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COOL BRITAIN


My first visit to Britain was in 1993. I had applied for a stipend in Cambridge and changed my mind about the location when I went to a talk with my then professor for Ottoman History. It was a talk by John Breuilly in Cologne where he gave a conference on his new book "Nationalism and the State". I was so impressed by the strong arguments of the book that I decided to go to Manchester instead where he taught at the Victoria University at the time.

My friend Anke, who studied philosophy, had applied for a Fullbright stipend meanwhile and when she heard of my decision to go to Manchester she, too, changed her plans: instead of going to the US she accompagnied me to England.

Our first act was to go to the accommodation office where we met Tim and Sammy, two students in biology and chemistry. We ended up renting a flat together in Victoria Park. The area was a bit dodgy, but we had a nice place to stay with a small backyard. Tim and Sammy knew how to cook, too, and Sammy used to say that we were eating "like kings". It was there that I first tasted Anke´s cauliflower casserole with lemon and cream. At Christmas we had Christmas Pudding with vanilla sauce and darjeeling tea all day long. In the mornings, the milkman brought us a few bottles of milk as Anke wanted to continue to have her German "Müsli". We went to have trips to Liverpool and Cambridge where we visited Anke´s boyfriend at the occasion of a dinner, gave lots of dinner partys for German friends and greatly enjoyed our time.

At one occasion, Anke fainted. We had decided to go to the film club of the university where we saw "Reservoir Dogs" by Quentin Tarantino. The film begins with a very brutal scene in which one of the gangsters gets his ear cut off (I naturally thought of the legendary Van Gogh when I saw this). I carried Anke outside where someone asked me if she had taken drugs. I could promptly answer the question with a no. None of us had any interest in drugs whatsoever - we didn´t even drink alcohol or smoked cigarettes. I guess we were quite untypical students in a way.

The classes I had were quite intense and I wrote essays in every single one of them. I mostly enjoyed the nationalism classes of John Breuilly who also organised talks with German academics after which we often went eating out at an Indian restaurant. One of my classmates came from India. She was a Hindu and later invited me to her wedding in New York where she originally lived. It was a three day party ! I put on a sari and the women of her family started to plan an Indian wedding for me. I was not truly interested as I had a greater interest in finishing my studies than in finding a husband. Sonali and Sanjay´s wedding, however, was so posh that I later on often dreamt of having a similar event in my life. Who knows, maybe it´s simply not time for me yet.

England was a truly nice experience. Besides learning a lot on German history I learned to argue, improved my written English and made new friends. Vicky was one of them and once came around for a dinner to which I had also invited the cousin of my mom. She had started a job as au-pair in London and came around for a few days. I also went to see her there and we had a nice group of friends there with whom we went to the Barbican and to jazz and other concerts. Banu and Denizhan loved London a lot and they were happy to have us around.

Years later I went to see them there with my then boyfriend. Banu hat prepared a German potato dish for the occasion. Denizhan was involved in all sorts of art projects and showed us around. They had a son meanwhile whom I brought a little present and Banu was amazed that I could afford that being a student at the time. I have always loved making presents, so it was not really a big deal for me.

Many years later, I also spent one New Year and New Year´s eve in London. My friend Navraj had invited me there and we had a nice little party afterwards. London seemed so big and much more metropolitan to me than Manchester which was rather nice and cosy (although there were many burglaries all year around). Britain is such a cool country with lots of creative, interesting and crazy people around. It´s always worth a trip in my view and I sometimes still feel like moving there if I had the chance !