Despite this being her seventieth spring, and despite having had a series of serious operation of which she prefers not to speak, Geraldine is full of life. The proof: it is still not yet nine in the morning and she is walking along a promenade with her dog Keny. “Now I will take a coffee in a bar with my friend Antonio, and then return home,” she comments, all smiles, in a Castilian understandable only because of the vivid body language which accompanies it.
The eternal holiday
The whole neighbourhood knows Geraldine Riemer and her husband, a German couple who, when the day of retirement loomed near, decided to buy a house in Spain and live a permanent vacation. They sold the small family hotel in Germany and chose to move to Denia, a small town on the coast of Valencia. And they are not the only ones. According to the National Institute of Statistics, in 2005 there were 1,352,000 European immigrants resident in Spain; Germans made up the third most numerous community with 133,000 members, behind Romania (317,000) and the UK (227,000)
The principle reason for this magnetic attraction? “The sea and the sun,” exclaims Geraldine with open arms and a large smile. While this is what attracts people to come here, with time people discover a whole way of life that they are unwilling to give up. “The siesta? Everyday!” exclaims Geraldine. Geraldine’s occasionally visits her mother, 97, who lives in Germany: “I go there to see her, but after a few days I start to miss Spain: I cannot find my place in Germany.”
The easy life
The case of the Riemers is not an exceptional one, though it is somewhat unusual to find one of the German expatriates speaking Castilian. Nevertheless, the streets are full of old people of all ages, even if the Germans predominate in this little town of 42,000 inhabitants. Paz Collado works in a pharmacy in the centre of town and has a lot of foreign customers. “I have had no choice but to learn,” he explains as he occupies himself with a Dutch couple, “I didn’t understand what they were asking me.” The language barrier is an important reason why the new inhabitants of Denia tend to keep to themselves, even if this was not their intention when they moved to Spain.
A seventy year old man arrives by bicycle in the main square. He hops off his bike, buys a paper and says hello in German to a group eating breakfast. Without speaking a word of Catilian and with a certain reticence towards speaking English, he still finds it hard to think of even one thing he misses from home. “One things for sure, it isn’t the climate,” he jokes. For many, the summer, with its tourist invasion, signals a return to their home country to take a small pause in the eternal vacation. For others, on the contrary, it is an opportunity to receive visits from their loved ones.
This phenomenon has really developed in the last few years. The advancement of the process of European integration has made possible the increasing mobility of money, healthcare and assurance. According to Paz Collado “Many live alone and some are even handicapped, but health insurance functions without a problem, both private and public.”A short walk in the centre of town will suffice to give you an idea of the number of medical centres with signs outside in German. Pflege Siggi is a good example: he is an itinerant doctor who plies his trade along the coast of Valencia, offering his services 24 hours a day. Similar work is carried out by the Association of Health Transport in Javea, which has two thousand members and six thousand beneficiaries in the municipality of Denia.
Transformation and tradition
According to the statistics, Denia’s foreign population increased by more than 140% between 2001 and 2006. It is also important to note that the town grew by 88% in 20 years. This massive population movement has direct consequence for the urban space, but for the moment Denia has kept its small village character. Unlike other small towns in Spain, Denia has managed to reconcile the arrival of tourism with its traditional identity. At the end of April, the village continues to celebrate the Christian tradition in customary style. Furthermore, the village doesn’t empty of inhabitants during the winter, unlike many other villages on the coast.
It is probably that this combination of circumstances has transformed Denia into a special place for the aged who wish to profit from their retirement in the balmy calm of a Mediterranean climate on the coast of Valencia. There are a just a few details left to order: every five years Geraldine has to go to Valencia to renew her residence permit, even though she is European: “Why am I in the same queue as those not from the EU?” she demands.