It’s the last day of October, the month, in which Germans celebrate their Tag der Deutschen Einheit, the Day of German Unity (October 3), our National Holiday. Throughout this month I have been reflecting on what Germany means to me now after 12 years of living in California. How do I feel about being a German in America or is it a German-American now that I have Dual Citizenship? What’s my perception towards Germany and German culture these days? Does Germany in fact mean more to me now than ever before?
An old friend of my father’s, who had immigrated to California as a student to pursue a medical degree, once had told me: “ I love California, but my heart belongs to Germany!”
These words didn’t make sense to me then and of course not at all when I had finally made my dream come true and made California my home as well. I honestly could not envision his words ever be true for me! Somehow though his words had made an impression and did stay with me after all. After more then a decade living here, I too feel somewhat emotionally torn between the two countries.
At first I was overwhelmed with the joy to finally have made my dream a reality. Everything America had to offer seemed just so much better, more exciting and one could simply breathe the freedom in the air. Now, that being said, it’s not as if I hadn’t been free where I grew up. I was born in Munich, and spent my childhood in fact in a very beautiful part of the city, as I now (!) have learned to appreciate…
Leaving my teenage years behind, I increasingly felt like I would suffocate if I stayed any longer in Germany. Let’s face it, German society per se can sometimes be a bit restrictive. Too much bureaucratic mind-set and not enough “out of the box” thinking. German heaviness of soul and mind and the praised virtue of a deep thinking society can sometimes also turn against itself… Add in some of the gloomy weather and cold dark winter days and you’ll have a nice cocktail that can get even the happiest minds depressed…
I always liked the politeness and friendliness of Californians – even though we were warned about it early on and were made understood that it might be superficial most of the time. But, hey, it seems to make life just so much easier and brighter!
Having spent all my summer vacations in California since the age 14, my heart was set on this part of the world. Every year during summer upon arriving at LAX, I remember experiencing this feeling of complete freedom that ran through me like a big breath of fresh air. To me, America was equivalent to an abundance of unknown possibilities and opportunities.
After my third child arrived, my husband and I were considering the idea of my becoming an American citizen. In a blended family like ours, with various citizenships under one roof, it seemed to be a calming thought to know that we all are united under one common nationality. Since becoming an American Citizen didn’t mean having to give up German citizenship anymore, I decided to apply for dual citizenship.
Oddly enough, change and patriotic awakening towards Germany came about with my becoming American! Reciting the American Pledge of Allegiance together with thousands of other new Americans in the LA coliseum, suddenly made me aware of my German nationality, made me aware of what this step of becoming an American meant to me personally but also to my own and my kids’ family history. It seems that through the process of becoming American, I found back to my somehow hidden German roots and since then witnessed the awakening of an until then unfamiliar patriotism, love and pride in my German heritage.
So, the question arises, what am I now? German American, American German or just a German in America? I guess I became someone who learned to embrace two different countries and cultures at the same time and call them ‘home’. I feel deep love for both countries. My father who was fascinated by America almost had made the big step to stay and settle, but it was up to me to finalize what he had started. Shortly after his first true little American grandchild was born, my Dad passed away, almost as if he had felt that he had arrived at his dream as well.
I have to admit I am proud of having the privilege to be an American citizen and love my ‘new’ home where my own young family now lives. But I am now equally proud of my German heritage, of Germany’s scientific, technological and artistic accomplishments that have an effect on the world as a whole. And I am enjoying this feeling of love for my home country that I wasn’t aware of having in me before. I now can appreciate all the wonderful aspects and the beauty the country has to offer and I look forward to every visit with my American family.
Of course, I question whether it is perhaps just the romantic ideal of Germany that keeps me captivated? If I were to be asked today if I would move back to live in Germany, I must admit my answer would be no! California is my new home now, it is where my children were born and my family now lives. As I go on discovering how to be an American it is my ‘Germanness’ that keeps me grounded and gives me a sense of place in the world.