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Word of the Week: Fernweh

What would you think Germans are proud of? Beer? Their legacy of famous writers and poets such as Goethe, Schiller and Eichendorff? The ability to have a great party going when it’s time again for a Soccer World Cup? Without a doubt these things make Germans proud. However, Germany is neither world champion in soccer (as you might know Spain is) nor in beer exports (as you might not know China is, which you probably find odd considering the unique taste of German beer and the – well – maybe not so unique taste of Chinese beer). Still, Germans are proud of being world champion in a different category: traveling (72.6 million trips abroad in 2010).

There is one simple explanation for why Germans like to travel: Germans “suffer” from Fernweh. In contrast to its opposite Heimweh (homesickness), Fernweh describes a deep inner urge to visit other countries/cultures, to be at a place faraway from home and to have new experiences. Maybe you have sometimes felt bored at home and while watching a documentary about an exotic country have yearned to visit that country and discover all its cultural and scenic diversity. Or while sitting at the ocean you might have strongly desired to see the world that is beyond the horizon. In both cases you “suffered” from Fernweh.

The best English translation for it is probably “wanderlust”. Since “wanderlust” is derived from German, “Fernweh” indeed seems to be something typically German. Actually, Fernweh is used as the new “wanderlust” in German. Whereas wanderlust was mostly used in German in the era of German Romanticism during the first half of 19th century and then immigrated to English, where it was first detected in 1902, it is nowadays virtually not used anymore in German. Fernweh sort of replaced it and added an international meaning to it – not just the desire to hike and discover nature but also to go abroad to lands that are far, far away.

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