Professor Vandergriff Explains 'Fernweh,' German Word Describing 'Pain to See Far-Flung Places Beyond Our Doorstep'

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

BBC (LONDON) -- “I think fernweh for Germans refers to a longing for warmer and sunnier places, palm trees, lemon trees but also a different way of life, more carefree and less ordered,” said Ilona Vandergriff, German professor at San Francisco State University (and, full disclosure, my former German professor). To really comprehend the significance of fernweh, it’s important to understand that the concept is a break from the legendarily ordered society in which Germans live. The pain or wehe was caused by a yen to escape the rigidity of the society in which they’d been raised. Vandergriff points to a passage from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1795 novel Wilhelm Meister’s “Apprentice.” In it, the character Mignon yearns to go to the “Land wo die Zitronen blühen,” or the land where the lemons bloom.

Vandergriff adds: “Goethe’s own life nicely mirrors the German travel desires: leaving the constraints of life in Germany (or in Goethe’s case, Weimar) behind and enjoying a freer life in Italy, sun, warmth, great beauty and free love.”