasionally bump into each other. She never asked me to give up my passport. She asked if I would do so, but she didn’t flinch when I said no.
Any odd reactions?
Only sympathetic ones… Although I remember some friends of my dad, and they’re sort of the immediate post-war generation, looking at me askance and saying, “Are you really going to live in Germany??”
I also had an uncle who lived through WWII; I remember him saying, “You know, if you’ve lived through the war, you can’t, as a British person, view the Germans in a neutral way.” They don’t know I’m a German now!
What does it mean to be German, in your eyes?
I think it took a while for me living here to begin to identify with Germany. A couple of years ago I began to realise I had moved from a very critical stance to a less critical stance, obviously conditioned by my life here, by my German friends, my German wife, my kids being born here… they are very much German.
It’s interesting, one time when England was playing Germany in a football match, I asked my son, “Who are you for today?” and he looked at me and said, “Germany, of course!” And I sort of took a deep breath and thought, “Okay, I’ve got to do a little more indoctrinating here!”
Do you miss anything about England?
I miss the British media, especially the BBC and the US sports coverage. I miss the British humour, not that I would say the Germans don’t have a sense of humour, that’s rubbish. They have a wonderful sense of humour, but it’s different.
And then there’s this sort of intenseness that the Germans have… I like that, but sometimes it’s difficult to relax. And that’s something I miss about Britain, that “You know, come on, we’re not going to solve the world’s problems overnight, so let’s just have a beer and a laugh.”
So are you a German or a Brit?
I’m not purely German, and I’m not purely English. I’m a mix. I don’t see why that shouldn’t be reflected in my passports. I was actually born in Hong Kong; I spent a long time in the Far East, because my dad was working there and only really came to Britain when I was a teenager.
I would say that I probably have three identities now: I have a British identity, I have a more Latin identity, which comes from the Brazilian side of my family, and now I’ve lived 20 years in Germany, in Berlin, which is the longest I’ve lived in any city, so there are parts of me that are German.
At the end of the day, is nationality a relevant concept or obsolete in today’s world?
Citizenship and nationality are still important, because people still want to belong. Germany has changed its citizenship laws, it’s liberalised; it’s taken away this blood lineage aspect of it. Which is very important.
I never considered giving up my British passport and if I would have had to give it up, I wouldn’t have gone for naturalisation. I think Germany could become even more tolerant than it is now. At the moment it’s only EU nationals who are allowed to have two passports. People like me.