Amnon Friedman

Place of Birth: Tel Aviv, Israel

Nationality at Birth: Israeli

Date of Birth: March 11, 1981

Eye colour: Hazel

Hair colour: Brown

Height: 1.78m

German citizen since: August 2011

Background: My family is from Germany. My grandfather was Polish but he lived in Germany, in Dortmund, though he had no citizenship. My grandmother was very German but she left Wittenburg after Kristallnacht, when she was in her twenties. They moved to Israel.

My mother spoke German. So I felt I deserved it, though my mother couldn’t get German citizenship herself. Before 1953, the law was pretty chauvinistic; citizenship was only granted if the father was German. They changed the law after that, but not retroactively.

Why did you come to Berlin?

I first came to Berlin in 2005, when I was 24, just for a few weeks. I was at art school in Israel, and I’d gone on an exchange to London, to Slade, and I was visiting friends in Berlin. The arts scene was so exciting, and I fell in love… I came back in the summer of 2006 to talk at Open Space, which was a queer political gallery near Hallesches Tor. I did an exhibition there, and before I left at the end of my three months here, I felt I was becoming part of the queer arts scene. It was very sexy and different, and I fell in love with a guy, though it didn’t last… I just keep falling in love with people here!

Also, Israel was going more and more militant and it felt like nothing would get better. I didn’t go to the army. It’s hard to get good jobs without having been in the army, even in the arts scene. I felt like options were closed to me.

So I always wanted to leave. Israel was very boring, and the queer scene was very lame. In Berlin, it felt like people were coming from all over the world, and I wanted to be part of it.

Why become German?

When I tried to come back to Berlin in 2007, they didn’t let me in. I’d thought I could just come and go, as long as I left every three months, but as an Israeli you’re only allowed to stay three months within a six month period, so I was deported. That’s when I hired an immigration lawyer. I thought I deserved to have a German passport.

How difficult was the process?

I had to prove I had enough money and pass the Einbürgerungstest. The questions were like, “Who’s the chancellor of Germany?” and “Who ruled in 1943?” I finished the whole thing in two minutes.

Then I had a language test, which wasn’t that hard. Really all they cared about was that I had enough money. I had to prove my income again and again. The whole thing was a long, exhausting process. It took four years and in the end it cost me maybe €10,000, but I think it was worth it.

Any fond memories?

When I got my citizenship and I had to swear an oath to Germany, the woman at the desk said to me, “Now you’re part of the European community,” and it was kind of a nice thought.

What was it like giving up your Israeli passport?

I did it with a heavy heart. I don’t agree I should have had to – I even feel a bit humiliated. The idea of having to give up Israeli citizenship seemed unfair, but Germany demands it, even from Israelis. Also there was that time when a close relative died in a bike accident, and I was between passports and couldn’t go to the funeral. I felt humiliated that I was stuck without citizenship. When I finally managed to explain my situation and get a passport, it was too late: I still missed the funeral.

How did your friends and family react?

They were upset about Germany, not about me. They thought the rule was chauvinistic, and they were angry I’d had to pay so much money. They were happy for me though, and supportive.

Do you miss Israel? What happens if you go back?

When I go back, I can stay for three months, but that’s it. I can get my Israeli citizenship back if I want because of the Law of Return, or Aliyah. Israelis can because they’re Jews. I don’t really like it, but I’m entitled to it. I don’t think I’ll return though. I really like the weather, the beaches… But it’s a very complicated place and it’s very heavy. There’s so much stress, fear, anxiety.

At the end of the day, what does it mean to be German? Is it a relevant concept?

When I finally became a citizen, I did a picture on Facebook called iGerm, like an iPhone application. But I don’t really believe in nationalistic notions. I’ve never felt really Israeli or Jewish. I don’t really think like that. I believe in what John Lennon said: “Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world.” I believe more in global citizens.

That said, getting German citizenship gave me a feeling of freedom. Now I’m a citizen of the EU. It’s a bit scary now, that idea, just when it feels like the EU could be falling apart!