Dear Britons,

You almost killed my father. He was a boy of nine years. He was sitting in a bunker with his mom in Hamburg, during Operation Gomorrha, and while the city above them vanished in a fire storm so hot that the people outside the bunker doors merged with the melting tar they were standing on, underneath the streets the water pipes burst and my late grandmother and my dad had to swim up to the dim light of the glowing ashes of what they had come to know as their world.

Later, my dad became a scientist. He is on Facebook. You should connect, he is a cool guy. And you know what? You could easily connect with him, because being a scientist nowadays means that he publishes in your language. His English is quite good. And not only his.

When I was on a literature festival in Budapest last year, I met writers from Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Holland, Belgium, Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria. We were sitting at a large square of tables discussing various aspects of working with language, and it took two hours until I realized the irony in this setting: we were all speaking English, even the French guy, but there was not a single person from an English-speaking country present.

I don‘t know if you are aware of this: the whole continent speaks your language. You can go anywhere on this landmass inhabited by 500 million people and ask for directions, or beer, or the next English pub (they are everywhere) and you will be understood.

Everybody loves your national sport. We all know the name of your head of state and the melody of your national anthem, and, for some reason I do not get, when your princess gives birth it is a headline in all our news outlets.

And you are seriously considering leaving us? I cannot understand this.

I mean, I don‘t care much about your princess, or her baby. I do not really like your food. And, being born in Munich, I can never forgive Manchester United for Barcelona 1999. Or for Schweinsteiger 2015.

But there is one feeling that is stronger than all this. I am not sure how to describe it, but I think it has something to do with what my father said one day, when I was 12 years old and came home from school where I had just heard about Hamburg 1943, and my maths was already good enough to realize that 1943 is after 1934, the year of my father‘s birth, and I said, dad, how could they do this, and he said they had to. For you.

It took me many years to understand what he meant. But I do now. I am grateful for the democracy, the solidarity and the freedom you brought us 70 years ago, and which the German people is so used to that we tend to forget where they came from.

Today, these values are threatened again, in Germany and everywhere else on the continent. But this time it will be much easier to defend them. If we fight together.


Heinz Helle

Heinz Helle was born in 1978. He studied philosophy in Munich and New York. He has worked as a copywriter for advertising agencies, and is a graduate of the Swiss Literature Institute in Biel. His debut novel Superabundance is published on 25 February 2016.