I’ve not dug out this story since I applied for my very first ever (paid) Edinburgh Fringe job, so be warned; I’ll be laying it on thick. But desperate times and all that.
I came to the UK for the first time when I was 12 years old. All year I had berated my dad about taking me to the land of David Beckham and Robbie Williams, until he finally agreed to take me during the school summer holidays. Our intinerary was somewhat ambitious, I now realise. We were to take the ferry to Dover and then embark on a two week car trip in my dad’s red Mitsubishi jeep, that was to take us from London, via Stone Henge, Nottingham, York, Wales, Fort Williams, Edinburgh and back to Dover. A route mostly designed by me based on the things I knew and fetishised about the UK as the 12 year old German girl I was. Stone Henge = Aliens. Nottingham = Robin Hood. York = One of my English text books mentioned a Viking museum that you explore by driving around in barrels, duh. London = Madam Thussaud’s and the closest I would most likely ever come to meeting Tom Cruise. The Scottish and Welsh branch of the journey was very much a compromise I had to agree upon so my father was to get something out of the trip as well. Eager mountaineer and outdoor freak my dad was (and still is) he made me scale Mt Snowdon and Ben Nevis, forced me to swim in Loch Ness (“ARE YOU CRAZY!!! THERE’S A GODDAMN MONSTER IN THERE!”) and camp in Scottish summer mosquito hell (“THEY’VE ALL DROWNED IN MY SOUP. I HATE SCOTLAND!”). Edinburgh was merely meant to be a pitstop on our way back down. We stopped off at a campsite about an hour outside of Edinburgh – I remember it well. Dad and I would return here almost exactly 7 years later, the night before I moved into university halls. (As long as I can remember my family has always resisted taking a hotel if there are camping options available. Quite an odd thought now, the fact that my dad and I were sleeping in a tent with every single thing I’ve ever owned in tow, the night before the biggest move of my life.)
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Back to August 2002. All holiday long we had listened to the same cassette tape over and over again (YES. Everything you’ve heard is true) – the original Trainspotting soundtrack. I had never seen Trainspotting (my mum had banned me from seeing the movie until I was 18 years old – a ban I broke when I was 14 and a half years old) but thanks to Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, I already knew Ewan McGregor was the man I was going to marry one day and my friends and I had already entered our awfully macabre, utterly hormonal but for us perfectly acceptable pact to kill ourselves on our 30th birthday had we not met and slept with Ewan McGregor by that point in our lives. I have two years left, Mr McGregor, get your bloody socks on. Long story short (haha as if), all my dad had to mention was that they filmed Trainspotting in Edinburgh and even with the tiniest of chances to meet Ewan McGregor, I knew me and the Scottish capital were off to a good start. We hit town, not knowing the significance the month of August has to the city and BOOOOOM. I can pretty much pin point the moment I fell in love with Edinburgh.
My dad and I had somehow managed to fight our way up the Royal Mile all the way from Holyrood Palace but it was around the time North Bridge turned into South Bridge when we needed to take a break and make sense of what the hell was actually happening. Neither of us had ever heard of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before. Complete and utter newbies, we were simply baffled. What in Gerhard Schröder’s (Germany’s chancellor at the time – for a bit of historic context) name was going on? Why was everyone either dressed up, handing out flyers, or shit-faced drunk. In some cases, all of the above. We did what all confused tourists would have done, grabbed a portion of fish and chips each from the chippy across the road (right next to the Fringe shop for those who need geographical reference points to prove this is a true story) and sat down on the sidewalk, right next to the temporary stages used for student and am-dram theatre groups to showcase 5 minutes of their 3 stars – Broadway Baby shows to desperately try and stand out amongst the other 3000 3 stars – Broadway Baby shows. I won’t pretend I can remember which student group I was mesmerised by or what they were performing but I can recall a very enthusiastic and shouty American guy addressing the by-standing crowds while a bunch of impossibly beautiful performers were dancing and cheering behind him. That’s exactly what I want to do, I thought as I forced myself to enjoy my vinegar-drenched chips. I’ve always hated vinegar, especially on chips, but if that’s what Brits do, I thought, then that’s what I’ll have to do.
So we returned back to Germany, but it only took me another two years until I had yet again successfully berated my dad to take me back to the Fringe. This time we were old veterans and knew exactly what to expect. We went to see the Military Tattoo and I bought my 3 year old brother a bagpipe fridge magnet that played ‘Flower of Scotland’ every time you pushed a button. My little brother was obsessed with the thing and my mum was thrilled.
After that, I lost sight of my Edinburgh dream for a few years, because between the ages of 14 and 16 really all that mattered to me was the right eyeliner to eyelid ratio (one my mum never agreed with) and t-shirts with sassy slogans on them. I certainly didn’t have enough brain space to think about a far away Scottish town. For a while, everything seemed open again, till one fateful afternoon in 2007, I walked into the advanced biology class at a high school in League City, near Houston, Texas. I didn’t get unbelievably lost, you see. A few months earlier, I had decided to take part in a high school student exchange scheme and live in the USA for a while with a strange family and thousands of miles away from my parents and everyone I held dear to experience what it is like to be a student at a typical American high school (SPOILER: it is as awful as it sounds). So I went and did that. The fateful afternoon occurred towards the end of my torturous tenure at Clear Creek High School, and I was counting down the days until I would be back in Germany and drink cheap but excellent beers in the park with my friends, rather than having to go to football games and pretend I cared in any way about sports and boys in Hollister polo shirts. All year long, I had sat right next to a nerdy but lovely girl whose name is no longer one I can recall. Probably because I had never paid much attention to her until I spotted the words ‘University of Edinburgh’ on top of a stack of papers she had sprawled out on her desk.
‘Edinburgh!’, I shrieked.
‘Yes, I’m going to college there this fall!’
‘That’s so cool! That’s where I’ll go to college as well!”
At this point, I hadn’t thought about Edinburgh, let alone university in years but it came out of my mouth with such determination that I couldn’t have possibly taken it back ever again.
‘Amazing, see you there then.’
Edinburgh was back on the map.
And when the time came, I googled ‘studying in Scotland’, found out as an EU citizen I would be able to study there for free, got my parents on board, worked my way through UCAS and the utterly absurd system of ‘predicted grades’ and ‘conditional offers’ (‘what do you mean, they want me to predict what mark you’ll get in your English exam?! What you get is what you get!’ You see, the vague concept of ‘prediction’ is kryptonite to the pedantry of us Germans) and a few months later I was the proud owner of one rejection and one acceptance letter. Obviously, I never made it into the University of Edinburgh; my English was pedestrian at best and while I always had excellent grades, snogging boys will forever be more important to me than academic achievements – a quality that I am proud of – don’t be fooled – and that must have shown in my personal statement. But the slightly more basic Napier University undoubtedly suited me better. It was full of weirdos that had no clue where exactly life was going to take them. Neither did I but I knew I was in the best possible place to figure it out. And well begun is half done, riiiiight?
‘So you’re the girl who moved to the UK because of the Edinburgh Fringe’, my future boss says as I walk into the interview room for my first ever (paid) Edinburgh Fringe job. It’s 2013 and I’ve just graduated from Napier University.
I cringe as I remember promptly that I had started my application with the pathos-filled story of fish and chips on the Royal Mile. So. Dramatic.
‘Uhm, yep, that’s me.’