By Julia K
It is a curious feeling, that feeling of home. It might sneak up on you, overwhelm you, or you might not notice it at all until you feel the vastness of its absence, when you find yourself lost in foreign lands. Home can be anywhere, really. It might be one, or multiple places. You might be lucky enough to have found it early on in life, been born and raised in one place, or you might have found home later in life, after the twists and turns of adolescence, once you had caught your breath after the restlessness of your twenties. Or maybe home to you is not a place at all. I have been fortunate enough to call multiple places home. Each one has been a little different, and each one occupies a distinct space in the cartogram of my mental map of home.
The first anchor point on my map, the first home I ever knew, was situated in a quiet townhouse complex just outside the city center of Frankfurt am Main. My family and I lived there until I was about five or six, and it is the place I have the least recollection of. My attempts at remembering it leave me with fragmented scenes of both quiet tranquility and vibrant liveliness. A scratchy yellow carpet in the living room, a susurrant creek, and a primary colored string of lights around an open garage door, oldie rock songs being played by the neighborhood band. The feeling of home permeating these images is but a faint impression, a subtle whiff of perfume lingering in the air, its strong scent faded and worn off after all this time. But still noticeable, not fully gone, yet.
The second anchor point on my map is my grandparents’ home in Wiesbaden. It is where I lived for the first few months of primary school, before my parents had finished the renovations of our own new home in the city, and it is the place I return to, always. Wiesbaden is the first place I was able to navigate on my own. Its streets and corners and the connecting paths in between are known to me by name, affording me a sense of belonging, of agency even, by being able to find my way to where I wish to go. It is where I am free from the fear of being lost. The feeling of home is attached to every inch of my grandparents’ house, radiating out into the city, a tangible, loud feeling, the certainty of which has been guiding my life for as long as I can remember. It is the North Star of my map.
The third mark on my map is Essen, the home I never wanted to have. We moved here when I was twelve and I wanted to leave as soon as I had arrived. With its utter lack of any and all obvious aesthetic charm, its ever-growing and ever-present construction sites and an honesty one might easily mistake for rudeness, Essen was hard to love – and I had no intention of trying. Yet after many years of twists and turns, the feeling of home crept up on me here. In this instance, the feeling of home is a defiant, triumphant feeling, manifesting itself quietly against all odds. It is one I finally allowed into my life, instead of having it chosen for me. And even though its coordinates were given to me, the mark signifying Essen as a place of home I drew myself.
We do not get to choose all the places we find ourselves in on our paths to wherever it is we are meant to be. Some of them we will keep with us, some of them we leave behind for good. Some of them become places of home, whatever that might mean or feel like. Some of these places of home will be readily apparent, a gleaming beacon on one’s map. Others will be harder to identify, paradoxical places of one’s biography, yet still undeniably etched into the cartogram of one’s map of home. These are mine.