Home, identity, new diversity

Is your place of origin synonymous with your homeland and with your sense of identity? Or is globalization truncating all of our roots? The writer Nora Bossong will be debating these questions in digital correspondence with the pianist Igor Levit. The correspondence is postage-free – and open to all, so feel free to join in! The debate will be chaired by Internet activist Geraldine de Bastion. 

Geraldine de Bastion Photo (detail): Roger von Heereman / Konnektiv Geraldine de Bastion: Home is where the Wifi connects? Home in the digital world. Home. It sounds like an embroidered image that gradually fades. Yet the concept of home is more relevant than ever in many respects: many people who are driven from their countries by war find a new home in our countries. Others feel unsettled by change – be it modern architecture, digital innovation or people who look different – and cling on to a nostalgic image of home.

I am a person who moves freely in the digital and analogue world. My window to the world is provided by social media and a video chat screen that connects me to my loved ones. I have my most important memories, favourite pictures, books and photos in the Cloud, with me at all times. “Home is where the WiFi connects” is not a joke but reality.

Many people in my world live the privileged life of the digital nomad: our personal frame of identification encompasses a wider area than the geographical region in which we live. Yet I too feel a sense of emotional attachment to the city in which I live, an attachment that goes beyond my ties to the people who live there. Berlin is my home. And the Internet is too.

What different meanings can the word home have nowadays? Does it mean something different if you are one of these privileged digital nomads? Or if you sit on the sofa at home, looking out at the street from a first-floor window? What does home mean to you?  

Nora Bossong Foto: Peter-Andreas Hassiepen Nora Bossong: Home is the place you yearn for all your life, but want to escape from five minutes after getting there. That is what I think every time I arrive in the city of my childhood and take a look around me: I see the dark green rhododendrons, the old city fortifications, the bare-breasted sphinx outside the museum. Old memories are awakened that seem deeper and more important than all of the memories I have collected in subsequent years. Home is a vague sense of wanting to establish a kind of connection, a connection to ourselves. Anyone who fails to achieve this may sometimes use the word with apparent ease to shut something out, as if isolating oneself could be a substitute for something that really has to come from inside – the ability to produce something.

I walk on to the next street, and the beauty of a sheltered childhood is overlaid with the sensations of my first loss. Then there are moments of yearning again. Simultaneously there is a sense of having outgrown this city and this time, because I am no longer the person I was back then, and because this city is no longer the city it was back then, with its people, relationships, roads and buildings.

And I feel this despite my home town not having been radically changed by all of this in the last thirty years: it was not located in a state that ceased to exist. It was not destroyed in a war. It is not ruled by a regime that makes returning to it dangerous if not impossible. Must not the sense of loss be far greater if that were the case?

Yet home, however fragile or protected our places of origin may be, is never simply a fixed point, but a fictitious point, a make-believe place; not somewhere you spend just five minutes, but somewhere you try all your life to create. It is not something that defines us but something that we wish for, or as Ernst Bloch writes, “a place glimpsed in childhood, a place where nobody has yet been.“

Igor Levit Foto: Robbie Lawrence Igor Levit: Home is a difficult concept to pin down – difficult in the sense that it always has a restricting, a confining aspect. That’s how I always felt in the past, at least. The sense of being confined to a particular place or relatively narrow area. These days I have a rather different definition of home, however. Home means people. People that I love, people I avoid, people from whom I learn, people who ask for my advice, people who help me and people who I help. It has probably always been like this, but the one thing that has inspired me more than anything else in my life is people.

I feel understood by and with them, I feel comfortable and safe with them, and therefore feel at home. Ever since I was a small boy, I always wanted simply to travel; not to see nature, landscapes or architectural masterpieces, but to get to know people. And it became increasingly clear to me that it was through and with the help of others that I was able to find myself. With the help of my family, my friends. That is what home has come to mean to me – encounters, togetherness, people.

Geraldine de Bastion Photo (detail): Roger von Heereman / Konnektiv Geraldine de Bastion: The notion of home is a construct that not only confines but also excludes us. Aspects that can be comforting for some people, such as permanence, constancy and the dependability of the familiar, may provoke feelings of claustrophobia in others.

Does home have a different meaning for someone from a rural region or place that changes little than it does for someone from a big city that is in a state of constant flux? The face of my home – Berlin – is changing constantly. It is a “face full of freckles”, as Hildegard Knef once sang. My home is an imperfect home that is characterized by change rather than constancy – which is quite different to the way Daniela from Upper Bavaria feels about her home in our Twitter Chat:
Geographically speaking, or in terms of the people who live there, how big is your home? And how constant is it?  

What does home mean to you? How big is your home? And how constant is it? Join the conversation - Either here in the comment section or on Twitter and Facebook with #freepost. What do you think? Tweet #freepost