After Brexit : The Berliner Brits

Many British Berliners were devastated by Brexit and are busy applying for a German passport. Five of them speak to Josie Le Blond and Kit Holden about their plans after the referendum.

Staying here - and becoming German?
Staying here - and becoming German?Picture:

In the past weeks Berlin authorities have observed a dramatic increase in the number of Brits applying for German citizenship. One official who works in Kreuzberg said that in the first days following the vote on June 23rd she’d seen around 20 Brits an hour during opening times. Getting citizenship is only an option for those who have already lived in Germany for six to eight years. Those who have to wait longer might have to give up their British passport if they want to become German. Five Berliner Brits talk passports, identity and citizenship.

“My country has left me in limbo”

British freelancer Rob Davies hopes his country will pull itself together soon. “I'm waiting for the outcome of this whole shit storm before I make my decisions,” said Davies, 36. “It makes me really angry to know that my home country has left me in limbo.”

Having lived in Germany for the required time, Davies is eligible for German citizenship. But he says he will only apply if the outcome of Brexit negotiations denies him the right to live and work across the EU. It's a privilege Davies took advantage of when he came to Berlin in 2008 looking for work. “I put all my stuff in a bag and jumped on a cheap flight. I had no prior experience of Germany, the culture, I couldn't speak the language.” But Davies says he’s never regretted the leap into the blue because life in Berlin has opened up so many opportunities. It’s this, he says, that makes him a convinced European. “If it's a choice between being a British citizen or a European, I choose Europe.”

“More rooted in Berlin”

Liz Gray gets annoyed when English people say the Erasmus program is a luxury reserved for middle-class students. “I’m working class. I’d never have come to Germany if it weren’t for Erasmus.” The daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Gray grew up in the industrial city of Birmingham.

She moved to Berlin in 2009 after falling in love with the city during an Erasmus exchange. “I now feel more rooted in Berlin than in Britain,” said Gray, 33, who looks forward to raising children here. Berlin, she feels, has a stronger community spirit than England. Even before Brexit Gray had been planning on becoming German one day. After the vote she moved quickly to talk to German authorities and has even downloaded a citizenship test app on her mobile phone. The former German Studies student should have no problems passing the language and background knowledge tests. But she’s taking nothing for granted. “I’m putting a lot of hope on becoming German.”

“How Scottish do I feel?”

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. So when the results came in, Scottish Berliner Rachel Clarke was torn. On one hand she was devastated by leave voters in England and Wales dragging Scotland out against its will. On the other, she was overjoyed the result gave new vigour to arguments for an independent Scotland. “Brexit is a negative change but the potential of an independent Scotland within the EU is a positive,” said the theatre producer, who has been living in Berlin for the past 15 years. Despite the uncertainty, Clarke is reluctant to become German. “Because of the Holocaust I really find it difficult to identify properly with the German nation. I’m being challenged; how Scottish do I really feel? If everything goes smoothly I’d rather wait and apply for a Scottish European passport.”

“I’d be a fraud if I became Irish”

After four years in Berlin, Alison Phillips decided to retrain as a nurse. Then came Brexit. The Welsh Berliner had been flirting with the idea of returning home. “Now I don’t want to go back. Brexit has completely put me off.” The 29-year-old grew up on Anglesey, an island off the north coast of Wales. The majority there voted to leave the EU, but Phillips doesn’t share their euroscepticism. Living in Berlin has made her feel more European than British. “Recently I went to the Europa-Center at Brandenburg Gate,” she said. “I sat there in the model of the EU parliament and felt so sad that my country will no longer have any representatives there.” Phillips has the option to change nationalities. In theory, since her father is half Irish, she could apply straight away for an Irish passport. But she says she would prefer to become German. “I’ve never lived in Ireland, I’d be a bit of a fraud if I became Irish.” Getting a German passport makes more sense, but to get one she’ll have to wait another two years.

“I don’t want to live in England”

Jack McNeill had planned to go back to England next year to do a PhD in composition. But since Brexit he’s no longer sure if he’ll be able to. Many British musicology doctorates are co-financed by the EU. And even if the money comes through somehow, McNeill says he’d still think twice about going back. “It’s a great course, but I just don’t want to live in England anymore,” said the 22-year-old.

McNeill arrived in Berlin just ten months ago. Originally his plan was to stay a couple of months, play some music and then move on to his next adventure. “But I feel more at home here every day, my German is getting better all the time. It would be a shame to throw that all away,” he said. For McNeill, who grew up in left-leaning north London, Brexit was a big shock. “The referendum made me realise that I’ve been living in a bubble. Now I feel like it’s us against them – London against rural England.” He worries that the EU might make life difficult for British citizens living abroad. But McNeill says he trusts the German government more than the British to be fair and tolerant. Now he’s looking into whether he can do is PhD from Berlin. Then he could remain European. Even if that means becoming German.

More on Brexit:

A Berliner and his Brexit: No man is an island. Mark Espiner on what it feels like to be left in Europe, as his homeland Great Britain decides to cut itself off.

Solidarity after Brexit vote: An Open Letter to Angela Merkel. More than 300 academics ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel for solidarity with non-Brexit voters in the upcoming negotiations with the British government.

Britain and Brexit: Common sense and fairness are here to stay. Even if they reject the European Union, Markus Hesselmann explains why he still likes the British and will keep doing so.