The word ‘homesick’ has its origin in the German phrase ‘heimweh,’ which literally translates to ‘home woe.’ When the phrase was first thought up back in the 19th century, it was referring to the feeling of longing that possessed so many Swiss soldiers that were away. They became depressed and anxious at the thought of how far the mountains were from them on their current journeys. At first, it was even thought that the Swiss alone felt this internal ache, and no one else, until it was introduced to other languages.
I became a part of the Irish ‘generation emigration’ around December last year, like so many people of my generation and past. I moved to Berlin nearly a year ago. I moved in the winter right before Christmas. I had only been to the city for a mere two days before I decided to go back to Dublin and pack my bags, take a job and move over a month later. I didn’t speak a word of the German language and I had never lived outside of Ireland for more than three months. Yet, the decision was not a bad one; I’m a better, more learned person for it. Yet the rush of the move, the excitement of a new culture, searching for somewhere to live and dropping into a full time job, it took a while for any homesickness to make itself known. When I migrated here, I brought with me two large suitcases, which by the reckoning of the Ryanair scales, were about the same weight as me. I had shoved clothes and books into the monstrous bags, and stashed in among them a wood neck chemex I had swaddled in jumpers and stuffed with bubblewrap. Some early Christmas/birthday cards lined the inside of the walls of the cases themselves. These bags were heavy, and they seemed heavier when I had to drag them up all those stairs to the 5th floor of my airbnb. Few Berlin apartment buildings come lushly fit with an elevator.
In a city of one year visas and those moving for a change, I quickly found a good group of friends. They were here for jobs, they had come for relationships or even just because their other European visas were up and they still wanted to experience another world before going home. With the break from my border, I realised the world was just that much bigger and that small as well. I still ran into friends from Dublin; my hometown was only a two hour flight away and Berlin was a popular weekend spot. Acquaintances passing through, old customers who had decided to say hello on their holiday, even other barista friends sending their customers in for a bit of banter and to see how I was getting on. During my first ‘orphan Christmas’ with a group of brand new friends, I spent the evening eating a pot luck dinner in a cafe called Home, before it had even opened its doors to the neighbourhood around it.
I only experienced a bad case of ‘heimweh’ a few months into my move. I had no longing for the mountains, but I did miss the sea. I missed good fresh seafood. I missed being able to walk across the city and see several people I knew and speak the language without a struggle. I missed my family and friends, and when I got sick for a month, though I had no desire to move home, I yearned for the familiarity of some surroundings and culture. A pinnacle moment of my longing was when I was halfway through my journey to work one morning, after the Ubahn had cut services but provided buses instead (at least the transport is better here). While queuing to get on, an old man had bumped and shoved me out of the way of the bus entrance, and said nothing. In Ireland, I thought, that wouldn’t happen. In Ireland, I would at least get an apology. And I didn’t say anything, but I didn’t quite know how to say it in German. And this grumpy old man had broken the camel’s back, and I felt horribly homesick, right down to my stomach. I had a German-swiss longing to be away from these mountains that were someone else’s home. I got over it, quickly enough, realising that this grumpy old man was just that; a grumpy old man. There was plenty still good about this place I was in, I just had to give it time. I was here to learn, I was here to experience, and I guess a bit ‘heimweh’ was part of the process.
Irish people are well known around the world for emigrating, we make that apparent with our drip drop present everywhere. There’s even a scattering of Irish baristas among the Berlin specialty coffee scene. I became another one of the many Irish emigrants when I decided to make the move. It seems a part of our culture to leave for a while and maybe come back, if its three months or thirty years. But what is there even at home for me now, if not just my family and friends? I hear everyday of how expensive my home town is getting. Rent up this way, bills up that way. I could rent a pretty nice apartment, utilities and heat included in Berlin, for the price of a small room in Dublin. And many landlords in Ireland are usually not fairly renting or looking after their properties. Its not just unattractive to think how I couldn’t afford it, but scary. I fear the struggle if I desired to move back to Ireland.
And what of a career? How many paths can I take up the coffee ladder here in Berlin or any other city compared to Dublin? There’s one or two companies leading the way in the Irish capital, but they are still small in terms of other cities. It is, after all, a small city. What would I do to further my career and learn, apart from deciding to open my own shop in a place only recently starting to fill up with coffee-driven establishments. Would I even have what it takes yet to start it, let alone the money, let alone the opportunity? Or is it up to the natives and emigrants to return again and invigorate a city to boost it up? Or maybe I just can’t see the opportunities from this far away, but they seem few and far between from where I am sitting. All this is not saying that I do not love Dublin, I really do, or that it doesn’t have a good coffee community, I couldn’t recommend the city enough to those who say they would like to visit. It is teeming with amazing personalities and places, but the fear of diving back in to somewhere I feel l would spend so much time working jobs that were on a similar level to one another, would make me worried about stagnating in a career that I’ve only really just started. But then again, this could also be a problem of specialty coffee careers, how far up the ladder can you get before you’re just moving along the same rung again and again?
And whatever the city, how long can the body and mind take a barista position? Working a busy cafe, how long will your wrists and your feet hold out until you have to switch to another path in the career? How long can your passion and patience last, depending on how much you truly love the job? How far does the career go up and how quickly does the ladder rungs, as you climb, leave less space to hold on? Obviously, a love for the job can get you far, but how long and how many jobs are going? I see plenty of people chasing careers in coffee right now, taking on jobs off the bar and away from the espresso machine, still dealing with coffee in different ways, or even buying espresso machines of their own. The prospect of owning or running a shop is exciting, I love the everyday interactions on bar, but I’m not sure where that will be. And it is far from an easy task.
The world is changing seasons, and the streets and rooms of the city are getting colder; returning to the season I first arrived to Germany in. Right now, I have no desire to leave Berlin or move back to Dublin. I’m still learning and figuring out where and how exactly I want to map out a career and my future. Home right now is in Berlin. And whenever I leave, I do get homesick for the people, the places and the culture when I’m elsewhere, for both cities, even if they’re not here or there anymore. While Berlin is home for many, its a city of people in transition. One year visas soon expire and people move on to other ventures. its a city in motion, of comers and goers, with a few staying for a good few years. I’m homesick at times at the thought of the sea, but it seems not enough yet to go seek it permanently.