Sketchbook: The Traveler’s Aftermath (pt. 1)



This is going to be the first entry about my most recent traveling, to Germany and France. It’s a bit more personal than the other ones which will be (slightly unusual) travel photos only.

For me, going to Germany is not like going to any other country. I am a German who, at some stage, decided to live someplace else. Going ‘home’ gives me a weird feeling. If you’re also this kind of expat - and not the one who’s only hanging out with his kind, longing to regain the paradise lost [those people scare me!] - you’ll know this feeling of coming to a place that you know very intimately, yet that at the same time has changed. Most of you won’t be expats so maybe I can explain it by comparing it with meeting a former lover, a while after a somewhat nasty - but not too nasty - breakup.

And, yes, you can break up with a country and leave it in disgust or feeling disappointed or just longing for someplace else and you’ll always take some love with you. You might not realize there’s that love, it might take a while for you to realize what you lost, what you didn’t appreciate before, what you won’t be able to re-gain.

So then you go back because you have to or want to. It’s like meeting that former lover on terms that weren’t decided in advance. There’s the difference. You can’t talk to a country on the phone and decide to meet it again. It just happens and you find yourself in weird situations. People have become strange to you. Things have changed. Inevitably, you’ll be disappointed to see the place has become even more stupid and, at the same time, even cooler than before. The current whining and complaining over in Germany is almost unbearable but I also saw some art and photo exhibits which, in their variety and quality, in the US you’d only be able to see in a city like New York but certainly not in Pittsburgh.

That feeling of not knowing where I really belong, what place I’d call my home never left me, and it made things harder than I thought it would. Those US immigration officers who only say ‘welcome home’ to citizens and not to permanent residents (regardless of how long you’ve lived here) only rubbed it in - after a long and tiring flight. So what’s my home? I really don’t know. There’s millions of things I hate about Germany and millions of things I love about it and likewise for the US. On the plus side, you get to see things that other people don’t notice and you get to see it everywhere. I wonder how big of a plus that really is, though.

And I met another past love affair, to over-use the image: I went to a scientific conference in Strasbourg, France, where I stayed in one of those shitty cheap hotels that I had forgotten about already. Believe you me, if you ever think it’s glamourous to work on cosmology let me tell you it isn’t.