All it took was an echo

April 8th, 2014, 3pm

A theory begins to form as to why I could immediately relate to the Suisse romande. They speak French there, in a country otherwise largely dominated by a Swiss brand, or several Swiss brands of German. “Largely”, because there’s the two other official Swiss languages: Italian and Romansh.

Ok. You see, the part of Germany I come from not only borders on France, but used to be part of France, on and off during its history. Germany and France loved to fight over the Saarland, because coal was to be found and steel was to be milled there. As recently as 1959, the prevalent currency was French.

If you ask about the relationship between the Saarlandians and France, the answer would have to be: it’s complicated. The French influence just can’t be denied if you look at culture, language or mentality - even though the region has always been German speaking. Which is probably one of the reasons the Saarland opted twice for being German when given the possibility to decide.

The first time around (1935) my ancestors voted for being German while “German” meant “nazi”. At 90,3% no less. Twenty years and a world war later, history handed them their chance for their own state, with close ties to both France and Germany. Guess what? They once again wanted to be as German as possible.

Today the Saarland is dying, literally. After deindustrialization took hold in the late seventies / early eighties, the unstoppable decline began. Population is on a steep dive. Sure, there had been forward looking people who said coal and steel wouldn’t last forever. There had been this crazy idea the Saarland, in the Gestalt of an independent state, might function mainly as a bridge between France and Germany, with a distinctive European spin.

The Saarland would look a lot more like Luxemburg. And a little more like the Suisse romande. If its people had been a little more interested in the future.

At least that’s my line of thought. But who am I to say? Not one of them anymore (if I ever was). I’m not even a traveller, I’m an expatriate who often feels he’s made a lucky escape from a sad and confusing place of origin. And sometimes not.

I feel I’m almost making sense here.

Christine, Philippe and Lia said thanks.

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Marcus Hammerschmitt

Writer, journalist and photographer. Eighteen books so far, on paper and on screen. My biography is boring, my life is not.

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