Brückenschläge und Schlagworte

How Gdansk became a Sehnsuchtsort

There is no adequate English translation for the German term Sehnsucht. Dictionaries propose „longing“, „yearning“ or „craving“, but those words only actually tell us about the first half of Sehnsucht, the Sehn-part. The second half, Sucht, means „addiction“. Sehnsucht is not only a wish for something that is not present. It is a state that one gets caught up in, a way of existing rather than a way of feeling that is enjoyable and painful all at once and that is hard to fall out of or consciously quit. It may be one of the most intense shades of my emotional range, and in my personal case it is intertwined with curiosity, with a passionate will to learn new things about this world, a constant desire to get to know new places, new people and new things and to understand their past, present and future.
I have a notion in my life that I call Sehnsuchtsorte, places of Sehnsucht, that lacking a better translation I will call Places of Desire for the sake of readability. I refer the term to those places I have come to love on a level that I myself can hardly grasp. It is reserved for the places that have provided me with a sense of coming home to a strange city; the places that have given me beauty beyond belief. Places where I encountered the most amazing people and have learned the most things about the inner workings of this world. They are the places that inexplicably have touched upon a place in my soul that I didn’t know existed, each of them a different one. They are not a rational phenomenon, they are the embodiment of all that love means to me. Places of Desire are what gives me drive and strength, for whenever I think about them I know that if such inner and outer beauty exists, the world can’t be all bad. They are the places that I always miss, in every moment of my life, and in the craving that I have for them lies the seed of my ambitions to make the world a better place. They provide me with my idealism and they remind me of my love for life. They are my most concrete, most tangible, most important ideals. They make me who I am, because they are my home abroad, my Sehnsucht at home. I used to have three of these places: Krakow in Poland, Mostar in Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Istanbul in Turkey. As of now, I have a fourth one. It is called Gdansk.
The flight from Berlin to Gdansk passes but in a heart beat. I am going through my newspaper, folding and re-folding on my narrow plane seat. We have barely risen up when we are already coming down again.For just a moment my eyes slide to the right and out the window, just to check how low we’re going – and the newspaper goes to my lap forgotten, my eyes spellbound on the view. Underneath me I can see the Old Town of Gdansk like a labyrinth of dollhouses, each of which seems to have been painted carefully by hand and set in its rightful place with great care. From its midst, Mariacka’s, that is St Mary’s church’s towers are reaching for the skies, as if they wanted to greet me and bless my visit. The waterways running through the city are dark and go on to open up to the Baltic Sea – a glistening blue mirror of the sky that seems to touch upon eternity. Everything is lit by the soft tones that can come into existence only at dusk, a pastel-colored city, but the red brick stone that I love so much is still the dominant feature of it all. Townhouse upon townhouse with their beautiful rolling gables, there are the city gates, and the shipyards are over there, and way back I can see Westerplatte where World War II started. I have the same feeling of simultaneous fear and awe that I had when I went there by ship last year: the feeling that history in this place is of such density that it is hard to take. I am looking for the monument for the victims of the shipyard strikes in 1970, I cannot find it, my eyes are caught again by Mariacka’s beauty, by the wonderful hanseatic city center that in its style is so familiar to me. The intimacy of this moment between me and Gdansk is almost driving tears to my eyes. It is too pretty to actually be there, an idealized model of a city, unreal and magical; I see things slide by, Długie Pobrzeże, Długi Targ, places I know, places I have been to, places that actually exist down there, right before me, and I’m almost there, I will walk on those cobble stone streets, in this picture book city, my head starts spinning and I am falling, falling into the feeling of Sehnsucht, I am overcome by an addictive desire for this place; and although I’m there already, I am actually longing to be there more, and in this very moment Gdansk has gone from being a town I like to a town I love, it has managed to break through to the height of happy moments in my life, and it has just now, in this moment, acquired the status of being my Place of Desire.
I get off the plane at the airport and I turn west. The sun is setting in the now misty sky. It is pink, not red, but neon dark glowing pink, hot and wonderful, an expression of the passion that has just crept upon me and taken hold of my heart.
Two nights later I am meeting Aga, Karol and Marek for a night out. I met them when I stayed at Happy Seven Hostel last year. We are going up Góra Gradowa hill to the millenial cross. I have never been, and now at night the view offers me new enchanting perspectives of the city. That and the company of three exceptional people are making me giddy, and granted I have had two glasses of wine with dinner, but this is not the effect of that, this is me being drunk on life. How can I put in words the way it makes me feel to be here, in a strange place that is not strange to me at all, with friends who have been showing such  appreciation, such joy at the fact that I am coming to visit? What have I done to be blessed like this? Finding a new Place of Desire is like falling in love. Disbelief. Inexplicable happiness. Overflowing energy and restlessness. Gratitude, first and foremost. For the beauty. For the people. For the privileged life that I am leading. Underneath the stars, at the foot of the cross, I have to take just two seconds to myself to take it all in. And I swear I will try to give something back, one way or another. I don’t know what or how. But my Places of Desire will get me there.

2 Kommentare

  1. „Sehnsucht is not only a wish for something that is not present. It is a state that one gets caught up in, a way of existing rather than a way of feeling that is enjoyable and painful all at once and that is hard to fall out of or consciously quit.“

    That’s the best description of sehnsucht I’ve ever heard and I know exactly what you mean.

    • bridgekeeper

      April 22, 2013 at 10:09 am

      I think that in that sense it is a bit like falling in love in itself. Or any other kind of addiction 🙂

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