So in 2 weeks, after a jaunt through a couple of American cities and a 3 day stay in Iceland, I will find myself back at the doorsteps of the town in which I spent my exchange.
Most of it, at least.
I’ve already written that I’m not worried about missing family, friends or home. So what could possibly worry me about this perhaps-not-so-glorious return to my second Heimat?
It’s worrying about sheer disappointment, in light of potentially having idealised Freiburg since my departure.
This might sound weird to someone who hasn’t spent much time overseas. You don’t have to have lived in a town to be able to idealise it, and be disappointed when you go back. It happened to me after a four week high school exchange in 2005, during which I lived in Bordeaux, Southern France. I returned there in early 2009, and it just didn’t feel the same. The streets felt unfriendly, the buildings hostile instead of charming, the people apathetic instead of welcoming. I wasn’t sure exactly what had caused it at the time, but I think the fact that I’d been thinking of how much I’d love to return for the best part of 3 years had something to do with it. When you build something up that much, how can it possibly live up to expectations?
This is not the same as returning home and being disappointed by your ‘hometown’. When you’re returning from a holiday, an exchange, a visit to family or friends, I’ve really only ever come across two reactions (huge generalisations are about to occur). One is relief, at being back amongst the familiar, amongst old friends and your home. The other is the topsy turvy roller coaster ride of someone who loved every minute of being away and didn’t want it to end. And that little melodrama there is nothing like that which accompanies a return to somewhere you’ve been longing for at times – and finding that it just doesn’t deliver anymore.
So yes, I’m worried that this may happen to me very soon. Freiburg is an absolutely beautiful town nestled at the foot of the Black Forest, the buildings are still gloriously medieval in places, the girls are gorgeous (it’s a student town) and there’s a disproportionately large (for such a small town) collection of exciting and homely pubs, restaurants and bars to enjoy.
But have I built it up too much? Will it be different from a visitor’s perspective, as opposed to a student’s? Will the fact that a great deal of the friends I made there are now elsewhere suck the magic out of it? Will the slightly rude German winter just irritate me?
I hope not. I spent a mere 2 weeks in Bordeaux, and only really got a surface glimpse of what it was like, and of course with the school taking us round, we got the best of it. So hanging around with students and at youth hostels would naturally deliver a slightly grittier appearance. What’s more, a storm which ravaged southern France passed through when I was there, followed by a strike by the train people, meaning I couldn’t visit any of the places outside of Bordeaux which make the area so rewarding (St. Emillion, Arcachon, Médoc).
So I’m thinking Freiburg will be as picturesque and fun as I remember it. I still worry though.