The Brexit Files – Part 1

Rule, Britannia or: Why people voted for Brexit

On Wednesday, article 50 was officially triggered by British PM Theresa May.  For the next two years, the UK and the EU are going to negotiate the consequences of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Back in June 2016, the lack of understanding how anyone would even consider leaving the EU was at its peak in many other European countries but is it really that incomprehensible?

If one desires to foresee the future, one has to understand the past and I am not going to break this rule. And as every great disaster in history, the Brexit referendum is a result of many factors playing into one.

Over the last couple of years, the German media has focused on the UK as a country of narrow-minded people who are disloyal to their European neighbours, self-centred and egoistic in their politics, and blind when it comes to the refugee crisis. Be that as it may, I have spent much time studying this country’s history and culture and I think we’re making it very easy for ourselves to judge them on their position without taking the British history into account.

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China Town in Soho is only one of many boroughs in London that has been built by immigrants.

Immigration

Immigration has always been a major issue in Great Britain. Looking back, the British Empire went down in history as a global superpower, claiming more than 1/5 of the world its territory at its peak. A country that owns most of the world cannot exist in isolation.

After World War II, Britain was in desperate need of workers in order to rebuild the country, and since they were lacking of young, fit men they brought in workers from the Commonwealth countries. In 1948, the British Nationality Act gave every subject in the Commonwealth the status and rights of a British citizen, which made it easier for people from the colonies to set sails for their mother country. The Empire Windrush, a passanger liner on voyage from Jamaica to the UK, served as a namesake to the first big wave of immigrants arriving in Great Britain. To ensure that foreigners would come to the country’s help, the British government established a campaign, claiming that better education, higher living standards, and better job opportunities would await those who decided to leave the colonies behind.

Naturally, the migrants arrived at Britain’s ports with the expectation that their new and better lives were awaiting them. Little did they know that the British had no intention of allowing them to stay. If they weren’t sent back to the colonies after their service, they fell victim to a society of classes and discrimination.

Sadly, there has been only slow progress over the last decades. Today, immigration is still a major concern of many Brexit voters, in urban areas less so than in the countryside. The fact that Britain never managed to fully integrate foreigners despite its long history of immigration casts long shadows over the glorious Empire and it raises the question whether this inability is a result of unwillingness or incapability.

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On the market, property in central London is currently at an average price of £1,5 million.

The housing crisis

After the Credit Crunch in 2007, life in London has become extremely expensive, attracting millionaires and billionaires from all over the world – and chasing working people away.

In 2015, it was unaffordable for a family with an average annual income to buy or rent a flat or house in London, resulting in foreign investors ‘buying up’ the majority of town houses in the city centre. Most of them are of Arabic or Russian origin and tend to buy property without ever using it, resulting in thousands of empty houses and flats while others are struggling to find a home closer to work. Inequality is, most of the time, a reason why people tend to favour populism over liberal political ideals. While there is no direct connection between inequality and racism, it does tend to play into the hands of the likes of Nigel Farage and the Ukip party.

Adding to the strained situation, many international banks have settled down in the financial metropolis that London has turned into. Due to this gentrification, property prices skyrocketed in only a couple of years. In the event of Brexit, many people predicted that these banks would move to other financial cities such as Frankfurt or Paris and thus leading to a lowering of house prices.

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The Welfare State

Compared to Germany, Britain’s welfare state is almost non-existing. In fact, it has never been popular in politics since no government ever accomplished a successful attempt to create a welfare state. In 1942 during World War II, William Beveridge identified the five “Giant Evils” in British society that had to be tackled: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. This report, also known as the Beveridge Report, proposed a reformed system with better National Insurance and a better social welfare. Despite its high popularity with the public, the only long-term solution resulting from Beveridge’s report was the founding of the National Health Service (NHS).

Margaret Thatcher, one of Britain’s most controversial political figures, and her neo-liberal politics have ignored the needs of the poor and strengthened the class system in the 1980s – an impact Britain still struggles with today. While health care is provided for free (there hasn’t even been a need for health insurance until Brexit), many social contributions aren’t available that are being taken for granted in Germany. In the end, it always comes down to social inequality, and the lack of a Welfare State – or even a poor version thereof –  can have major influence on the rise of populism.

Too expensive or unfair for those who work hard in order to afford a better lifestyle – the arguments have always been the same debate after debate. The geographical regions that backed Brexit the most have been (in most cases) the ones that are the most dependent on EU support in terms of economic support. If the UK had faced its inequality problems years before, maybe Brexit would have never happened.

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The Empire and the Commonwealth Nations

What surprises me the most about the outcome of the referendum is the fact that many immigrants voted in favour of “leave”. Yes, it does sound incomprehensible, but it needs a change of perspective to understand the thought process behind this twisted way of thinking.

As I explained before, the Empire Windrush brought immigrants from the Caribbean to the UK so they would serve as temporary workers before being sent back to the colonies they originally came from. In said colonies, the youth was educated by British standards and they were given the impression that with the education they received, they’d be able to make a new life for themselves in Great Britain. But since their dreams never came true – again, this applies to the majority and not all of the cases – they thought European citizens had a geographical advantage. By voting “Leave” in the referendum, many immigrants from the Commonwealth Nations expect to now have an advantage on the job market due to their still existing connection to the UK.

However, people tend to forget about the past far too easily. If the British had any interest in letting these immigrants stay in the UK in the post WWII era, they would have done so without giving it a second thought. The fact that this hasn’t happened back then is down to a major education difference between Commonwealth colonies and Europe and the unwillingness to accept foreign nationalities as part of the British culture. Just because the UK is no longer a member of the European Union won’t change anything about the partly racist, partly narrow-minded way of thinking.

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In the end, there are many reasons why people voted in favour of Brexit and I have just scratched the surface with my little analysis. Lies, empty promises, and hatred played a significant role as well, of course, but this part of the referendum campaign has been explored well enough by the mass media. And some voices shouldn’t be given a louder voice than they deserve.

A walk through: Camden

“Camden was originally an accident, but I shall never be sorry I was left over in Camden. It has brought me blessed returns.”

– Walt Whitman

I’ve been to Camden a total of three times. The first time in 2014 was an accident since I initially wanted to go to Hampstead, but I decided to exit the underground a few stations early and walk the rest of the way. That first time was a bit of a shock (and I didn’t make it to Hampstead either). The second time, in 2015, I ended up in Camden due to another accident and stayed for a delicious four-cheeses-pizza. Now, in 2017, Camden is no longer an accident but my favourite place in London and I’m taking you on a walk through my favourite borough to make you understand why Camden is so incredible.

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1. The Camden Market

Upon exiting Camden Town tube station, this will be one of the first sights that will come across your way. The majority of the many, many stalls consist of vintage clothes and shirts with London motives, but there’s also a rather broad range of jewelery and bags. Most of the clothes, bags, and souvenirs they are selling here are cheap, so don’t expect high quality products – it is, after all, just a street market and not a clothing boutique. Even if you arrive without the intention of buying something, strolling through the long aisles is always worth it and the people you might encounter there are a sight that is rarely seen in other parts of town.

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2. Camden High Street

Now that we leave Camden Market behind, we continue further down Camden High Street, the very centre of the artistic and creative life of the residents of this borough. When I say I was overwhelmed the first time I visited Camden, this is the reason why. If one spends too much time in the city centre and gets used to the British architecture of the 19th century, Camden might seem a bit… shocking. Gothic clothes are located between tattoo studios and piercing stores, Punks are gathering in small groups, and people dressed in Gothic Victorian clothes pass by every now and then. This is the shopping mile for those with a little more special taste in clothing, and the façades are absolutely incredible. Don’t be intimidated by the colourful crowd and continue down Camden High Street towards Camden Lock.

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3. Camden Lock

The infamous Camden Lock is situated right next to the Regent’s Canal and was originally built as a wharf. Today, you’ll find a lot of jewelery, art, and souvenirs there, and of course an impressive amount of food from all over the world. It’s the ideal place to buy souvenirs for those at home and admire the multicultural art talents of tomorrow. Those who are not keen on masses of people in close proximity should best avoid the Lock and continue down the road.

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4. The Stables Market

If you still can’t get enough of Vintage clothes, antique furniture, and jewelery, the Stables Market should be next on your sightseeing list. By now, you might no longer be impressed by the range of products, but the old horse stables make for a very relaxed atmosphere despite the masses of people wandering through the narrow alleys. Fans of Amy Winehouse should definitely drop by for a photo opportunity with her figure and cookie fans will be delighted to find a stall selling extra large cookies and many other sweets. Compared to Camden Lock, the Stables Market is more quiet and if you’re looking for a lunch venue that isn’t an English pub, I’d recommend the stables.

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5. Street art

Camden is not only known for its unusual shops and colouful lifestyle. It is also popular among street art painters. The small streets leading from and to Camden High Street are offering a glimpse of the amazing talent of street art painters that have created whole galleries of diverse styles. Portraits of Amy Winehouse are, of course, the most popular motive you’ll find, but making a detour is always worth it even if you’re not looking for her portrait specifically. While trying to find as many street art paintings as possible, we continue our walk up Chalk Farm Road and Adelaide Road, following the signs towards Primrose Hill.

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6. Victorian architecture

Further up the hill, we’re back to Victorian architecture. Yes, I admit I really love old British town houses and if you do so, too, Camden will quickly turn into one of your favourite spots in town as well. Since the weather is on our side today, we make a few detours through streets lined with beautiful mansions and expensive cars. Up here, it’s easy to forget that the busy and lively Camden High Street is only a stone’s throw away. If I could choose one borough of London where I’d like to live, it would be this part of Camden. Sadly, I’m not alone with my opinion and living out here is extremely expensive due to high demand. It doesn’t come as a surprise that many film and music stars, as well as famous writers and composers have settled down in these beautiful villas. Before the opulence gets too depressing, we quicky continue our way towards Primrose Hill.

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7. Primrose Bakery

After all the walking we did today, now is the perfect opportunity to treat yourself to one or two cupcakes or a piece of cake at the Primrose Bakery. Apparently, it is popular among celebrity children and as soon as you enter the bakery, you’ll immediately understand why. The cupcakes are not only tasty, but the designs are amazing. Especially the glittery Mother’s Day specials are some beautiful eye-catchers. If you have a sweet tooth and would like a little provision for the rest of our walk, continue down Gloucester Avenue and you’ll find the little shop right at the end. It’s not the cheapest address, but quality comes at a price.

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8. Primrose Hill

We have arrived at our destination, Primrose Hill, just in time to watch the sun set over London. This breathtaking view over the city has quickly turned into my favourite spot in town and if the weather is as good as today, it’s only a short walk to the London Zoo and Regents Park. Not today, though. After this exhausting day, it is now time to sit down in the grass, relax your burning feet, enjoy the cupcakes, and watch as the last sunrays paint the sky in pastel colours. Very romantic, indeed!

In the end, I can say that Walt Whitman’s Camden experience has been the same for me. The first time I ended up on Camden High Street was by chance, an accident that I am now happy to have made, because it held many pleasant surprises and unexpected discoveries on its way. And of course I hope that you, too, enjoyed this little stroll.

Happy frosty Birthday, EU!

“We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think of being a European as of belonging to their native land, and… wherever they go in this wide domain… will truly feel. ‘Here I am at home’.”

– Winston Churchill

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the European Union and while politicians were celebrating themselves and the idea of unity in Rome, people were marching in the streets of London. And even though they were marching for Europe, there was an atmosphere of change in the air, a desire for a different EU than the one that currently exists. Moreover, iIt was a protest march not only against Brexit, but also against the British government.

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11 a.m. on a beautiful and sunny Saturday morning. Tens of thousands of people have gathered at Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park, EU flags fluttering in the wind above their heads. Brexit is a dog’s breakfast, I want mine continental says the sign of an elderly lady with EU stars on her shirt and a look of determination on her face. We are the 48%, says another sign, and All I want for Christmas is EU. London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people here are particularily furious about the outcome of the Brexit referendum. And even though they are shouting at the top of their lungs, the message they are trying to send still goes unheard – not only by the Westminster government, but also by the media.

John Riley tells me, that he and his wife came all the way from the countryside to not only protest against Brexit, but also to show solidarity with EU citizens living in the UK. “We are very happy to have them here, very happy indeed, and we need them.” He talks very passionately about the EU and how much it has achieved, also for the UK, and that Britain is making a great mistake in leaving the union. His opinion is the one that is most often reflected on the news as the aim of the protests: revoke the referendum, revoke Brexit.

However, that is not the only reason why people have come together to show the world how much the European Union and being a European means to them. Sabine Voigt, originally from Germany, lives in Great Britain for more than 20 years and she has joined the masses to protest against the way the British government has treated EU citizens living in the UK. “We don’t want to be treated like bargaining chips,” she says and her fellow German friends nod in agreement.

After talking to quite a lot of EU immigrants from mainly Germany and Poland, it quickly transpires that their main goal is not holding a second referendum or stopping Brexit altogether, although they’d definitely prefer staying in the EU. No, the main point they are trying to make is that Theresa May has to come clean on the consequences of Britain leaving the EU for citizens of a nationality that isn’t British. For the entirety of the Brexit campaign, nobody ever referred to what will happen to immigrants and migrants should Britain decide to vote “leave”. And now that article 50 is triggered on Wednesday, there’s still no plan – at least, it’s not known to the public.

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A Polish family struggles with the uncertainty particularily since their children are both born in the UK but don’t have British citizenship. Being born in Great Britain doesn’t make you British by birth – something that differs from e.g. Germany and is hardly ever explained in the media. A few weeks back, a two year old child was denied permanent residency because they didn’t fulfill the minimum UK residency of five years. So what will become of these children? Would May’s government go as far as to rip families apart just to appeal to a small number of people who have been falling for the lies of the “leave”-campaign? And when you listen to the stories of these people that are marching for a united Europe, the stories they are happy to share because they need to be told in order to understand the far-reaching effects of Brexit – you start to see the complexity of this ongoing conflict in the UK and the questions that are now surfacing. What makes someone British if not being born on British soil? What does nationality and citizenship mean?

The EU, as it currently exists, has a lot of work to do if it wants to exist for another 60 years. And since its leaders are so clueless about where to begin, maybe they should start by listening to what the people on the streets have to say. In the end, the decisions of few determine the destiny of many and unity is certainly a term on which all parties agree. If there were clearer indications about what being a European means, there were three million EU citizens less who have to worry about their future.

While marching past Trafalgar Square, choirs of the European anthem Ode to Joy echoed through the streets of Westminster. It’s a beautiful sight to see so many people on the very streets that were closed off only a few days ago due to an attack on the same unity and freedom these people are now raising their voices for. This is not about the stupid decision of few, but the demand for rights of many. And I, for my part, have never felt more European in my life, more welcome, and more at home than on that day at Parliament Square.

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The Westminster attack

As it happened

“Our response to this attack on our city, to this attack on our way of life, to this attack on our shared values, shows the world what it means to be a Londoner.”

–  SADIQ KHAN

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I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to start this blog post and it’s incredibly hard to find the right words. While I understand that writing about the events of Wednesday afternoon on a blog might seem a bit disrespectful, it is my belief that ignoring it and continue as usual would be far worse. I feel obliged to pay tribute to those wounded and killed in the attack because it might as well have been me. In fact, it could have happened to anyone in this city, had the circumstances and nature of the attack been different. Therefore, here is how I experienced Wednesdays afternoon and everything that followed thereafter.

It was around three o’clock in the afternoon and a rather quiet day at the office. I had just begun sorting files into folders as ambulances or police cars, going by their sirens, rushed past the windows of the ZDF building, but I didn’t pay them any attention. The St. Thomas’ Hospital is right on the other side of the Westminster Bridge and not that far away, so it’s nothing unusual that sirens are echoing through the borough of Westminster. Then someone in the room next to me suddenly turned the TV speakers on and it was only seconds later that I was told that there had been shots fired in front of the Palace of Westminster. I immediately switched on my TV and saw the aerial view of the Houses of Parliament, police officers, someone on the ground, the BREAKING NEWS letters floating from one side of the screen to the other.

When you watch the TV footage of a terrorist attack, no matter how horrifying it is, you think that the miles between you and the city it occured at don’t matter because you’re shocked and you feel affected. After all, in most cases it’s an attack on the values and beliefs of  a democratic and liberal society just like the one you’re living in, and therefore an attack on your own values and beliefs. However, when you watch the TV footage of injured people and chaos, of an action of such hatred happening only a few hundred metres from where you are – it’s something completely different. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Three days ago, I walked down the very same pavement people were currently lying on, injured, some of them even dead. Outside, I could hear the helicopters seconds before they appeared on the TV screen and my mind went completely blank.

Maybe it was good thing that the following hours were packed with work because there was no time to think about what had happened. I can’t remember much of what was going through my mind that afternoon and evening, but when I went home that night, everything was strangely quiet. It was like someone had put a cloche over the city, muting all sounds to a dull background noise. At every tube station, there were armed police officers, people with a look on their faces that is hard to describe. It was neither fear, nor horror – rather an expression of being withdrawn. And all of a sudden, what had happened at Westminster felt so much closer to home, and it made me feel more vulnerable than at any other point of my life. It was then that I realised how lucky I, we, the whole city had been to avoid even worse and I don’t dare to imagine what might have happened had Keith Palmer not heroically given his life for the safety of others.

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The next day, it was strangely intimidating walking through the streets of Westminster that weren’t closed off. No traffic allowed, only pedestrians – on one of the busiest streets in London. It must be mentioned, of course, what a fantastic job the police and paramedics have done. It’s down to their fast and curageous actions that worse was prevented.

Standing on Westminster Bridge, seeing all the flowers, the media, the photographers… it felt so wrong. People taking photos of people taking photos, passers-by rushing past, in between the flowers and candles. The atmosphere of disbelief that a deadly attack happened here of all places probably represents the mentality of the British better than anything I’ve ever witnessed before. No matter what shakes the foundation of Britain, they will always stand up again and fight back with a stiff upper lip and an amount of determination that I find admirable.

That evening, many Londoners came together at Trafalgar Square at 06:00 p.m. for a minute of silence and remembering those who were injured or killed during the attack. It was moving to witness a British man angrily silence a journalist who was quietly talking on the phone. And to me, it was the most human and most emotional moment since Wednesday afternoon because for the first time, it became visible how deeply this attack has hit this city. It’s not about the number of people who have been killed or injured. It’s about the fact that it has happened in the first place. However, it would be wrong to remain in a state of shock or fear, so let’s do it the British way and jolly well carry on while remembering the pain of loss that ripped through the nation on the 22nd of March 2017.

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First days and why they are great

“Always laugh when you can. It’s cheap medecine.”

– LORD BYRON

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Oh dear God, why do I keep ending up in situations where I’m either scared to death or close to explode from excitement? These were my exact thoughts when I was standing in front of the ZDF this morning as my eyes travelled up the enormous (but very beautiful) façade.

I hate first days.

There are only two ways they turn out as and that’s either so much better than you imagined they would be, or much, much worse than your darkest nightmares. So far, it’s usually been the first, but that only intensifies the fear that next time, it will all go wrong.

“Take a deep breath as you walk through the doors,” was all Taylor Swift had to say to my situation and while that’s rich of a voice coming from my headphones, she’s won several Grammys, so maybe she knows what she’s talking about.

Getting here was easier than you thought, you’ve found the right house, and you’re punctual, even far too early. What could possibly go wrong?, my inner voice tried to smooth my flattering nerves. Everything, my brain helpfully replied, but I chose to ignore it.

So I listened to Taylor’s advice, I took a deep breath, stepped up to the door, and walked right through it.

In retrospect, I really don’t know why first days are such a big deal – apart from the excitement, of course. In comparison to regular days, they’re luxury. There’s no reputation to ruin, no pressure to live up to certain expectations (at least none that you know about) and you’re allowed to ask all the dumb questions and make mistakes without being side-eyed.

In all honesty, the worst first day is probably that of secondary school. Children, especially at that age, are incredible judgmental, more so than at any other point of their lives. You choose your friends by looks and other shallow attributes, team up with those who seem similar to yourself on first sight without knowing yet that first impressions are hardly a representation of someone’s character. From thereon, there’s only one way: either you accommodate each other, or you don’t and make some new friends. You just move on.

Looking back on my first day at university, first days are the blank cheque for getting lost, for ending up in the weirdest places, or for forgetting people’s names seconds after you start talking to them. In fact, first days are exactly the kind of days we keep wishing for. The promise of a new start, getting to know new people, maybe even some  future friends, starting over new, and surprising ourselves. In university, you don’t pick your friends by looks or first impressions, but by gender. Women to the right, men to the left and for the next six semesters, there’s a slow process of both groups drifting together.

First days at internships are probably easier than first days at work because you know that this is only going to be a temporary occupation, and if things go really wrong, then you won’t have to face the consequences for the rest of your employment. While I can’t talk about what I’m doing, I can definitely say that my first day held some very pleasant surprises and it went so, so much better than I had feared.

So, what is the perfect recipe to a great first day?

I reckon that nobody has an answer to that since everybody feels differently about new starts and first days. While some people think of it as nothing special, others (including me) are quite anxious about unfamiliar territory. In the end, you just have to try to stay relaxed and keep thinking positively.

Since the ZDF is located right next to St. James’s Park and only a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, I took advantage of my early arrival and went for a walk among the blooming trees and daffodils, which relaxed me immensely before throwing myself into work. If your nerves are fluttering on your first day, make sure to be at your destination in time, maybe do the same I did and go for a short walk, and tell yourself that you’ve got a right to be there – it’s easier to forget about that than one thinks, and then whatever lies ahead won’t seem as intimidating as you first thought.

Oh yes, and do listen to Taylor Swift and take a deep breath, but maybe do so while smiling. It’ll give you more confidence and it’ll brighten your spirits. After that – well, who knows? Nobody can take the first step for you and once you start walking, you’ll find that it’s harder to stop than to just keep going.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade

“A Sunday well spent, brings a week of content.”

– ENGLISH SAYING

 As a student of British Studies, you learn quite a lot about English history. In fact, there’s an entire Mount Everest of things you learn about British history and culture, but believe it or not – St. Patrick’s Day never comes up even once! One should think that Ireland’s culture should be mentioned to a certain extent, but no. Therefore, it came as a rather pleasant surprise that I got to go to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade today, the culmination of three days of non-stop partying in London.

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 While St. Patrick’s Day is usually celebrated in Ireland on March 17th, London expands the celebration to three entire days. While there’s an ongoing Irish festival with food, music, and comedy at Trafalgar Square, the highlight takes always place on the last of the three-day-insanity: The St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It starts at 12:00 pm sharp near Hyde Park Corner, then proceeds towards Piccadilly Circus, and ends in Whitehall near Trafalgar Square after roughly 1,5 hours of music, dancing, and cheering.

The parade is just as multicultural as London itself. Of course, the majority of the participating acts are from Ireland or Irish communities and associations in London, but there were also a few Mexican and Bolivian groups integrated, adding to the cheerful atmosphere with traditional dances and music.

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Green Park is probably one of the best spots to watch the groups pass by, since the masses of spectators are thinning out alongside the street and there’s no agglomeration like at Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square. If you’re standing next to a group of dressed up people with massive costumes, expect to be caught on photographs by professional photographers working for news agencies and there’s even a tiny chance you might make an involuntarily appearance on TV. And even the weather was feeling generous today – it rained for a total of five minutes before the sun returned. But since this is London and the weather in London in spring is everything but predictable, better bring a raincoat (please don’t annoy other spectators with umbrellas) and sunglasses.

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One of my personal highlights were the bagpipers. Since my trip to Scotland, I love that kind of music and it created a very ceremonial atmosphere. Then again, I’ve never seen Irish tap dancing live before and that was also very impressive. At first, I didn’t know what to expect and I overheard two German girls wondering if this woul be similar to our German carnival. To my massive relief, it was much more dignified than that. I find it curious that  nations that love alcohol as much as Britain and Ireland do manage to keep their public celebrations completely seperate from their drinking culture and in my opinion, that’s something Germans should do as well. At this parade, nobody was drunk or even carried a bottle or chalice of beer and the ambience was much more cheerful and jovial than at any German carnival parade I’ve ever been to. The music, the dancing, and the getting together were enough to create a feeling of unity and I admire that. Moreover, I thought it was a wonderful idea to include the police and the fire brigade into the celebrations and not portray them as those who dull the atmosphere.

To summarise, it was indeed a Sunday well spent, so if the British are right, this week should bring nothing but joy and I’m very much looking forward to it, since tomorrow is my first day at work.

A walk through: Stoke Newington

“I believe your atmosphere and your surroundings create a mind state for you.”

– THEOPHELIUS LONDON

Good morning, London!

What a fantastic thing to say, or rather think, first thing on a Saturday morning. I’m still getting used to everything that simple sentence contains: the new sounds of an unfamiliar surrounding, the strange and yet oddly charming smell of Earl Grey hanging in the air, and the sun shining through my window.

9 am finds me at the breakfast table, a steaming cup of Earl Grey with milk and a bowl of cereal next to me, while I’m making plans for today. I have visited London four times now, this being my fifth time, and I cannot say that Stoke Newington has ever been on my sightseeing agenda.

Therefore, I gathered that I should get to know my new neighbourhood a bit better. After all, Edgar Allan Poe spent a few precious years of his life here and Amy Whinehouse shot a music video in a cemetry nearby, so there must be something to see. By the time I leave the house the sun, of course, is gone.

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1. Abney Park Cemetery

This beautiful Victorian cemetery and nature reserve, established in 1840, was the set for two music videos over the last years. Scenes from Amy Whinehouse’s video Back to Black and Hurts’ All I want for Christmas is New Year’s Day were both filmed here. While wandering through the narrow lines of gravestones, trees, and daffodils, reading the names of the deceased, it can get a bit creepy. Edgar Allan Poe fans will be very much at home here. Some of these stones and graves are so askew that it’s easy to imagine how their owners must have turned beneath the soil to cause so much displacement. Every now and then, you hear a squirrel in the underwood or you see a robin fly out of a broken stone coffin and those sounds of nature break the heavy atmosphere. If you don’t have a good sense of direction, you may want to have a navigation app or a map with you, because getting lost is very easy in this labyrinth of tombstones. Also, I wouldn’t recommend going there after sunset. Not to be paranoid, but some makeshift graves had me wondering…

 

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2. Stoke Newington High Street

Now on to lighter topics. For a street as narrow as Stoke Newington High Street, there’s an awful lot of traffic and just as many people. But it’s the perfect spot for the hungry and the undecided. Fish’n Chips, bars, pubs, Italian, Indian – there’s something for everyone here, including a Tesco express for 24h grocery shopping. And if you take a close look, you’ll spot the Shard tower in the far distance.

 

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3. St. Mary’s Church

On the way to Clissold Park, this beautiful church came across my way. A look inside does not only reveal nice architecture, but a huge amount of charity work they do. From my many trips here, I know what a multicultural city London is, but the city centre is rather British and the influences of other cultures are not as obvious as on the outskirts, though zone 2 is hardly outside of London. In this neighbourhood, there are churches, synagoges, and mosques right next to each other and this peaceful coexistence of different cultures is also mirrored in the people you see on streets. It gives hope that someday, this level of acceptance will not only exist in a part of London, but everywhere in the world and with a common ground of mutual tolerance, it might happen.

 

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4. Clissold Park and Clissold House

This park was, also, established in the late 19th century and offers besides lots of green space a wonderful playground for children, tennis courts, and much more. Clissold House, which can be seen in the picture above, is a popular location for weddings and other parties. Fun fact: the deers, that are living in Clissold Park, first came to live there in 1890. Also: the benches are a perfect spot for people watching!

Since it’s rather chilly today, I’m now looking forward to a nice cup of tea.