The struggle to feel at ‘home’ in Brexit Britain

Enfield resident and German citizen Christine Ancker on how she’s feeling as the UK gets set to exit the European Union next month

There is no more certainty on the future pathway of Brexit than there was when the country decided on the referendum in 2016.

A clear majority in Enfield voted in favour of staying in the European Union (EU). For many of its residents, the outcome has had a lasting, even if only subtle impact on their lives. Unlike many of my friends or even colleagues at work who expected the vote to be in favour of remaining in the EU, I thought chances were 50/50. But I was still in disbelief when David Dimbleby announced the result with his now famous words: “We’re out.” I truly felt the collective “we” was aimed at me.

Christine Ancker has lived in Enfield since 2001
Christine Ancker has lived in Enfield since 2001

Overnight a sense of certainty and belonging was turned upside down, in just a moment. Nobody has ever confronted me, but I started to speak more quietly in public, so my German accent did not show too much. I became more apologetic when using public services such as the NHS, perhaps somewhat irrationally thinking that I was taking somebody else’s place. The fun of being a foreigner in a multicultural city began to evaporate.

I came to live in London in 2001. A planned stint of three months work experience turned into a permanent stay. In my workplace here, I was entrusted with exciting opportunities. When I described my new home to others, I would talk about the genuine kindness and tolerance of people, and of London as being a place of vibrancy and multiculturalism. I am grateful for my experiences here and the opportunities given.

As with many of my generation, I took for granted growing up and travelling in a seemingly borderless Europe. Of course there was the ‘Iron Curtain’ that partitioned Europe and I lived in Berlin when the wall fell in 1989. It was a time of rapid change as Germany grew into something new. I thought this would be the only time history had a direct impact on my life.

My family’s home is now Enfield; our daughter goes to a local school. We love going to Forty Hall, Myddelton House, and Capel Manor. We really do not want to be anywhere else.

I do worry how things will change, how the economic impact of Brexit (a word that makes me shudder) could make our borough poorer and less diverse. I expect that there will be an impact on the financing of public institutions and services. My partner and daughter hold British passports. I wonder how it will feel when one part of my family will go through different border controls than I. A ‘hard’ Brexit would make me reconsider if Enfield could remain home.

Many of my fellow Germans have a strong affinity for the UK, its history, vibrancy, fashion, music, the Olympics, royal weddings. What I feel most saddened about is the potential loss of an experience for future generations; travelling and working abroad without borders has formed part of my identity and is a treasured experience in my life. It is undoubtedly an achievement of post-war Europe for which I have learned to be grateful.