“I was deeply touched when I read the story of your father, the American, who stayed in Europe for love”, I told Francesca. “For all my childhood, I wanted to be an expatriate”.
Though I wouldn´t call it this way, then. I even didn´t know the word. But I felt, deep inside, that the world should be my home, not this dark corner of the Black Forest, with its steep mountains, narrow gauges, long winters and rainy summers. I didn´t see my future amidst those five families, closely related since centuries, where an outsider is anybody coming from farther away than the next village. And even those weren´t accepted easily. For me, nothing but the world should be my home.
During the long afternoons after school, homework done, without my friends from the far away college, I buried myself in books. English sience fiction, publications of German exilees during World War II, volumes on foreign countries nourished my mind.
Australia was my favorite land of escape. I remember the red coloured linen hardcover of the book I cherished most. Its black-and-whites of the wide desert, the vast pastures, the exotic trees and wildlife inflammed my phantasy. That was where I want to live, I decided when I was eleven. Nothing else caught my imagination or distracted me. At twentyone my dream should come true.
I didn´t emigrate. Prudent adventurer that I´m, I decided to check my dreams before going to the extreme. Thus, I applied for a students grant for a six month stay in Australia, got it, took the 2000 Deutsche Mark I had inherited shortly before from my grandaunt, bought a ticket, said good bye to my friends and family, and flew away, hoping never to come back.
The plane was filled with dreams like mine. My neighbour on the left side, a 60 year old women with blonde hair and the figure of a young girl, visited her daughter in Sydney and was sure to find there the handsome stranger she was looking for. To my right, there was Uwe, the farmers boy form a remote village in northern Germany, who ate bananas on the plane for the first time in his life. And me, an twentyone year old student of agriculture, with a small backpack, and endless naivté. Anything could happen to me, I was prepared to welcome it with an open heart.
What I wasn´t prepared for was the the feeling of not-being-at-home, the uneasiness, the insecurity that would never leave me as long as I stayed in Australia. Though, after my six month stay, travelling from the south to the north to the west to the east, after hitchhiking with lorry drivers, farmers, zoologists, evangelical preachers, golddiggers and even a piano tuner, after talking to cowboys, professors and politicians alike I probably knew Australia better than most of its inhabitants, I always and deeply felt in the wrong place. With shock I realized: I am a German, down to my bones, the typical german I never wanted to be.
For all these 180 days in Australia, I missed the earnestness of the endless political discussion I used to have every night with my friends at university; I missed the fear of a nuclear war so present in the 80s in Germany; I missed the sexual liberalness of Europe; I missed the frozen feet and cold hands I remembered from the dark long winters in the Black Forest and I missed the sourness of the redcurrant in my mothers garden amidst all the plenty of sweet tropical fruits. I became a patriot while being an expatriate.
On the flight home I met Uwe again. He went back because his parents needed him on their farm, though I doubted if they would live happily with him thereafter. The farmerboy had become a new age adept with long blond curly hair and the body of a surfers god. On first sight I hadn´t changed that much. I was still the chubby girl with the short hair, only now with a more experienced naivté. Back home at university the real changes showed. At a time when every woman clothed in walking boots and lila dungarees, I wore the miniskirts I learnt to wear in Australia. I enjoyed an easy smalltalk and thus annoyed the political leaders of my student group. I doubted commonly held beliefs and principles, because I knew now that different culture find different solutions. In short, I was slightly off the track in my behavior, didn´t belong any more. I had become an expatriate in my own country.
For years, I couldn´t decide where I wanted to be a stranger most: in my fatherland or abroad. I kept changing places, gave abroad another chance when I worked as a trainee at the European Comission in Brussels and finally settled. Now I life in Frankfurt, the most cosmopolitan city in Germany, in a part of the City where my son with two german parents belongs to the smallest minority in school by far. I have found my natural environment: the Niemandsland, the Nowhereland.