We didn’t learn as much German as we should have while living in Vienna, but I did manage to pick up one lesson: The art of the German language is definitely not in the sound of the words themselves, but instead in the elegance of the ideas and images those words can evoke when they’re smooshed together into little linguistic Schichtkuchen (layer cakes).
Take the word Sehnsucht, for example. Google translates it to “nostalgia,” but this seemingly simple thing is actually much more complicated — just like everything else in Austria. Break the compound word apart and the little words mean “to see,” “to investigate.” Put them back together, and you get something like “life longing,” or “a sense of separation from the imaginative experience we crave,” a translation I particularly like and picked up here.
Anyway, this nuanced sort of longing — not for the reality of an experience but for the imagined perfection of it — is something that speaks deeply to how I felt about being back in Vienna for three weeks after almost a year away. This city never became home for us, not really, but our visit made us feel like maybe in fact Vienna had been, if only for just awhile.Read More »