During a tourist visit to late 60s London, I fell in love with the city, the English countryside and my ex-husband. I gave up my studies at Vienna University and moved to England, which became my adopted country. Sadly, my marriage eventually broke down and my love affair with England died a sudden death when the country voted to leave the EU.
Reading the InLimbo testimonies, in the book In Limbo: Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK, there are hundreds who made the UK their home.
One of them, Noa Lef, 58, Dutch, has been living back in the Netherlands since 2006. She tells the story of her love affair with the UK:
“THE ONE TRUE LOVE OF MY LIFE…
Cologne university, 1992, it was my final exam of English.
“So, what do you want to do after your studies?” was the last question my lecturer asked me.
“I want to live in England”, I replied, proudly.
“That is not a job”, she uttered, disapprovingly.
“I know. I’d do anything to live there though. Work in a supermarket, a book shop – who knows …”, I said.
Weeks later, I sat on the ferry to Hull. My small Nissan Micra, filled to the brim with books, clothes and bits of small, cheap furniture was parked on the car deck. It really was the happiest day of my life!
I did a PGCE at York university and soon after got a job as a language teacher. They were such happy, passionate, exciting years! It was Harry Potter time and I worked in a market town whose train station, with its famous steam engines, became part of the film set. Many of my students were cast as extras, which is why Harry Potter films still fill me with a strong sentimental feeling.
We sat and cried together
Teaching fit me like a glove: Modern foreign languages had been made compulsory at secondary schools and my enthusiasm was contagious. More and more kids opted for German at A-level at my school. I organised language exchanges and laughed at English children pulling a face at ‘Schwarzbrot’ (coarse black rye bread) whilst German kids cringed at the thought of vinegar on chips. Friendships were formed and prejudices dismantled. We celebrated the 10th anniversary of German “Wiedervereinigung’ (re-unification) with my English colleagues and we sat and cried together as we watched the fall of the twin towers.
I adopted the most amazing lurcher from the local RSPCA and, I am proud to mention, he too featured in a movie, set in the coastal town of Scarborough. Then I bought a Victorian B&B, got married to a folk musician, danced at Ceileidh’s, won many pub quizzes and even became quite good at playing skittles. But it was not all plain sailing: We divorced and I developed cancer. Still: not in a million years had I imagined leaving my friends and this beautiful island, which was, that much was clear to me and anyone who knew me by then, the one true love of my life.
In 2004, my mum died and I took the very rational decision to move closer to my dad. I was adamant that my move was not permanent!! It was only meant to be for a short period. So I rented out my B&B and was hopeful that a job would be waiting for me when I was ready to return.
However, that never happened. Instead, life happened. I never had a plan for life, other than living in the UK. The tenants of my B&B let me down badly and the estate agent advised me to count my losses and sell up, which I did.
After drifting, I ended up settling in a country half way between my head and my heart: The Netherlands. There, for many years, I mourned, missed and regretted leaving the country that had so deeply touched my soul, that resonated with me in just every way.
In the meantime, I had found a wonderful job here and had started a beautiful relationship with a fellow anglophile. There were many talks about moving back to ‘God’s own country’, we dreamed about running a campsite together or maybe a small hotel.
A purse with a large sum of pounds
Waiting for this opportunity, I became P&O’s best paying customer. Whenever my job and funds allowed, I hopped onto a ferry. I kept (still do) a purse with a large sum of pounds in my house, my National trust membership card, Oyster cards etc.
You could say I left it too long. After all, on the day of the referendum result, ten years had gone by. To my great surprise though, I felt a sense of relief: “If I was still living there now, it surely would have killed me”, I said to my partner, and he took my hand and nodded. He knew exactly what I meant.
Watching the madness unfold, I felt a massive sense of rejection. I took the result personally and went through all the phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression. After 5 years, I hopefully have entered the final phase: acceptance. This summer I will find out, as we will re-visit Yorkshire. I admit, I am slightly nervous at the prospect: how will I find my beloved country? Will I be welcome?”
Beate Metz’s InLimbo blog tells her family’s story:
LAND OF THE LONELY TREES…
“That is how I called it, the land that I fell in love with when I was 16 years old. From the first day of my exchange student summer I knew that one day I would live here.
It was 1981 and I spent my first summer without my parents in another country. In a bus full with teenagers singing to the songs of Shakin Stevens and Soft Cell we arrived in Hastings and already on the way there from Heathrow I knew that this country would play an important role in my life.”
She fell in love with an American and they had to decide where they would settle down. “But where could we go? My husband did not speak enough German to even consider moving back to Germany. But luckily a German passport did not restrict us to just one country.
Thanks to the EU we could take our pick and we did not have to think long before deciding that finally the UK would become our new home – the home where we wanted to raise our children, to fulfil our dreams, to build a future.
Starting over is never easy, but we had the great advantage that his mother’s side of the family lived in Wiltshire. Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins all right there and happy to have us there.
I finally felt at home
Happy years followed. We got on the housing ladder, had another son, our kids had dual citizenship (US and German) and were brought up bi-lingual. I learned how to make Cornish pasty, spent bank holidays with family and friends picnicking in the forest, ate bangers at barbies and Trifle for dessert, took the kids to bonfires on Guy Fawkes night, bought them school uniforms and watched school plays about Henry the 8th countless times and saw my daughter off to the prom. My husband opened up a restaurant and I worked in the IT industry for an US company. I belonged.
Over the years we had countless visitors from abroad. Friends and family, but also colleagues of mine from the USA, Germany, Denmark and the Philippines. I proudly showed them around – took them to Avebury, Stonehenge, Salisbury, the White Horses, the Cotswolds and London – introducing them to Cream Teas, Steak and Ale Pie and Fish & Chips with vinegar. This was my home and I was so proud of it.
Just our marriage did not survive. We divorced and both remarried. His new wife was a US citizen and my new husband was German. Both of them moved to us to England in 2003, because that was our home.
Our son was then born a year later in Wiltshire: German parents and delivered by a Scottish midwife which replaced the Danish midwife from the shift before and we were looked after by a German anaesthetist and a Swedish doctor.
Back to Germany
In 2007 my husband and I decided to move back to Germany. This was not an easy decision and was prompted by a lot of different circumstances and responsibilities towards our elderly parents, but my heart was bleeding leaving the UK. What gave me comfort was the thought that I could always come back when circumstances change.
While my eldest son decided to stay to finish college and then go to Uni in the UK, the other 3 kids came with us to Germany. My daughter did a 3-year apprenticeship in Germany and then moved back to England to marry her British school sweetheart and I now have a wonderful granddaughter.
So now I have my USA-born kids living in England and my England-born kids living in Germany. No problem if there had not been a certain referendum, which changed everything for us.”
My choice of returning back to England has been taken from me and my kids in England are now in Limbo.”
“Not too long ago I spent a week in the UK and that made me realise something:
When you are inside the eye of the hurricane you do not feel the devastating and destructive powers around you. Whenever I am visiting my children in England now everything feels so normal – just like it always was when I lived there before the referendum. It almost feels surreal to me – like the Britain after the referendum was somewhere else in a parallel world”. I almost got caught up in this – it is hard to connect the dots which make up the facts with the dots from the “normal” life. They seem to be on different pages…
The InLimbo project
Last year I joined the In Limbo Project as an admin, helping out with the social media accounts. I just needed to do something, give those a voice who never had a vote or a voice and since then every single day I hear and read about the heart-breaking realities of so many people.
I am technically not counted as one of the 5 Million, I am just a German living in Germany now and yet this is also my fight, as my family is deeply affected by it… So many people suffering who you will never even hear about…
I feel helpless, tired and still unheard and there is a deep, deep sadness for my land of the lonely trees…”
Cosi Doerfel Hill’s story
“Having moved to the UK from Munich, Germany when she was 17, Doerfel Hill – or “Cosi” – is an EU citizen. In 1994, she graduated in Liverpool with a degree in Ancient History and Archaeology and began postgraduate work before it was interrupted by a long-term illness. Since then, she’s worked as a private tutor and began setting up a home-made herbal tea business just before Brexit ruined her plans – and threw her family into disarray.”
“He did get it but he just couldn’t engage”
She felt Brexit was a “taboo” subject with her husband, and they fought about it. He “flipped” and “screamed his head off at me” when she wrote a testimony for In Limbo.
“He felt that I was disclosing too much personal detail and he was worried about me getting attacked over this. But of course for me, all I could hear was that he’s shouting at me. It wasn’t supportive, it was aggressive. So these things drove us further and further apart.”
A happy ending
Cosi stuck it out and their marriage has survived the storm. She carries on campaigning for EU citizens rights in the UK and her husband now supports her where he can.
He learnt to channel his anger at being stripped of his European citizenship into supporting the campaigns to help those who are negatively affected by Brexit, be they British or EU citizens, as they’re both still in limbo.
Her story is one of the happy endings. And who doesn’t like a happy ending at Valentines?
The In Limbo project also has a second book, In Limbo Too: Brexit testimonies from UK citizens in the EU.