Where Is Home?

In Commentary, HOME, LIFE by Lena Ruß

Where is home? It’s a question I ask myself and am asked equally as often. When I was one and a half my parents decided to leave Germany for Cambridge. Who knew that my dad accepting that one job offer would change the question of home for me forever. In the following 20 years I moved house a total of 10 times, between Germany and the UK four times, went to seven different schools, and now two universities. That one simple question leaves me two options usually – to name the town I spent the largest chunk of my childhood in, or to launch into an essay-like account of all the places I have ever lived.

Home is an abstract concept, made from a patchwork of memories. I can walk down the streets of Oxford and remember my first trip to town on my own in Year 8, my first ill fated night out, with a very bad fake ID. But half of my identity, the chunk represented by nationality, German, isn’t present in these cobbled streets. My father’s house in Germany and my mother’s house in England both contain relics of my childhood that have been interspersed with new objects in various locations, spread over two countries. Lastly my own room, in whichever city I am in, is home, through the houseplants on the shelves, my posters and books.

When I tell people that I am German they often ask me that initial, stock question about home to in some way gage which national identity I have chosen, and to those who have not experienced life between two cultures it is hard to explain that it is, in many ways, not a choice. Whichever country I find myself in, whichever city, there are moments in which I wish I was far away from them. In the absence of one concrete option, it is easy to construct the absent country as a kind of dreamland. In some tangental universe there is an England where I am not constantly annoyed by poor plumbing, public transport and bread, and a Germany where I don’t find public rudeness and excessive bureaucracy enraging.

It took me a long time to realize that the Germany I longed for when I was growing up in England was just as little a real place as the England I wanted to come home to in summers spent staying with relatives in rural German towns. Rather than choosing to live my life between two fictional countries however, I have decided to take the little chunks of home spread out, like the mementos of my childhood, over two countries, wherever I can get them. Approaching Manchester Piccadilly station and watching the sun hit the disused red-brick warehouses. Drives through the Oxfordshire countryside in July. In the eating of a slice of cake on the banks of a canal in Berlin. The sun on my neck on my father’s decking, drinking exactly the right kind of beer. Home is contained in the little things, like opening the door to my flat after two weeks away, or in looking out of the window on a familiar bus route. Home is much more than the word Germany, or England.

Lena Ruß

Lena is happiest hosting a dinner party with an juicy intellectual debate or two on the side (along with some delicious Turkish bread). Other hobbies include expanding her jumper collection, reading erotic poetry and on occasion boogieing down to a bit of reggaeton… Clearly, of all the black hair, sceptum pierced tech-heads in Berlin (of which there are quite a few) Lena has to be one of a kind.

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