Gerd and Elke
Gerd and Elke - both in their early forties - and their daughter 13,
migrated to Liverpool from Saarland in Germany in 1998, when Gerd came
to study Popular Music and Sound Technology at LIPA.
Elke spoke no English and had never visited the country at that time.
Gerd had visited once briefly with a school youth group but a huge affection
for British and American music had given him a great love of English and
some insight into the culture. As well as being a budding musician he
was a qualified nurse, but had to wait a year for his papers to come through
before he could work in the UK.
Initially the family settled in Toxteth and Gerd says this first period
was the most challenging, not least getting to grips with the strong local
“I spoke English okay but coming to Liverpool was like entering
a different world, the scouse accent hit us pretty hard! The first six
months you’re on your own, you really have to support yourself.
I busked on the streets and worked sixty hours a week as a contract care
assistant. When it’s not your mother tongue being spoken and you’re
dealing with laws, politics, people, your brain is overloaded. By the
end of the day you don’t even understand ‘good evening’
But they overcame these difficulties to make a success of their lives
in the UK. Gerd has been a full time nurse since 1999 and has released
an album on Aigburth-based label Probe Plus*.
Elke studied art at Liverpool Community College and has worked as a children’s
book illustrator, and now at a secondary school as well as contributing
illustrations to Nerve. She concurs that effort and determination are
key. “You have to adapt to the country. Yes there are going to be
differences but you have to go out there and deal with them.”
Thankfully they have found their effort matched by the Liverpool people,
says Gerd: “Scousers are very friendly, funny people! Saarland was
a very working class area - hard-working straight-forward people - and
here is very similar. We’ve had a few idiots as you get everywhere,
but they’ve generally been kids.”
Obviously as white migrants they have had a very different experience
of migration than those groups most under the current media spotlight.
But both agree that multiculturalism does work.
“In the primary school in Toxteth my daughter attended, there were
pupils from seventeen different countries,” says Gerd.
Elke adds, “You could see how multiculturalism does work after 9/11.
There was a strain on everyone but they all were tight because of the
bonds and friendships they’d already formed. They treated each other
carefully and with respect.”
Gerd is clear on why migration has become such an issue, saying, “The
British economy is in downturn and whenever that happens the right wing
press make it an issue. Essentially people’s problems with migrants
are simply that they are different, they do things differently and people
find that scary.”
*Sonnenberg – Fishing in the pool