The German language has a lot of really interesting words. For example, “brustwartze,” literally translated “breast wart,” is the German word for nipple. More on topic though, and one of my recent favorites, is the word “Fernweh.” The literal translation is “far sickness.” It’s a longing for far away places, an ache for travel and exploration. Of course, the German language also produced the ever popular “wanderlust,” a desire to wander, but something about Fernweh strikes a deeper chord in me. It’s like you HAVE to get out and see the world because there’s an aching in your soul, a sickness that can only be cured by far away places. It’s the feeling that amazing things are going on all around the world and you just have to get out there and see them and you just wont feel like yourself until you do.
In my case, my Fernweh is always coupled with “Heimweh,” or homesickness. When I travel, by the end of the trip, I’m ready to go back home (whether that’s Mainz or the US), get in a routine, eat at my favorite restaurants, cook in my kitchen, binge watch Game of Thrones and New Girl, and get back to the gym (or not). I’m ready to get back to my own familiar nook in the world. In a recent episode of Girls, Hannah was hesitant to move to the midwest for grad school for multiple reasons, but the one she voiced was that she’d need to find a new yogurt place and that’s really hard to do. Truth. There’s nothing like your hometown yogurt shop. Or that sports bar around the corner that has the best ever chicken fingers. I’m looking at you Maddy’s in Dupont Circle. And then, after I’m home for awhile, I start coming down with a fresh case of Fernweh and I’m ready to set out on another adventure. In my case, Fernweh and Heimweh are like two alternating viruses whose symbiosis produces a beautiful balance. And this, I think, is a very lucky way to live with equal parts adventure and comfort, craziness and stability.
Founded around 12 BC as a Roman military post, Mainz is a gem of a city sitting on the Rhine River with a rich history and vibrant present. As with any city, it’s character is determined by its inhabitants. And Mainz has had a lot of interesting ones. Fist the Romans, of course, then the Franks, the Germans, and, perhaps most famously, the inventor of moveable type, Johannes Gutenberg, whose name now graces the gates of the city’s university. From 1919 to 1930, following WWI, the city was occupied by French military forces. This French occupation was the fuel for much of the city’s Carnivale (or Fasching) traditions mocking political figures (and the French military) that continue today and make up the most famous Fasching parade in Germany next to Cologne’s.
My sister sent me this video of Chris D’Elia’s standup routine, “Scary Germans & British Heist Movies.” The scene where the Germans are at his birthday party and he’s afraid to eat their cake made me cry laughing. But in fairness to most Germans, they are an incredibly friendly and fun loving people, although usually quite reserved. My German teacher once remarked that when one gets on the bus, all the Germans are quietly looking out the window or reading a book and generally keeping to themselves and being German, but during festivals, everyone is hugging and waving hello…they’re acting like Americans.” It’s true that Germans are generally very reserved, which can make Americans perceive them as cold and creepy. It’s also true that many Americans stereotype Germans based on old WWII movies. Hello! We’re not all cowboys and Germans aren’t all evil spies or dictators. After living in Germany for only three months amongst “the Germans” and observing them in their natural habitat, I already feel compelled to stand up and say, “Germans are humans, too. And they’re nice.” But…first I have to tell this story that I think is hilarious about a German being not so warm….
Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet.― Banksy, Wall and Piece
Graffiti. In the US, it’s called vandalism…unless you’re famous. Then they cut it off the building and auction it at Sotheby’s for millions. In Paris, it’s an underground movement. This is the city of the Salon, after all. Except…now the impressionists are not only welcomed in the Louvre, but have their own wing. Who knows? Maybe they’ll have a Banksy in there one day.
Here, in Germany, under a bridge in Wiesbaden, just across the river from Mainz, are a series of walls where graffiti is legal. This is pretty cool for the street artists. I can imagine that running from the cops at 3am mid-spray only to come back to find that “Carl” has tagged your spot and ruined what you already started, all while trying to escape the threat of civil or criminal prosecution, can be pretty tiring (although, undoubtedly, part of the fun). And it’s really cool for those who are lucky enough to walk by it. This tunnel of amazing street art is the site for “Meeting of Styles,” which is a graffiti event that travels all over the world and celebrates international street artists. Meeting of Styles formed in Wiesbaden in 2002 as a community for the exchange of ideas, inspiration, and skills associated with street art. On June 13-14, the landscape of this tunnel will be completely changed during Wiesbaden’s next Meeting of Styles, but for now, it looks like this:
I woke up so excited. Showered. Dressed in my most “I’m stylish and put together everyday, naturally, and will be a fine, upstanding, no-trouble-causing resident if you grant my visa request” outfit. I thought about wearing a suit or at least a blazer and decided it would look like I was trying too hard and had to compensate for some lack of good character. So, I wore black skinny jeans, a delicate winter white crew neck sweater with three-quarter sleeves, low black-patent wedges, and a gold and tan-leather statement necklace. I put my hair up in a neat bun and donned my long black winter coat. “Would you give me a visa?,” I asked S. “Absolutely. I’d give you two.” I showed up responsibly early to the 8:00am meeting. I had all of the documents that they told me to have: passport, passport photos, bank statement, letter of support from S and his landlord saying that I have a place to live, a copy of the lease, and a few other forms.
Just when I was really needing a girls’ day, some lovely new friends asked me to join them to tastes wines in a garage. Sure. Why not?
We drove through Oestrich, Germany: a quaint little town with small, traditional half-timbered shops and homes – the kind of romantic village that makes me think of Belle’s town in “Beauty and the Beast”…dork…- and then pulled up to the garage.