Sometimes you arrive in a place and you simply know it is home, you feel it somewhere inside, you can’t explain it. For some people it is Paris, the first glimpse of the Eiffel tower, the lights sparkling on a winter evening, for others it is the bustle of India, the vibrant colours, the atmosphere, and for others, the beaches of Spain, the delicious food and the summer nights that never end. That is how I felt arriving in Vienna for the first time. I was 19, and I arrived to study German for three months. I didn’t know a word of German, except perhaps ja and nein, nor did I really know anything about Vienna or even Austria at all, although I think somehow I already knew I would fall in love with the city.
The driver started the car and we slowly drove out from the airport. It was then that I knew this was a place that really resonated with me, even though all I could see was the highway stretching before me, the industrialised surrounding areas, nothing of beauty. I arrived finally at my new apartment above a bakery -I can’t remember which district it was now- where I was to live with six or so other German language students. The landlady opened the door and asked me if I spoke German, which I didn’t, her brief explanation to me about the workings of the house were the only English words she would speak to me for the remained of my time there. The apartment was fine, a perfect student hangout with great housemates from around the world, and with the added bonus of free bread and pastries every evening from the bakery downstairs. There are so many things I love about Austria: the beauty of the cities and of the surrounding nature, the mountains, the delicious wintery food, the fact that the amazing opera singer Anna Netrebko is just as famous as a movie star (or terrible reality TV star), the ball season, the amazing music made accessible to everyone in Vienna, drinking wine in a Heurigen with friends. But it wasen’t these things that connected me to the city. It was something else.
With my housemates in Vienna back in 2003
I feel a similar connection to Melbourne (I loved it so much I had my parents send me to boarding school there), and I didn’t feel it when I lived in London, or in the various other cities I have lived in Australia. Somehow I know I will feel at home in the same way when I finally make it to Switzerland. I have lived in both Melbourne and Vienna on and off over the last 10 years, and the sense of happiness I feel in both cities has never dulled, which makes me realise it is not just a feeling of happiness one inevitably experiences during a fun extended holiday or student exchange. The feeling remains somehow, even when life is not going well all of the time.
Recently a friend of mine asked what my link to Sweden was – and I realised, while I really enjoy living in Sweden, I especially love the language, and have some very good Swedish friends, my link is fairly weak. Sweden does not feel like home to me, in the same way Vienna and Melbourne do. I enjoy living in Stockholm, it is a beautiful city, I loved studying in Uppsala, but for me, there is something missing, despite nothing being wrong. And yet I know people who hate Vienna and love London and Stockholm.
The reason I loved Vienna before I even really saw it is really just a personal connection that is impossible to really explain or understand. Of feeling at home somewhere, even if you are not born there. A sense of belonging.