It was on a sunny afternoon in late summer when I met Lili in a downtown café in Halle. I had told her about my project and was curious to hear her story and how she defines “home.” Maybe the warm sunlight and the cozy coffeehouse couches complemented Lili’s candidness, anyways, it felt very easy to talk and to lose the thread through the number of topics. We spoke about our lives, our experiences in Halle, traveling… and of course about “home.”
“Home is where your heart is” answered Lili to my question where she thinks her home is. This sentence may sound like a commonplace, but it illustrates that Lili’s understanding of “home” has more of an emotional dimension than a local one. Lili was brought up in the countryside around Stuttgart (in southern Germany). She used to live with her parents and moved to Halle for studying languages. Her high school teacher once said: “When you study, go away as far as you can.” Lili followed his advice and went around 500 km away.
Unlike during her childhood, nowadays Lili just feels home for a short time at her parents place. “Of course I miss the meadows, the cows, the river stream of my childhood village” she conceded. “But since my parents moved to an apartment in the city, there is no emotional connection for me anymore to that home.” Halle is her home now, a home which she “opened up” for herself as she put it. Lili explained that when she was new to the city she deliberately sought the company of local people. Students often swear about Halle and don’t identify themselves with the city they live in. They come to study during the week, and leave the city over the weekend. But they hardly make friends with the people of this city, so Lili’s experience. Through opening up and talking to the people of Halle Lili developed relationships to the people and thus to the city of Halle, which as a result contributed to feeling settled in this new environment.
I found the idea of giving up a home and opening up a new one particularly interesting. It was clear to me that “home” is nothing static. But talking to Lili made me think about homes as local spaces on the one hand, which change as we move and change apartments. Thus they may get lost and newly discovered over time. On the other hand however, home has a strong emotional aspect which is not as much susceptible to alterations in space and time. Lili’s contact to her parents may not be as strong as it used to be during her childhood, yet the periodical visits and gatherings for recurring family celebrations are as important as the local people of Halle which are an integral part of her present home.
After this interesting talk we took pictures in Lili’s small apartment. The mild afternoon sun flooded her home with a warm and contrasty light. It felt cozy to sit, chat and relax in this golden glow, just like a home is supposed to feel.