As I am facing my 50th birthday this month, I want to share some thoughts and feelings about Europe and the European Union with you.
I was born in Germany as the first of three daughters. I was lucky that my parents took us every year to Spain for summer holidays. We used to stay at the same camping site close to Tarragona city for at least three weeks every year. That may sound a bit boring at the first look, but it was the place where I fell in love with Europe, European languages and European people.
We used to go by car and it was an adventure to cross the borders, see the different looking towns and cities, see different vegetation, smell the oleander blossoms and pine trees in Southern France and Spain and to read funny signs like ‘rappel’ on French highways.
We used to take three wallets with different currencies with us to pay the fees on Swiss, French and Spanish highways and to buy gasoline and something to eat. We had to wait at the border controls, sometimes for up to two hours and at this time and no one had an air conditioning in their car.
Schengen treaty? Euro? Not at that time.
We have improved quite a lot.
The camping site we visited was a little Europe, frequented by English, Spanish, French, Dutch Germans, Italians and even some Scandinavians. I was a little blonde girl, not able to speak one word in a foreign language but like all children do, I got on instantly with other kids and became friends with a Spanish girl from Madrid. We used to go swimming together, played cards and ping-pong. I met English and French children, who joined us and we started to form a little European gang which met each day at the tent of another family.
I learnt my first Spanish, French and English words and our families even started to meet for common evening BBQs.
I learnt about Boule or Petanque from the French we played with every afternoon at the beach. I got to know about tea time and tennis from the English.
And I got used to eating my dinner at 10pm with my Spanish friends.
We all used to help each other if someone was in trouble, for example: an English person was in need of a new spare part for his engine as the car had broken down and we organised it with the help of our Spanish friends in Barcelona. A lot of people had broken car windows after a huge hail storm and we found a Belgian person who could solve this in no time by talking with his company at home.
We came back every year to this place and in the meantime my Spanish friend and I would send each other letters and packages for birthdays and Christmas. We even are still in contact today.
Later on, I used to travel by myself to a lot of cities and places. I improved my language skills, started to study politics and history and met awesome people from all around the world but I will never forget this place and time as a child, where I first felt as a European.
Europe to me means common ground, solidarity and friendship; helping each other to improve; common efforts to solve problems and make life easier for all of us.
Europe to me also means reaching out for new languages and cultures and to understand them as an advantage in your life, and not as a threat. The European project is a people’s project. We need to travel, meet each other and exchange knowledge and insights and we should work together to keep this project alive.
I want to spend my next fifty years with the European feeling I am used too.