When my grandmother was a teenager, her only brother went to war. It was World War I and he never returned.
When my grandmother was a new mother with two toddlers, men came to her house (the very house I live in now) and threw her husband down the basement stairs. Over and over and over again. He was an airplane constructor and had said he would not build any planes that would be used to throw bombs over England. Not the smartest thing to say in Nazi Germany. Eventually, the men left and my grandfather was taken to a hospital where he died of his injuries. (I call it death by anglophilia.)
When I was a young woman, I fell head over heels for a young Englishman I met on a trip to Belgium. Things did not work out but decades down the road, we are still friends, teasing each other about football and how old we have become. Never did I have to fear that he and my brother would meet in a trench somewhere.
If my husband were ever to fall down our basement stairs, it would probably be because he stumbled over a cat. And my love of most things English is unlikely to cost me my life.
Today, when I walk through the streets of Berlin, I hear English and Polish and Spanish and Portuguese. Young Europeans come here and live here and work here without even needing any kind of permit. They don’t fight wars, they have lovers’ quarrels and tease each other about football.
Germany has borders with no fewer than nine other countries, most of whom it has made war against one time or another (or repeatedly). Yet today, not a single one of these borders is guarded. There are no checkpoints or guards or any kind of obstacle — just a sign by the road telling you that you have just entered another country, easy to miss. It’s a world my grandmother probably could not have imagined.
For all the complaints one can have about the European Union’s bureaucracy and overreach and expense — in my book, they are a small price to pay for the fact that, while my grandmother had experienced two devastating wars by the time she was my age, I have always lived in peace.
If you have one of these burgundy passports shared by more than 500 million people in 28 countries (amazing, isn’t it?), please go and vote this week. And please, please don’t vote for any of these Front Nationals or True Finns or Alternativen or UKiPs or whatever that tell you we would be better of without Europe.
Because we wouldn’t be. Just ask my grandmother. Or yours.