- Constanze Borchert -
The theme of identity is very broad. You have a national, religious and social identity and they are always changing. National identity is always difficult in Germany. Yes, I am German and I think this is okay, but because of German history that also entails a responsibility and burden. As a result, many people cannot identify with it 100%. That is why I like to say that I am Saks and I am from Dresden. Yet. Since I have been living in Stuttgart since 2006, I no longer feel that close to Dresden, but have I now become a Stuttgarter? Actually, I don't think so, because I was not born or raised there.
I don't really like this German conception of regional identity. As a result, new people cannot 'land' in a new region or in Germany as a whole. People with a different skin color are therefore always asked where they come from. And the answer “I was born in Berlin” is by no means always satisfactory. You are then expected to tell us from which country your parents or grandparents come. The question where you come from is therefore always difficult. My solution is to say, "I live in Stuttgart but am actually from Dresden."
Religious identity is a little easier for me because the German Protestant churches are a big organization. They consist of a series of 20 regional churches, all of which are a bit different. And that also applies to different congregations within a church. In religious identity, the things we have in common are more important to me than the differences. "I am evangelical." works well for me. But really the question is why don't I say I'm a Christian? Probably because I cannot identify 100% with all Christian churches, even though we have the same constitutions.
For a long time I have not been open about the religious aspect of my identity, because as a Christian you are in the minority in Dresden. Due to the long period in which the socialist system prevailed, many people no longer have a relationship with religion. They see religion as old, strange and conservative. That is why I sometimes did not tell at school what I did in the church congregation. Or I didn't say as much as I would have liked to avoid getting a negative response from my friends. Now I have become more confident about that.
There are many aspects to my social identity. I am a daughter, an older sister, a granddaughter, a friend, a student, a wife, an art historian, a science fiction fan, I play the piano, accordion and flute, I am a singer, a human who has had depression, someone over 30, someone who speaks German, English, French and Dutch, who doesn't drink much alcohol, doesn't smoke, who likes cheese, sweets and hot days. But what does that mean for me and other people?
I think an identity has to do with an essence that you cannot easily change easily. And there are also many properties that you can change. But both can be changed in theory.
Identity is a network, a collection of experiences and properties. It may now sound like identity is character too. But perhaps identity is that part of your character and history that you can be aware of and accept. [No idea if I still think the same thing a week later.]
But what has my six months in the Netherlands meant for my identity? I don't know yet if it changed my character. But I now also identify a bit with the Netherlands. So I adjusted my Facebook photo on King's Day. In any case, I am now someone who has lived abroad, understands Dutch and someone who now has more friends from abroad. I now not only feel at home in Dresden, Berlin and Stuttgart, but also in Leiden and Delft. Is my identity different now? I think it has been given a new aspect, but its power is not yet visible or felt.
What is always true is, "I am I." But that always means slightly different. So everything is changeable.
Constanze Borchert studied in Leiden for six months and returned to Germany this spring.