Move over wanderlust, it’s trending ‘fernweh’ now


We are the wanderlusting generation, forever chasing after the charms of travel, both in its essence as a life shaping entity as well as a way of life itself, a lifestyle that affords us the luxuries unique to different parts of the world, a way of leisurely indulgence that is tied also to determinants of the good life, in spirit and in identity, socially, culturally, physically, psychologically et al, earning us experiences that are unmatchable, and accords perhaps a certain high status, one that does not seek the riches in travel only metaphorically but essentially as well. But this world of the wanderlust that rests so veritably in measures of all things surreal and magical, even when this is an amalgamation of treasures that we seek out to discover within the very confines of the physical world, isn’t all things appealing and dreamy in just the notion of it. In fact the term that sums it up all- wanderlust to say, sounds every bit as phantasmagorical and alluring as the concept of it, something about this essentially German word resides in utopia through every fiber of its being, as an idyllic revelation of the world in all its fancies, like of someplace in Cockaigne, carrying though it a certain emotion that stirs the heart in a vivid manner, indiscernible to those who do not hear the lustful longings in its utterance, but palpable otherwise to all those who submit themselves happily to this wonderworld of the travelling euphoria.

wistful longing
Source: Trell

Despite such soul pleasing notions attributable to the wanderlust jargon, elucidated by means of such paraphrases that conjure all bewitching imagery of the otherworldly phenomena of the worldly expanse we inhabit, this whole wanderlusting ‘business’ has perhaps emerged to be too commonplace a trend than our liking. Sure, identifying oneself as a fellow wanderluster might fan a certain sense of the whole brethren connection that comes together as wholesome and idealistic and comforting a notion in existence, persisting perhaps even in the extant of the charm the whole lustful premise forever gratifies us with, but in its rather everyday occurrence, that can indeed pass of as overindulgence of something otherwise reserved for the more exclusive, occasional pursuits of pleasures by the human soul, lusting over wanderlust has been the passé at least in the German colloquiality, if not anywhere else.

In steps therefore another similarly literary word, one residing in all the charms and spirits of wanderlust, but more open to interpretation, vaguer yet more identifiable, perhaps not in the physicality of it all but surely a reverberation of the emotions that you experience deep within, at some points of time in your existence when you yearn for a far away place, a destination that is not home but feels as comforting and inviting, perhaps in the allure of the unknown, perhaps as an escape from the everyday mundanity, travelling as you do through a chasm between the ordinary and the extraordinary, or something less stirring but nevertheless still poignant in the way it unfurls its meaning to your person. Spelled as fernweh and seen as a modern alternative to the German yet loan of the now universally English wanderlust, the essence of both these poetic sounding terms are not much different- a desire to explore other lands by embarking on the travel bandwagon. But despite all the eloquent ways of expression attributable to wanderlust, this now common encounter in the wordy realm is but ‘only’ a ‘yearn to travel’, originating from “wandern” (to hike) and “Lust” (Desire). In not so much stark contrast of it is also Fernweh, that expresses also a craving that you feel for travelling. More poetically though, and therefore more appealingly, fernweh has often been described as being“homesick for a place you’ve never been.” An antonym therefore of homesickness or heimweh, that exists only in the German language, fernweh perhaps is something that can be described more comprehensibly as ‘distance sickness’ or farsickness, and sounds so much like something rooted in nostalgia, ironically though stemming from something that is the exact opposite of the homesickness that the nostalgic feels reside in.

In more literal translation though, fernweh spans as ‘far woe’, and therefore a longing for distant places, for faraway lands, for spaces that are alluring perhaps in the very premise of their existence, of being so apart that they invariably dwell in some other kind of magic that entrances our souls, luring us therefore with a desire of the unknown, and is hence a more specific yearning dwelling though on the wanderlusting realm. A deep longing that take root in the most remote reaches of the heart, in an intensity as deep as well, and so profound that it leaves you aching in your longing for the fantasies of that place that feels like your own even when it clearly is not. Rooted in melancholy, very distinctly and in stark contrast to what the traveling trails guarantee you a route into, fernweh isn’t therefore as simplistic as wanderlust, the latter despite all its mystery and magic still is very much as direct an expression of the travel desire there could be. Fernweh is more imprecise, not something that you can necessarily pinpoint out as wanting to tick off your travel to do list, residing more as a reflection of your innermost desires rather than conforming to the world view of jetting off to the global ‘it’ destinations. Fernweh then could be more real and ‘redemptive’ a desire of your soul, something that simply cannot be touched upon by the lusting explorations of its more glorified antecedent.

In its universality though that touches upon every spectrum of the life pathos that the human existence is susceptible to in its particular connotation, fernweh understandably is more essentially rooted in the German context, not surprising given its origins in the native language of the European nation. For the Germans. fernweh indeed is the appeal residing in far off places but compounding the allure of this longing is a definite desire for warmer and sunnier places, of the sun perhaps, think the warm glow of the beach and the spirited colors of spring, seating as they would be amidst the cold and grey of their homes through rain and snow, but also having somewhat metaphorical leanings. Also inherent is the yearning to break free from the ordered German way of life for once, from the ‘weh’ of the fernweh and therefore of the woe that too strict an adherence to the orderly realm had pushed them into. Debuting in English in Daniel Garrison Brinton’s 1902 book The Basis of Social Relation where Fernweh sees translation as a deep desire or ache to travel or a “goading restlessness”, the term itself originated perhaps in the world explorations and documentation of German landscape gardener Prince Hermann Ludwig Heinrich von Pückler-Muskau. His 1835 book Penultimate Course of the World of Semilasso: Dream and Waking makes use of the word several times, where he revealed that what he suffers from is never homesickness or heimweh, but instead something that is the exact opposite of them all- fernweh. Growing out of wanderlust essentially, but growing it out as well, fernweh came to be an exploration of the world more ingrained in the human psyche that might not be as socially desirable (or otherwise) a notion than what the mere mention of wanderlust brings to mind. In its sheer essence, wanderlust is definitely a want, fernweh perhaps more of a need arising from the play of emotions that do not always play out visually.

Which is what renders fernweh more abstract a concept in realisation, one that includes indeed real places that you inexplicably long for but also can encompass places residing only in the imaginary, in pieces of fiction, of worlds of fantasy that are unreachable yet carry within them a certain soul you identify with and therefore chase its confines as home, albeit in a manner that is not merely physical. But beyond the metaphors of travel though, fernweh can as aptly allude to the longing for a certain time in the future, or perhaps even in the present, in a parallel time zone of an alternate universe, as moments that you want to live, of such circumstances that you envision as your reality. It perhaps is a coming together of so many fetishes and cravings and yearnings that you long for your entire life, and therefore also of wistful longings (that which in German is expressed as another stirring word, sehnsucht), each so unique to you that only you can fathom even when there are a million others like you other coveting something equally deep and abstract and unexplainable. An exulansis therefore perhaps as well, except that you don’t stop elocuting about Fernweh as such, but refrain instead from ascertaining the choice to which your farsickness alludes to, this German way of romanticising some of the ends of life is a pursuit that stems of itself, naturally, ordinarily, without you ‘feeling the pressure’ of fancying a certain specific something. Wondrous it is that despite being commonly seen as a close alternative for wanderlust, fernweh persists in ways that are more inclined to the human need for self awareness and acceptance, which is why it has continued to remain relevant even in these testing times of the global shutdown. Wanderlust might take you places, but it only is fernweh that will have you landing at just the right place at the right time.