Kde domov můj? Where is my home(land)? With these words the Czech national anthem starts. I found that always a very challenging question and the lack of a proper word in English for the German “Heimat” oder “domov” in Czech shows how tricky this notion is. The German term “Heimat” is more than a land or a place. It might be a feeling, a memory, a set of relationships at a given time. It is very complex. In German we speak of “geistige Heimat” – spiritual home, meaning that one draws inspiration and intellectual stimulation from a set of thoughts or that one feels rooted in a certain philosophy or mindset.
To me the notion of Heimat can change, it is not set forever. Every place I lived in became a bit of Heimat to me. Sometimes unexpectedly. When leaving Prague after 4 years in 2005 I felt devastated like I had to choose between two countries now. But a friend who had been living in the same village for over 25 years commented on that very pragmatically: How nice to have more than one Heimat! And he was right, I was just too narrow-minded at the time to enlarge the concept.
Whenever leaving a place, I refrain from going back immediately. For example, I waited two years before returning to Tunis because returning soon after having left it would have broken my heart – I would have felt deprived of my home, somewhat in-between, like a tourist who I definitely did not want to be. Two years later Potsdam had become my home and so it was easier to go back to Tunis as a good friend, a former inhabitant with a bit of nostalgy, but also with the curiosity to explore the changes that had occurred in the meantime.
If you long for your home we call it "Heimweh" which is one side of the medal. The other side is what I feel quite often - the pull of distant places – "Fernweh". I guess many people oscillate between those two. And the more Fernweh you have the more Heimats you end up with. Does that make sense?
I looked at some of my photographs from former homes and chose some that bring back the feeling and atmosphere of the place when I look at them. They are from Brussels, Wolgograd and the Czech Republic (click on the pictures to enlarge).
At home or far away - take care,
P.S. Tell me about your concept of home.
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