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Europe and her Children

From its humble beginnings, Europe’s patchwork family grows and grows. It all started one rainy evening, a long, long time ago... On the evening of the 25th of March, 1957, the European family was conceived in a festive orgy. The rain hammering down on the Capitol in Rome couldn’t dampen the spirits inside the ornate ballroom of the Campidoglio. Eleven elders had convened to represent their respective six countries. The official line was that they were to sign an agreement regarding economic and nuclear cooperation.

What actually took place behind the shut curtains of that ballroom will most likely never reach public ears. Indigo wouldn’t dream of breaking such a long-lasting taboo, but let’s give something away: The heads of state and government had their wives smuggled in through the back entrance. Fascinated by the historical dimension, especially if in the presence of some real power, they decided to reward their husbands for the hard work right there and then. The ceremonies, if one is inclined to call it so, were completed within an hour. Belgian foreign minister Henri Spaak burst into the ballroom, shirt buttons in complete disarray, and proclaimed: „An act to go down in European history!“

Nine months and six days later, on the 1st of January, 1958, six babies were born in the maternity room of the Rome university clinic: Three boys and three girls, the young Frenchman Jean, the Italian Francesco, the German Michel, the Belgian Emma, the Dutch Sanne, and the Luxemburger Octavie. The parents were well aware of the meaningful birthdate and decided to leave their offspring to a special kind of education. An internationally acclaimed nanny was hired: Europa, daughter of renowned Greek nobility, took the children in and promised to teach some good old common values. The press was screaming with joy. A decade earlier and this would have been unthinkable. The families had been feuding to such an extent that the Montagues‘ and Capulets‘ mild misunderstandings seemed downright cuddly. And now, six children of different nationality were to grow up in unison?

No one envied the nanny for her position. From the beginning, she had difficulty keeping little Jean on the right track. When a British couple enquired in 1963 whether their expected tot could be integrated into the little family, Jean mumbled a stubborn ‚Non‘ under his breath. He was a true problem child. While the others loved playing in the coal cellar over all else, Jean insisted on staying in his room to play with his ever growing arsenal of “atomic” toys. At age 8, he started refusing to participate in family meals. His high chair remained perennially empty. The nanny knew better than to try to force him to do anything; she knew the delicate balance between the six could easily come undone. Smart as she was, she set out to reconcile the group. During a holiday in Luxembourg the family decided that each member needs some space to fulfil him/herself, despite the common goals.

When the children turned nine, Mama Europa decided to move to Brussels and immediately called a family conference to solve anything from pet peeves to fistfighting disputes. The move paid immediate dividends. Even the usually so difficult puberty was handled with flying colours and could not dent the young sextet, on the contrary. After their hormonal roller-coaster-ride the boys‘ and girls‘ development had progressed so well that they asked Mama Europa to adopt four further children. Europa was thrilled at the thought, because in the previous years many parents from countries such as Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Norway had expressed the wish to bear a child for the internationally acclaimed family. Tragedy struck when the Norwegian mother suffered a miscarriage, but 1973 still saw three babies bring new life to the place: Mathilde, Patrick and Emily. Patrick was a problem child from day one onward, he weighed a mere 2.8 kilos at birth. But thanks to a nourishing diet and much motherly love, the young Irishman sprouted and flourished.

The harmony within the patchwork family steadily increased. When Mother Europa decided to introduce a new unit of pocket money, the ECU, only the individualistic Windsor-grandchild Emily decided it was stupid and refused to take part. She was generously allowed to continue using her old pocket money.

The community was soon faced with new challenges: three further parents arrived to harbour their children in the family. Hefty discussions ensued, especially surrounding young Georgios, whose Greek parents had been called ‘junta’ due to their authoritarian upbringing practices, in which they were known to pull out the cane now and then, just years earlier. In the end, the family agreed that the parents had mellowed with time, though. So, once again, the family opened its arms to new offspring in 1981.

Five years later they broke through the dozen-milestone. Europa rejoiced at the suntanned Rui and Alejandro, although she was well aware of the growing differences in her family. The six eldest were raking in the cash in their jobs in industry and service sectors. Their family ties were so strong that they still lived at home, which especially Francesco the Italian savoured to the hilt (he must have it in the blood). The younger two spent their childhood trolling through the gardens and fields and had little in common with their older siblings.

Europa made an inordinately wise decision: she decided they needed to get off the money trip a bit and spend more time on social responsibility. To this end, they decided to change their name to ‘Union’ during the winter holidays of 1991, spent in the cosy resort of Maastricht. The family decided they needed to face other families in unison and present a common message. They also concluded that a regular meeting for some hearty cops and robbers play couldn’t hurt. Ahhh, they’d grown up. Europa no longer needed to wipe behinds or enforce sleeping habits, while the children’s teddy bears no longer needed to stay in one room. They could switch beds as they liked and whenever they liked. Free bear movement for all!

The changes had an immediate positive effect on all members. The good old German Michel had for years been suffering from a serious case of bipolar multiple personality disorder, but had gotten over it well and was growing to the strongest child. He even no longer frightened the others with his regular fits. The adoption of Elisabeth from Vienna, the blond little Swede Anna, and the Finn Iida couldn’t unbalance this new family.

Fascinated by the impressive size of her family, Europa announced that same year that she was nowhere near finished. Moreover, she planned a large addition to the family property, in which at least ten further children could find room. No one dared challenge a mother raring to go and all remained silent: A new direction had been born.

Another vacation in Amsterdam in 1997—you know how vacations in Amsterdam end— the offspring gave the mother free range to decide family matters. Three years later they packed their bags and headed off to the Cote d’Azur, where a new adoption plan was conceived of over the roofs of Nice. Many children were to join. The grumbling from the back rows could not be overheard. On arriving home, all were clear about the goal: “We need a family contract!” Shouldn’t be difficult, thought Europa. “I’ll write everything down later when I have peace and quiet. The children will be able to read it and everyone will say what a brilliant mother I am.”

In the erroneous belief that her power is absolute, Europa shifted the contract from one side of her desk to the other and back again. Her mind was distracted: more children, more baby children... As chance would have, May of 2004 saw another minibus stop in front of the expanded country house of the ‘union’ family. Ten beaming couples stepped out, each with a new born hanging in their arms: straw blonde Erik from Estonia, the pretty Latvian Liga, Lithuanian Ona with the bright green eyes, the exceptionally large for his age Pole Jakub, the fraternal twins Tomas from the Czech Republic and Pavol from Slovakia, the tiny Slovene Marija, the noble son Karol from Hungary, warm-hearted Joseph from Malta, and the Cypriot Dimitra. She had been a complicated birth and had been paralysed on one side since, but physicians hope to find a remedy soon.

Ageing Europa could now walk with her head up high, as 25 children swelled the ranks of her little project. As she had her hands full running after toddlers, an old friend of the family — Valery Giscard d’Estaing, uncle of family original Jean — offered his services in formulating the new house rules. He set to work immediately, and after many nights of candlelit musing, the magnum opus was finished. Each child received a copy on its bedside table. Some, the Belgian Emma and Austrian Elisabeth for example, spent a night reading it beneath the covers and proudly announced the next morning that they loved the idea. One child after the other arrived with similar news over the next few days. Suddenly, it was a stormy night in May of 2005, Jean and Sanne burst into the dining room, fuming, furious! Uncle Valery has nerve, writing such flapdoodle! He has absolutely no clue how the family works and what we all want! First we are never asked about anything and now we are supposed to decide on this trashy document on the spot!? Not to speak of the fact that everything is unfair these days! Over our dead body! The new rules were torn into shreds and scattered through the room before the two disappeared to their rooms in a huff.

A deathly silence drifted over the dinner table, from where the rest had watched. Peace-loving Europa had seen such outbursts from her children. But now she could not ignore them, as she needed all the children to agree to the house rules. Total shock spread across her face, it took minutes for her to gasp: “I need some time on my own...” She left the room with her face in her hands. A black cloud hung over the house over the next few months. Even the adoption of Gabriela from Bucharest and Stefka from Sofia in the spring of 2007 couldn’t lift the mood.

Sooner than anyone had expected, the 25th of March, 2007 arrived. As firstborn, Michel had thought of inviting his siblings to Berlin to celebrate a large, family celebration. He knew a special occasion was needed to bond again after the recent family crises. And suddenly, exactly that wished-for moment set it. Italian singer Gianna Nannini’s raspy voice wafted over the crowd, the song ‘Grazie’ caught in every throat, the siblings fell into each other’s arms. From the crowd, the young Turkish Fatma watched with a smile spreading across her lips while she gently stroked her full, pregnant belly.

Author: Jochen Markett

Illustration: Maria Messing

Translation: Adam Chrambach


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