It is not that I did not like Europe -- I was just not very interested in it. For some reason I never really felt at home in Europe, even though I was born and grew up in Germany. But that "homeless" feeling changed dramatically when I fell with love with Athena, the Greek Goddess and beloved daughter of God Zeus. But that was much later in my life after many years of traveling around the world.
Germany in the early '70s was in my view, boring, grey and old. America was the destination I thought would fulfill my dreams -- more room to breathe, big sky and simply a new life would wait there for me, I thought.
I made it there with my then boyfriend and landed a scholarship at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.
Oh -- did I love everything. The people. The lightness in their faces. The sunshine. The blue sky. I learned how to say "Hi" and found that everything was "Hi." The openness of the people, the way they dressed and the lingo! Our fellow students seem to like us, they found us very courageous and cool just because we made it from the old continent Europe to America!
There was so much to do at the university. Sports! I had my first tennis sessions and thought, "wow!" I passed my grades 'so la la' it was honestly not at the top of my priorities at that time. There was the music I adored and "Hotel California" was my personal mega hit. We went to a concert that featured Willie Nelson. We learned to speak Texan and we became fans of the San Antonio Spurs.
We travelled across the country. The car was a red Plymouth classic convertible with a white leather roof! We drove thousands of miles, west, north and south and nowhere, nowhere did I find a border! My mind relaxed, because I never really understood why humans need borders. From my hometown Cologne in Germany, it was less than one hour by car to reach two state lines -- one to the Netherlands and the other to Belgium. And it took less than three hours to reach the French border.
America seemed so free, so open, the land of promise. Germany and Europe were far away. Just sometimes, when we watched TV, we saw it -- a small dot of a huge world map. We loved the American TV. While in Germany the news anchor delivered deeply serious and somewhat depressing news, the BBC was nothing but complaints about how bad everything was and the French were to be totally fixed on their Tricolore. But here in America, we watched CNN -- colorful, loud, right in your face. Good looking and well-dressed people were smiling, and there were talk shows and lots of fun.
My obsession with America was huge. But we had to return to Germany and I remember crying on the plane back -- I did not want to leave.
Arriving home, we found Germany was on the go. Something was moving. Better music, students in the streets. I found it still a bit strict and formalized, but there was a new life happening. And between all the chaos of the '70s, the idea of a united Europe shimmered on the horizon. I liked the idea of a EU. Simply because we would have less borders.
But in reality -- what would this look like? A united Europe, I thought, was difficult, complicated, heavy. The many cultures and languages. Each of the country deeply stuck in their own history, the structural and political challenges. The intricate European past!
Did we have common European values? Did he exist, the Homo Europaeus, as Paul Valéry described it?
When we travelled through Europe as tourists, we were fascinated, surprised and deeply touched by the beauty and the otherness. But somehow, we could not really get close with the people we met. It was not as easy as in the United States. We remained somehow foreigners and could not really relate as we wanted to. Of course, we were restricted by the many languages Europeans speak.
Yet things were moving in Europe, but I still found it very slow and complicated. I began to travel in Australia and the sheer beauty and vastness of that continent without any borders planted a deep longing into my cells.
Germany or Europe was a home that I accepted but still found boring. It did warm up a bit when my daughter was born.
And then I went on a business trip to Athens -- long before the Euro crisis -- and someone handed me a book about the Goddess Athena. There was the usual chaos in the streets of Athens, the acropolis was closed, and I could only look at this breathtaking monument from the outside.
I started to read the book about Athena in the evenings. And I was fascinated from the first moment on. What a goddess she was. She did not know any borders, she was courageous, compassionate, strong. The daughter of Zeus, who stands for wisdom, intelligence and rightfulness. She was the Goddess of Odysseus and she loved strategy and fight! I read and read. I read bout Solon, who created laws which defined the rights and obligations of all citizens -- the first form of democracy.
All of this hit right into my own understanding of freedom. It was the core of democracy. Here was something, which impressed me even deeper than the borderless vastness of my dream countries, America and Australia. This was more.
My mind was wandering.
During my discussions with my Greek business partners, I was looking for hints -- was there something left from the thousands of years of old ideals and philosophies? Here and there I found tiny traces of it. And this truly opened up a new understanding about the diversity of European culture of dealing and handling the issues of our daily life. I simply saw it in a new light. And I began to feel proud to be part of this continent, Europe.
Europe was now interesting for me. I did not find it "old" any longer. Fewer borders between countries. I loved it. When I drove to Switzerland, I always forgot to bring my passport. I travelled to Poland, Hungary, Romania and fell in love with their open hearts. I made friends in Lithuania, Italy, Spain and Croatia. The borders in my own mind broke open, and the freedom I felt in my heart was beautiful.
Perhaps it was the Euro crisis, that made me a true European in the end. I am convinced, that the goddess Athena would not have accepted seeing Angela Merkel with a Hitler mustache painted over her face in the Greek media.
But the complexity and opportunity of the crisis around the Euro turned me on in a way that I knew: I really want this Europe!
And when I said for the first time: "I enjoy being European," it was in New York City. I would rather have said -- I enjoy being a world citizen.
Because this is my dream. A world without any borders -- where everyone is welcome at any time!
Love ya, world!