(Approximate reading time: 5 minutes)
Kindergarten. Achtung. Blitzkrieg. Autobahn. Bratwurst. Zeppelin. Doppelgänger. Oktoberfest. Gesundheit. Kaputt. Fernweh. Poltergeist. Panzer. Rucksack. Wunderkind. Zeitgeist.
After ‘Why Wanderlust is misinterpreted from fancy hipster-travelers and why you should use the word wisely from now on’ I would like o try to explain another internationally frequently used German word, which is related to traveling. In contrast to Wanderlust, this word is used since a couple of years as a synonym for Wanderlust. But from its origin, it is actually not.
Another blogger has tried to explain Fernweh in her own article with her her own words. I’m not sure if she is German or not, because she doesn’t tell in fact where she is from. But I doubt, that it is her native language, because she wrote the following:
“Although there’s no direct translation for ‘Fernweh’ in the English language, the literal translation is ‘far-sickness’- it’s one of those compound words I was talking about!”
It’s unfortunately wrong, what she tried to explain here. The literal translation is not far-sickness. Yes, it is a compound word made out of two components:
Fern means nothing more than ‘far’ or ‘distant’.
Weh means ‘ache’ – also ‘pain’ would work here. But ache describes more a psychologic suffering than a physical one. Therefore ‘ache’ is more suitable in this case.
Further she writes the following…
“If you were to translate Fernweh into English, then its equivalent would be ‘wanderlust’. Ironically, Wanderlust is a loan word from German which came to have a different meaning in English.”
But the second explanation comes here a little bit closer and gets my preliminary approval, until I will explain it in detail. Although I don’t see the irony here, we are not talking about a sickness, but a psychologic pain.
Until now, there isn’t a appropriate translation for the German word ‘Fernweh’ to the English language. Hence it’s not an equivalent. But they made it in the English language as a synonym for Wanderlust. The tragicomic thing with this concept is, that already Wanderlust is fairly misused and misinterpreted from the most people. Now using Fernweh as its synonym doesn’t make it better or more correct. Two wrongs don’t make it right. It can’t be a synonym, because both words have a different meaning in its origin connotation in the German language. Although they are not close to each other, some parallels exist:
Fernweh is the longing for faraway places, namely countries abroad.
Wanderlust is the constant inner impulse to discover the nature and the world away afoot.
To make it more clear:
Especially the instagram hashtags for Wanderlust are increasing like a medical thermometer, that was put on a radiator. But this is another story to tell.
Now we all know, that Fernweh is a psychologic suffering and that one is desiring to experience the unknown abroad. But it doesn’t tell, if this is be a permanent or temporary desire. Respectively, for how much time it will last in your mind until we ignore it or satisfy it.
Sometimes I think, that I am suffering from Fernweh as well. Not knowing, if it is a problem or not. I AM NOT A DOCTOR. But I know, that I can’t stay for a long time at the same place. Since my first big excursion of South America in 2014, it came to my mind, that the own environment of my sphere at home was far too small to be accepted as complete. For a lot of people who return from their semester abroad it might be enough to have had a unique experience to live somewhere else in the world for a longer time. For me it was not like that. It was the start of a journey, that didn’t end so far.
There was this subliminal desire to explore and discover something new in my life and I found out about it not when I was distant from my home, it was actually the other way around. After returning to Europe in 2014 I had the awful culture shock reverse, that kicked in harder as a boot the face. It was August in Germany and actually the warmest month of the whole year. But it rained for 30 days in a row and outdoor activities were impossible. So I was captured at home and was really really suffering alone, whilst everyone else had already his/her daily rhythm. I was waiting, that the new semester would start, almost all friends were on holidays or working all day.
This was the first time I really felt Fernweh. And it was absurd, because I arrived a few days earlier after half a year being away from home. But already in these days I told myself ‘That wasn’t enough, I want to see more’. So I tasted blood. And it tasted really good.
You can of course also see more during a weekend city trip to one metropole in another country. Or during your yearly holiday when being a package tourist. But is that really what I wanted? This might be maybe seeing more, but I was interested to have more than just the superficial things, that a tourist witnesses during a couple of days or weeks. What I wanted was feeling more, experiencing more and finally being more. Growing inside of a culture, making local friends and collect experiences, that every member of my family or friends never made so far.
After my semester abroad in Lima and traveling through South America, I was living for 20 months in Amsterdam, for 8 months in Murcia, for 4 months in Asunción, for 3 months in Quito and 6 months in Lima. And very soon I will leave Lima and change the location again. One could say, that I am restless. And I think, that this is true. I was infected by Fernweh and I am still suffering from it. Not sure if I will ever be healed from it, or if it is just a chronic ache beneath my skin.