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My Longing for Europe

Rediscovering homesickness on a continental scale: sharing a wistful pride.

It has become late in Capetown. The Table Mountain is slowly shrouded in thick clouds. I pull myself from the vista and turn back to my host, Jan. He takes a nip from his wineglass; we talk about life in Europe and Africa. Jan is a well educated South African with Boer ancestors. Even though his country is the most beautiful in the world, he raves about the metropolises – Berlin, Paris, and Vienna – he has visited over the last few years. “When I was in Berlin recently, I noticed the pulse of life there. One could really feel it.” He tells of nightbuses, of cafés that stay open beyond midnight, of clubs, of career options, the relative freedom compared to life in Capetown.

Since then, I have given Jan’s words much thought. Am I also so positive about my hometown, Berlin? I am happy here, even proud of the place, but it’s a feeling that spreads out beyond the city boundaries. This must be a longing for Europe.

The last time I was overcome by such a feeling was during a trip to the French Pyrenees. I spent a few days with friends in a small village full of crazy people wanting to get away from society. It was somewhat like Capetown. I was looking at the mountains and letting my thoughts wander and, suddenly, the feeling gripped me: this strange longing for Europe.

The feeling is difficult to shake. In the following weeks I was surprised how many people immediately understood when I tried to explain it. Igor from Moldova travelled to New York and discovered it. Kata from Budapest felt it during her law studies in Constance. Vegard from Oslo took diving lessons in Vancouver and longed for home in a way he never had before. Even Vitaut from Hrodna in Belarus felt it: it’s not like normal homesickness for your own four walls, your friends, your own bed. Imagine a wistful pride. A funny feeling that neither my parents nor grandparents ever experienced. “Child, it’s wonderful that you’re able to travel so much. Take the chance and live for the moment.”

They don’t get it. I don’t want to just travel, experience, consume. I want to immerse myself in this feeling, want to feel at home anywhere on my continent. Igor, Kata, Vegard, Vitaut, and I speak about similar issues concerning our studies, we like similar music and deal with the same relationship troubles. This is intimacy in the making.

Suddenly, I know how if feels to cheer for FC Porto’s victory in the Champions League, to headbang while ‘Lordi’ sweeps the Eurovision Song Contest, or to meet everyone and his brother at the Sziget-festival in Budapest. Then add hours of Skype-conference debates while producing a common European magazine – it all feels a bit like Europe.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the kind of person to go all lightheaded when someone calls Europe a ‘bastion of peace.’ This is a given for me. I know I am not alone in demanding more than this. Our generation is not whiny, we act. We’re not politicians in Brussels who paste together makeshift guidelines instead of creating lasting visions. The last few years have seen a generation move to the forefront, one that sees Europe as an idea you can live.

Author: Björn Richter

Photo: Carl Berger

Translation: Adam Chrambach

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