Today is the day that I can officially call myself a German citizen! After thirty-one years of living as a foreigner in the country I was born and raised. After thirty-one years of being the German girl in my supposed home country. Now, I have official documents proving what I knew all my life: I’m Croatian-german or German-croatian or European? I’m confused!
Every immigrant child knows what I’m talking about when a simple question like “Where are you from?”, causes you so much overthinking that you’ve prepared several answers according to the situation. I had put a lot of effort and thought into figuring out the right answers for every occasion. Many factors play a role on whether I’d say that I’m from Germany, or whether I would say I’m Croatian born and raised in Germany or whether I would even go as far as telling the whole truth which is: I’m born and raised in Germany, my family is from Bosnia but we are Croatians. The third option includes a little history class that I had to teach myself, because we did not learn about any Eastern European history in my western German education.
I mastered – like every immigrant – to guess within split-seconds which answer is the ‘right’ one for each situation – at least that’s what I like to think…
Belong to the majority
All I wanted in my child- and teenage-hood was what every kid wants: belonging to the majority. My surname was giving away that I wasn’t originally from the country I lived in, but my looks didn’t. I was the prototype German girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. Today I realise how much of a privilege that already gave me.
The need for ‘belonging’ is what we as humans just have programmed within us. It’s an evolutionary thing. We survived best when we were together in groups, we succeed when we work together. Most recently this was proven when the entire world of scientists worked to develop not only one but several vaccines against the COVID-19 virus. As a child all I wanted was to ‘belong’ – which meant for me: be German, have German parents, live in a German house and only talk German.
In my home, we talked Croatian, we lived in a flat, a social housing, we ate things like Pita, Sarma and Baklava. In my home we argued very loud and laughed even harder. In my Croatian home I helped my parents with their paperwork because I knew German better than them. In my Croatian home I could watch as much TV as I wanted – except for when my Dad wanted to watch.
In school, kids were surprised to find out that I wasn’t German, because of my prototype-german-girl-look. “Oh, you’re not German?” or as I translated it in my mind: “Oh, you’re not one of us?”
When travelling to Croatia, I was the German girl with parents from Bosnia. It was very confusing for me, because in both places in which I thought I belonged, I was told that I didn’t. Though I did feel home in both places -Germany and Croatia. And then there was this third place that I could belong to: Bosnia. However in Bosnia I didn’t feel home. Back in the 90ies Bosnia was a destroyed country, a third world country actually. As kids we were not allowed to play out in the field that was located right to my aunts’ house because there were still mines placed there. We were sleeping all together in one big room – my grandma was sleeping downstairs, my aunt and her husband upstairs with their daughter and her children and together with my cousins. I loved this arrangement! I loved being always surrounded by so many people all the time! I always wanted to in a big family. Even though I enjoyed my trips to Bosnia, I didn’t feel as connected to this place as I did to Croatia or Germany. The trips to Bosnia were always packed with visiting family, going to different graveyards and visiting the place my Dad used to grow up, or what was left of it.
Fast Forward to my twenties, my perspective on ‘belonging’ was about to change. When I moved out of Europe to Asia I realised that in regards of ‘nationality’ above all I’m European. Also, I got a bit more clarity on the question “Where are you from?”: Wherever I would meet people I would say I’m from Germany, because I did take my plane always from Germany. Also I assumed that most people would know Germany but not that many would know Croatia. Even though my nationality hasn’t changed, I felt more German than Croatian. Except for the football championships of course. My heart will always beat for the Croatian team there.
Most of the people I knew in Shanghai were expats. We were all from different countries and majority of the people I knew in Shanghai were like me: immigrant children. My husband for example: his dad is of polish origin, or my colleague whose family is polish but like me she grew up in Germany. Also we had a friend from Portugual, who grew up in Luxemburg, and I met a girl from Germany who – just like me – had a Bosnian family. Majority of our friends were couples who came from different countries: German with Korean, French with Columbian, Indian with Chinese, French with Senegalese and so on. It felt great to be amongst this wonderful mix of cultures and people from all over the world. I enjoyed it and I understood that this belonging-thing is not depending on strangers to approve of me but rather is what I believe and feel.
Living so far away from your “home”, gives you a different perspective on where your home actually is.
Becoming a German citizen today, means a lot to me as you know by now. However I am also grateful for my Croatian ancestry. Today I can appreciate the fact that I cannot say I belong to one place. I can appreciate the fact that I lived all my life between two cultures and that this has formed me to the person I am today. Finally my identity is not defined by citizenships but it is reflecting my reality: I’m German with Croatian origin, I’m European. Identity crisis solved!