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.

Martina Brinkman
German businesswoman who studied political science, history and economy in Trier. Co Founder of Europa United.

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    1. Dear Martina
      First of all I wish you a very happy birthday. 50 years is a lot … and nothing ! I sincerely hope your next fifty years will be just as good, interesting and exciting.
      Your story is very nice, and it shows how we naturally and spontaneously interact with each other across borders and languages, as long as self-established “Besserwissern” in politics and/or religion don’t screw everything up.
      All the best to you

    2. Living in the Scottish Islands in the 1980s helped me understand the value in the EU’s espousal of the regions. The start of the Gaelic revival, linguistically, culturally and more importantly economically owed it’s origins to support from Brussels much more than to London or to Edinburgh.
      But like you Martina my joy in being European dates to holidays each year, in my case at a campsite in Somerset in the 1990s. The friends I made then are as family. My German godchildren are now in their mid twenties and fit seemlessly into what feels like my pan European family. I currently have health problems, and though I live in a rural village in the Englsh Midlands my support network includes emotional and practical support not just from my fantastic neighbours here but from across Europe. Parcels arrive from other countries with their special treats that are hard to buy here. Friends from Germany have even traveled here to take a turn at cooking for me and keeping me company.
      For me being European is now part of who I am and how I fit into the World. So I see the imminent danger of Britain leaving the EU as not only a threat to our economy but a shrinking and devaluing of who we are.

    3. Happy Birthday. I also feel like you, and will be very disappointed if we leave the EU I think it has been a great thing and I enjoy being a European.

    4. Thank you for your story I liked it…….Although I would have prefered that you had used the word petrol and not gaseoline. My very best wishes to you and your family.

    5. We stayed at this campsite every year from 1972 until about 1987. I have the exact same recollection, meeting friends from overseas, enjoying the differences, revelling in the freedom that the camp allowed us. And it started my love of Europe, and of travelling. I am mortified that the UK has taken this step. I am a European, and I wish you the best for the future

    6. Happy Birthday, Martina, and many more. Thanks for posting your feelings, they mirror mine although my epiphany came somewhat later. Standing outside St. Jeronimo’s monastery in Lisbon in 2013 surrounded by hundreds of fellow Europeans. Such a feeling of brotherhood. If it were possible, I’d renounce my British nationality and take up European. I feel such shame for my country now.

    7. Such a. Lovely story Martina. My love of Europe started in 1984 when we took our children to a campsite in France. Like you we met many nationities and later when our children had all left home we bought a holiday home in Spain. We felt truly Euopean and lived getting off the plane and the feeling of joy being back in our little bit of Europe. We had to sell it but still visit Spain with our caravan if we can, just to experience the lifestyle and to feel European. You don’t realise quite what you have until you lose it. It’s very sad for us. Very best wishes to you and your family and many more happy birthdays.

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