'They voted against my way of living': Brits in Germany on life with Brexit
There are more than 116,470 British people living in Germany. Many of them have put roots down here, others are working, some are studying or travelling. All of them are affected by Brexit. We listened to their stories.
When Sara Cocker came across a vacant position in the ballet company in Koblenz, as one of their dancers was pregnant, she took the plunge and moved to West Germany in 1984.
The post was intended to be for six months but after the dancer didn’t return to her job, Cocker, 54, made a decision too: “I didn’t return to Britain,” she tells The Local.
About 35 years later, Cocker, who’s originally from Cardiff, Wales, is still in the Rhineland-Palatinate city. After 15 years of dancing professionally with the company, she's now running her own ballet school.
She married another Briton, Paul, whom she met here and they have three children; one lives in Malta, another in London and the third at home in Koblenz.
Brexit has shaken up the family in more ways than one.
Facing Britain's departure from the EU, Cocker, her husband and youngest son all applied for German passports and received them. Her other children, who are not living in Germany right now, don’t have dual citizenship.
It was a difficult decision for the family to make and created a conflict of identity.
“Although I’ve lived here for 30-odd years I still don’t really feel 100% German. I still listen to the Arches (BBC radio programme) every day and we still watch British television,” she says.
“I don’t really feel British any longer but I don’t feel German - I do feel European. And that possibility is really being taken away from us, and we had no say in the matter.”
Sara Cocker, in front, and her students during a recent class at her ballet school. Photo: Courtesy of Sara Cocker
Cocker says the vote has also created rifts in her family.
“My sister’s partner voted to leave and is still of the opinion that Britain will be great again,” she says. “I fail to understand that mentality.”
On the latest Brexit developments, Cocker is even more concerned. “Words fail me as to what an absolute mess it is,” she says. “They couldn’t have done it worse if they tried.
"I feel sorry for the people who can’t get German citizenship who have made their lives here," she adds.
'Brexit divides everyone'
Claire Crossland Naujoks, 36, a teacher originally from Shropshire who has been in Germany since 2005, agrees that the rifts Brexit has created go beyond borders and deep into relationships.
Naujoks also had close friends and family who voted to leave the EU. She was “heartbroken” when the results of the 2016 emerged and applied for citizenship two days later. She got her German passport in 2017.
“It felt like they’d voted against my way of living,” she tells The Local.
“I think one of the saddest things is the fractured families, fractured friendships and fractured communities. It divides everyone.”
Naujoks has two children who were born here, and her husband is German.
Although she has settled in Hesse, she says any future thoughts about going back to the UK are now not an option.
She says: “I don’t know if I could because am I really going to take my foreign-born children into that environment?”
Claire Crossland Naujoks. Photo: Courtesy of Claire Crossland Naujoks
Naujoks, who runs a play group in Frankfurt, says she has noticed lots more British people, and EU citizens who lived in the UK, now coming to the German state.
“So many British people are arriving,” she says.
“A few Brits are saying their husbands had to relocate to Frankfurt or find a new job.”
Naujoks has noticed increasingly how baffled Germans are at the events going on in the UK, especially this week.
“Going to work this morning listening to my local radio station and it was all Brexit jokes - it’s getting a bit embarrassing, and a bit scary because we don’t know where it’s going to end.”
She says having a German passport protects her in some ways but she’s concerned for others and on questions such as how qualifications will be recognized in future, and on travelling.
“I already feel a lot of my friends haven’t been over as much as they’ve done before,” she says.
Brexit used to be viewed as a bit of a joke to Nick Zea-Smith, 44, who has lived in Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, for about four and a half years after moving from London.
The father-of-four, who is married to an EU citizen from Belgium and is a marketing executive in the auto industry, says he now has sleepless nights about it.
“Now, the realization is that it is a nightmare unfolding before our eyes, in a rolling news horror show,” he says.
Zea-Smith feels like he and his family can’t organize their lives, as they consider the future.
“After watching events in the UK Parliament this week, there is now even more uncertainty and frustration on every level for us, as we can't plan our future and simply have too many 'don't knows',” he says.
Similarly to other Brits, Zea-Smith says German friends and colleagues are “genuinely shocked” at how unprepared the UK is.
He hopes that the rights of British citizens in Europe will be ring fenced in the next vote, due to take place on January 29th. It's a hope echoed by many, and what the campaign group British in Europe has made clear in an open letter to EU heads of state.
"We ask the EU and the UK to sign and implement under Article 50 the citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement now, or at least to commit now unequivocally in a joint political statement that this will be done prior to Brexit coming into force"https://t.co/RZmd26sVo2 pic.twitter.com/eNoyWS0CfQ— British in Europe (@BritishInEurope) January 16, 2019
Up to this point Zea-Smith says he feels the views of Britons on the continent have been ignored. “We have been forgotten by the UK Government,” he says.
'Left high and dry'
Alison Cuff, who’s from Darlington in the north east of England and lives in Berlin, agrees that not enough has been done in considering lives of Britons in the EU.
It added another insult to injury when Theresa May said that EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU "deserve clarity" after her deal was rejected this week, given that many people do not feel their views have been taken seriously all along.
“I think the problem is we’re a nuisance to Theresa May, I think the fact that we’re here doesn’t tally very well with her ‘let’s cancel freedom of movement’ thing,” says Cuff, 47, who's been in Berlin since August last year.
“She’s left us high and dry. The British government has definitely abandoned us. I feel that, in general, British people in the UK have also abandoned us.”
Cuff, who works in the science industry, is enjoying life in the German capital after the initial culture shock, although she still misses having the availability of British foods like Marmite.
Alison Cuff on a train in Berlin. Photo: Courtesy of Alison Cuff
Before she made the decision to move, she thoroughly researched how things might play out after Brexit.
“I came here on the assumption that I was going to be a non-EU national, like I had a 6 month grace period,” she explains.
Cuff believes she’ll probably “be okay” but there’s still “that element of uncertainty”.
She acknowledges others don’t feel confident about their future.
“There are some British nationals in Germany who are really scared because they’ve been here for two or three years and they don’t fulfil the criteria for employment based visas.
"So what’s going to happen to them? Are they going to be asked to go home after building a life here? So the goal posts have been moved.”
As for how Brexit will develop, whether they'll be a no-deal or perhaps even no Brexit, Cuff isn’t sure.
“Either way, I won’t be going back to the UK to live anytime soon,” she says. “My life is here now, in Germany.”
'Brits will be able to carry on'
Business owner and consultant town planner Andy Anderson works across Europe. He's had a base in Leipzig, eastern Germany, where his young son lives, for just over two years.
The 54-year-old from London admits he has a Brexit emergency food cupboard of British tea bags, Marmite and HP sauce in case supplies get low in the event of a no-deal Brexit that could cause havoc to traders.
Andy Anderson at his home in Leipzig. Photo: Courtesy of Andy Anderson
On the whole, though, he believes British nationals’ lives in Germany won’t change too much.
“I have a feeling that at the end of the day the Brits who are living here are going to be okay and they'll be able to carry on with what they do,” he says.
“I think the biggest impact is going to be on the future. People will possibly move around a bit less. That’s assuming that Brexit happens; it’s still up in the air.”
Anderson, who does plan to move back to the UK in future, is concerned about how some things will work if no deal is secured.
He said people in Germany “should get as legal and registered” as they can “and use the process to do things which might be helpful in any event”.
But he added that people should "try not to worry too much".
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