Vincent Merlaud

Image for Vincent Merlaud
Photo by Anna Achon

Place of birth: Caen, France

Nationality at birth: French

Date of birth: April 7, 1975

Eye colour: Brown

Hair colour: Brown

Height: 1.80m

German citizen since: August 2010

Background: I grew up in Poitiers, but my family is from Normandy – our roots there go back 400 years. I studied engineering in Toulouse, which gave me the opportunity to study abroad for a year. So the final year of my studies (1996) was spent at the Humboldt University.

Why did you decide to stay in Berlin?

After a year, I felt I hadn’t explored the city enough and also wanted to improve my German, which I had learned at school. I had the opportunity of continuing my studies in Berlin, so I stayed. I was 21, and in France I would have been expected to enter the labour market. In Germany people usually finish university later than in France, so it was okay.

Why become German?

I was working in Frankfurt for a while. I had a Brazilian friend there who’d become German. He made me realise it was possible. I’d been living here a long time, felt integrated in the culture. I watched Tatort devoutly, paid a significant amount in taxes, yet I had no right to vote. I didn’t want to be a foreigner in the country I lived in and contributed to anymore. I also saw this as a way of contributing to French/ German rapprochement. My grandfather was a POW in Germany for several years during WWII – he witnessed the bombing of Dresden – so I feel a strong, personal relation to these issues.

How difficult was the process?

I turned in my file in January 2009, because I’d been told it would take six months, and I saw this as a possibility of voting in the 2009 Bundestag elections. It ended up taking over a year and a half: I became a German citizen on August 31, 2010. A friend of mine went through the process near the Black Forest and it only took two months. Berlin just has so many applicants; it takes much longer here! At the ceremony where I got my citizenship, I was the only western European out of the 50 or so people there. There was an 18-year-old from Turkey who played for Hertha BSC – for him the process went really quickly, apparently.

How was the Einbürgerungstest? The test is made up of 33 questions – 30 on Germany and three on Berlin (or wherever one applies) – and you must answer at least 17 correctly to pass. It’s incredibly easy: the questions are multiple choice, for example: “Adolf Hitler was a) a dictator, b) a democrat, c) a philosopher,” or, “What country neighbours Germany? a) Poland, b) The Netherlands, c) Iceland.” The questions were heavily anti-Nazi and anti-Communist. Something like 98 percent of people pass the test and those who don’t, fail because they can’t speak the language, not because they can’t answer the material. I finished the test in five minutes, getting all the questions correct; my only regret is that there was one guy who finished before me!

Any fond memories?

I really appreciated the welcoming ceremony. A Green Party member made a really moving speech, and we were allowed to say a few words ourselves if we wanted, which I did. I had brought about 10 friends and had a ‘German’ party at home afterwards: I wore my shirt from the German national team, we made bratwurst and Kartoffelsalat… It was a very good evening.

What does it mean to be German, in your eyes?

For me, it’s about not being a foreigner in the country I live in, therefore it was a decision entirely without ideology. In terms of character, I see the French as laissez faire, bon vivant, etc. Germans, they’re about organisation, technology, and so on.

Do you feel integrated?

I always felt integrated. Maybe it’s due to my skin colour, but for me there was no issue at all with integration. But I knew I was really German when I understood the columns in the FAZ! [laughs]

Today do you feel more German or French?

I feel more European than German or French; more French than German; Berliner as much as French. For me it was important to keep my French citizenship – because those are my roots: that’s where my family has always been from. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

How did your friends and family react?

I’ve never had a negative reaction, only support from all. The only issues that have come up a few times were through misunderstanding. People often assume that I had to give up the French nationality, which is something they can’t understand.

At the end of the day, is nationality a relevant concept or obsolete in today’s world?

There’s nationality, which isn’t obsolete, and there’s what politicians make of it. Nationality is not a fixed concept – it’s important, but it can be expanded, and my becoming German hasn’t made me any less French. I’m from a place, I know it well, I like the culture; yet again, I’m in Berlin, I know the city, I’ve got friends, a good job – it’s my city. I didn’t feel like a foreigner before, but now I feel very German.