This town, Bad Homburg, is my town. It’s where I feel at last at home, a foreign emotion for me – a foreigner to this place, I feel adopted. I will to a certain extent always be an outsider, or what Peter Mayle calls a permanent tourist, but Bad Homburg is the town that suits me best. It did not always strike me as the place where I belonged. It was not love at first sight. This was a slow cooking romance, the kind you read about in a classic bodice ripper novel, the kind where the damsel in distress wears a long gown with her breasts slightly exposed as the tall, dark and handsome man with bulging muscles holds her in his arms, pressing her close as her hair falls back. Bad Homburg was my knight in shining armor, one I initially held in great disdain.
In The Beginning, I Got Here
When I first moved to Germany in 2002 I didn’t like Bad Homburg at all. The way people drove their cars around town annoyed me to no end, the old moneyed ladies were snooty. Too many buildings, once grand 100 years ago, were falling apart. People were far too snobby about the place, I thought. Since then, I’ve grown to love this town with all its dents and come to recognize my first impressions of the place and the people in it as Culture Shock, as I felt very much the person who did not belong. I was the fish out of water.
In talking with others from various countries, I’ve come to find this is not at all atypical. It’s one thing to relocate to another town or city or state. It’s another thing entirely to move to another country, one with a different culture with different social customs to your own, not to mention a different language. Traveling extensively does not prepare you for living abroad, for experiencing this particular type of adventure. It simply makes you more aware of being in culture shock when you actually feel it.
I’m an American immigrant – I know, not so sexy as being an expat, but I’ve come to terms with the terms that most accurately describe me. Traveler is another sexy word, much preferred over tourist, but if I’m honest with myself I’m neither. Before I became a mother, I lived nomadically, a lifestyle trend not at all unusual for an American of my generation.
Hailing From Somewhere, Sort Of…
I was born in Illinois – the only one in my family who was born there, so I do not hail from where I was born. My youth was spent in Portland, Oregon and then in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When people ask me where in America I’m from, I say New Mexico because it is where I spent the larger part of my youth, but I didn’t start living there until I was eight years old. For most native Germans, that would mean I’m not from there at all, but that I simply lived there for a while. Outside the distinctions of my own experience, I’m not from anywhere. I am an American.
This lack of belonging is both liberating and confusing. I envy those who were born in a village where their entire family was born and the whole town knows everything about them. That’s a kind of belonging I can only imagine. I’m part Sioux, part Comanche, and part white pioneer with a Germanic ancestry. Albright was once Albrecht. Wanderlust is in my bones.
Once I became a young adult I moved around a lot. I lived in Alaska, Florida, Washington, and California and in most cases moved within those states 2-3 times. Then I came to Germany and all the moving around stopped. It’s almost impossible to live nomadically here without actually being homeless, the process is so exasperating and expensive it’s much too much work.
My father told me once that I “never had a sense of place.” Perhaps that is why I don’t feel pangs of homesickness. The only thing I miss is my language and the occasional Serious American Burger you can only get in the US and really nowhere else at all (no such thing as American Style cuisine in Germany).
A Sense Of Place, Belonging
I didn’t develop a sense of place until I became a mother. My daughter was born in Frankfurt, for which I am very thankful for many reasons. I moved from the village of Eschbach (behind Usingen, a place I don’t recommend to fellow outsiders) to the town of Bad Homburg for purely pragmatic reasons: I heard Kindergarten was free here.
I didn’t know then that for the first time in my life I would fall in love with a town, or that Bad Homburg would be the place that continuously calls to me through all sorts of life transitions that could have lead me elsewhere. I’ve been living in Homburg for seven years and the romance continues.
My Dream: 43a
For many years I’ve been coveting the house at Louisenstraße 43a. Two years ago this month, March 2010, the building was damaged by fire and only recently (in the past couple of weeks) is it now finally being renovated. I asked people about it, and naturally found there was gossip of arson. (Of course there’s gossip of arson! It would be highly disappointing if not downright improbable to discover no one had ever suspected anything might be amiss.) The house itself is to my mind ideally located at the one spot my two favorite streets meet: namely, Louisenstraße and Audenstraße, and because the address is an odd number, it’s in the Hölderlin school district (even numbers on Louisenstraße belong to the Landgraf Ludwig district) – which, being a mother, is a serious consideration.
A certain pang in my chest swells every time I walk by house 43a and see the dumpsters and portable toilets and hear the unmistakable sounds of sweaty, dirty men banging on wood and metal. It’s exciting and dreadful. Exciting because at last something good is happening to 43a. Dreadful because I don’t know what will happen to her next… I know only that I’m not moving in there!
Butterflies Aflutter In My Stomach
Maybe the owners are preparing her for the market. Maybe not! Somehow I’ve managed to make 43a’s future well being just one more thing to worry me and keep me up at night. If only I could have her! I could raise my family in the upper floors and on the main floor run my dream business: a bookshop and storybook studio for kids, a place where you can find great illustrated storybooks and even make your own in our special workshops.
Over there, in the corner over there, in that place that is singed, blackened and cracked would stand the barista and pastry counter. Around every nook of bookshelves one would find a comfy chair. Kids would get a balloon with every book purchase. The little pastries would come in white paper because food tastes better wrapped in white paper that crinkles a little when you fold it back for another bite. Bags for books would be as brown as packaging paper, the type of latte brown color and roughened smooth texture that makes it the most romantic type of paper color ever. The books would be the best books, my favorite books, the ones I know are really good and that kids love to read over and over again.
My dream of a life in 43a will probably never come true. Someone with considerably more money than I will make that determination, the fate of my favorite house in the town I love over any other in the world. As a child with no sense of place and a great deal of wonder, anything seemed possible. I see that same kind of wonder in my daughter, but she is not like me. From the start, she has belonged to Bad Homburg.