Post # 14: The Road to Dual Citizenship: A New Identity?

On Monday, January 24, 2022, I became a German citizen. At 10 a.m. G and I had a brief meeting with a competent, friendly, and outgoing bureaucrat, Frau Q where I received my certificate that I was a naturalized German and I stated that “ I solemnly declare that I will respect the Basic Law and the laws of the Federal Republic of Germany and refrain from anything that could harm it. Or in German which is what I actually said: “Ich erklaere feierlich, das ich das Grundgesetz und die Gesetze der Bundesrepublik Deutschland achten und alles unterlassen werde, was ihr schaden koennte.” G had to be present to sign a document that we are still married and living together; otherwise, I could not have become a German so quickly. Yes, I could keep my U.S. citizenship – it had become a non-issue, because the U.S. consulate was not now in a position to take any away, we learned.

The meeting had, however, a few tense moments, namely I learned that I had to return my German resident permit – for which I was unprepared. I needed to make an appointment this week, not in March as I had planned, at another office to get my German passport, which I did so with her help; since we are traveling to Boston on Saturday, February 5th and I needed to ensure that I could return to Germany on the 27th. It worked out just fine and I had had that appointment yesterday and on Tuesday, February 1st I will pick it up …

Yet I was exhausted after the meeting on Monday; the emotional energy it took was more than I had anticipated so that it was clear that this was the perfect time to post something again after a gap of more than five months; two half-finished posts on other subjects remain to be completed — this topic is, however, of great relevance!

Wow! I can now vote in Germany, and travel somewhat more easily within the European Union than with my United States passport and my German residence permit that I had had (which had been originally granted for five years on October 30, 2017 and extended indefinitely on July 7, 2021).  All practical and yet it is of course much more. Do I feel differently? Yes, I do … That is the question that I have trying to answer since Wednesday, January 12th when the notification came in the mail: “Ihr Einbuergerungsverfahren kann nunmehr durch Aushaendigung der Einbuergerungsurkunde und unter Hinnahme Ihrer amerikanischen Staatsangehoerigkeit abgeschlossem werden.” That is in official German, so that along with G, I had read and re-read the convoluted German sentence – “Hinnahme” means acceptance, right we agreed, not “Aufgabe” or relinquishment — all good. which can be translated as: “Your application for German citizenship has been granted with the acceptance that you are still a citizen of the United States.” Great … after all in my application I had indicated that I wanted to keep my U.S. citizenship.

It is in fact a wonderful feeling! I can affirmatively say the following when asked who I am — I am a 65-year-old married man, of Jewish descent, gay, a retired history teacher, a historian, and a citizen of the United States and of Germany – that is both an American and a German; yes I am a European. A bit unwieldy, but accurate – I am a citizen of the United States by birth … and yes, it is after all being European that resonates with me – for a combination of familial, political, and cultural reasons.

I am of course privileged or I would not have been able to acquire the new citizenship so expeditiously – I was able to apply 6 weeks after I had my permanent residence permit and 5 months later was granted it. As an educated man, I was able to navigate the system and persistently get a meeting with the correct bureaucrat – in this case with an extremely friendly, knowledgeable, and competent. In 2018 after my marriage, I began the process of acquiring a permanent residence permit and citizenship simultaneously. While the first made the second much easier it was not necessarily a prerequisite. In January 2019 I took the required test – 33 multiple choice questions about German politics – which I easily passed with 32. The German language test had been waived due to my fluency in German. Then began a strange period in which I tried to get an appointment and due to the pandemic, it took more than a year to get one. Once I did on August 2nd, I met with the friendly, prepared, and helpful Frau Q. After all, however, I got only officially apply three years after my marriage, which I did then on August 23rd and 5 months later on Wednesday, 1/12 got my notice!

I am also quite aware for those whose families had been forced to flee, becoming a German citizen has a huge meaning, because many of them have again what was taken. See the splendid memoirs in Donna Swarthout, A Place They Called Home: Reclaiming Citizenship. Stories of a New Jewish Return to Germany (New York and Berlin: Berlinica Press, 2019) and her blog: Donna Swarthout | Writer, Editor, Berliner (wordpress.com)

And for me – my mother and her parents left Berlin in 1931 (see Post #4) but since they were Czech citizens, they had not lost German citizenship which they never had had.  My understanding of my mother and her parents were than they perceived themselves as European. I had always suspected that my grandmother would have happily returned to Germany if she had a companion to do so. My mother was the perfect European – fluent in multiple languages, culturally adept – and I suppose that she passed on some of these interests into her youngest son …

Is that it? I am thrilled to be able to answer the question: who am I in multifaceted ways. I am thrilled to feel a part of country that is doing a thoughtful, perhaps even model job working off aspects of its past (see the superbly thought-provoking book by Susan Neiman, Learning from the Germans: Confronting Race and the Memory of Evil (New York: Penguin Books, 2020). Who am I? That question can be answered in many ways. To affirmatively say that I am a European feels just right. As a reflect on the last few years, and as I considered the idea of leaving Boston, being a European was perhaps part of the plan. No, not only practical but emotional and as I lived here for last few years I searched unsuccessfully for a Jewish home (post forthcoming) and yet citizenship is a critical way of belonging? Having German citizenship provides me with a better way to identify myself critically (which is my nature, I suppose!) in my adopted country and to emphasize the multi-facets of belonging, which is indeed a fantastic feeling. I am also an American and was born in Ardmore, a suburb of Philadelphia, studied in Connecticut, and moved to Boston and stayed there more or less for 38 years (excluding a year when I lived back in Germany). I am also a German citizen, living in wonderfully multi-cultural city – Berlin — with its fascinating roots that resonates with my historical interests. Am I a gay Jewish American-German (or German-American when I am back in the States?)

So yes, I am now a German by choice and as importantly a European by affirmation – what better way to accept the interconnected world in which we live, but to have multiple nationalities, which had been of importance to me since I had studied in Freiburg in the 1970s. I am not new to the idea of choices and/or affirmations influencing my identity. Later in life I came to acknowledge the importance of Jewish (with 44 to be exact), and shortly thereafter joined a congregation Home – Kahal B’raira – Congregation for Humanistic Judaism (kahalbraira.org)) that emphasized choice … not choice that one is Jewish, choice as one’s relationship, if any to God and organized religion. Even later (with 58 to be exact) acknowledged that I am gay. Not choice, because I knew and chose not to acknowledge it earlier.

Now I can that I am now able to choose to be both US American and a German/European. I am not at all nationalistic and yet there is something that resonates at a deep emotional level to be a part of a country whose residents, citizens, and leaders have worked to deal with the past or at least the part of which that touched my family and now to be part of the great experiment to bring countries together – the European Union.

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