It’s been a year and a half now since I left my Australian home, and moved to a small city in the north of Germany to make a new ‘home’ for myself with my boyfriend of 5 years. To say it has all been great and everything lived up to the ‘European dream’ would be, in short, a lie. It has however been an interesting year. While there have been many lessons learnt and many things, that if I had the chance to do over differently, I would, I certainly would not not do it. One of the interesting things about being an ex-pat in a country where you also don’t speak the language, is that ex-pats tend to cling together. In our small group of friends, most of us are from other countries. Some European, some not, but in a group of 8 only 2 are German.
Recently, after I spent a weekend in London to do a photo shoot for Vada, we were back in rainy little Bremen at my Spanish friend’s house enjoying dinner and an episode of Sherlock. I casually remarked that the street they were standing on looked a lot like the streets where I had spent my weekend. To which my friend asked why was it that we ‘Colonials’ were so infatuated with London. It was asked with some exasperation, as though London were not the greatest city in this part of the world, and it was unfathomable to him why anyone would imagine it so. I felt the need to not only explain my in-bred love for London, but also somehow justify it as being better than, say, a Spanish city for example.
At the time, I was hard pressed to find an answer. I had grown up my whole life with this kind of longing to see the world: to visit Asia (check), to visit Europe (check), to visit the USA (not yet), to visit Africa (also on the waiting list), and to live for at least a year or two, in London (or perhaps, some other city in the UK). Obviously, having moved to Bremen and not London, I have somewhat failed in that goal, but I couldn’t explain to any good reason why visiting London is always exciting, and I never, ever, feel like I am in a big foreign city, rather, I feel quite at home. My first visit to the great London I stayed near Euston station, and I vowed I would walk everywhere so that I saw more than the inside of the tube tunnels. (I’ve since bought myself an Oyster card with Her Majesty gracing the front). I spent 8 hours walking around London – mostly from Euston to the river and back, down Greys Inn Road, the Strand, somehow made it to the Thames and the Palace and back to Euston – Google maps may have helped a little.
Electronic assistance aside, I felt more at home, more like I belonged there in those 8 hours than I ever have here in Bremen. It’s not a feeling of not being welcome, rather a sense of not being ‘ at home’. As if this whole thing is some kind of temporary aside, and that one day I shall either move to a larger city (hopefully London) or (heaven forbid) back home to Australia. Don’t get me wrong – I love Australia, you only have to see our apartment to know that. We have three flags hung in our apartment – two are pride flags covering windows to give us a little privacy, and over the door between our lounge and kitchen, is the Australian flag. It sits forever in our kitchen, proudly reminding everyone who enters that the people here are not Germans. On the opposite side of the doorway, above our kitchen table, is a two or three metre mural that my boyfriend made, with the words of the Australian poem ‘After All’ by Henry Lawson. It’s a poem that talks about the beauty of the Australian bush. I have spent many a morning tea staring at its words and holding back a couple of tears.
Tonight, I had the incredible pleasure of seeing Helen Mirren grace the stage as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in The Audience at Gielgud Theatre. It was broadcast live to cinemas in 24 or so countries around the world, and little Bremen was lucky enough to be included on the list. If you haven’t seen it yet you really have missed out – it has been sold out at every show. It follows the Queen and her meetings with several of her Prime Ministers in crucial moments throughout history. One part, which depicts Her Majesty as a young girl delivering a speech in which she talks about being far from where she was born – but not far from home – because she is a member of the Commonwealth, got me thinking about the idea of belonging. I must admit I felt a little swell of pride for my Queen in that moment, I even forgot at times that I was watching Helen Mirren, not the actual Queen deliver those lines. It was the part about being in the Commonwealth, and how the Commonwealth is an idea that binds us together, makes us one people, from many countries, continents even, with different languages at times. It gives us a sense of belonging, of home – no matter where in the Commonwealth one finds oneself.
In the play it is suggested that while Great Britain is part of the Commonwealth, it and its people will always find it hard to be part of Europe (and that we don’t like Europeans very much). I can say that for me, that hit home. It felt as though in a couple of lines in a play, someone had summed up how I feel about where I am from, where I live, and a country and city I am always excited to visit. London feels like home, because it is home. As a ‘Colonial’ I’ve grown up being part of a whole. London is simply the figurative capital of the ‘whole’ that is the Commonwealth. I feel as though I’ve spent my whole life living in a small country town in the middle of a corn-field, longing forever to see the ‘big city’. For me, everywhere I have been to in the UK has been an extension of home. London is simply the place I visit the most, but other cities have the same sense of belonging. The feeling of being at home, even when one is on the other side of the world, is a feeling that I hope never fades.