Everyday, die Lüdde and I go for a walk. If time is an issue, we take a known route, striding out following familar slippery, bricked roads and crunchy park paths so we don’t get lost. Most times we call into the same cafe and get something hot to drink. Very often we wind up down by the water joining others who appreciate the fresh salty air, and several of Kiel’s gigantic seagulls (honestly, the size of those things.) When time isn’t an issue, we pop down unknown streets and I take photos of old pre-war buildings that survived the bombs while muttering to myself, ‘so European’. With each new turn, we are spat out somewhere familiar and another patch of this city is stitched into my mind’s map.
Recently, while walking and gazing up and around, I have found myself sighing happily. I sigh over a good looking tree, over an old, beautifully preserved building, over the colour of the fjord on any given day. And each time I do, apart from feeling like I am in my own advertisement for my surroundings, I can’t shake the tremendous feeling of contentment that has settled over my days and come to define life here up north.
The idea of contentment is one that, during my twenties, I didn’t care much for. I was itchy of foot and impatient, and I liked it. An around-the-world trip at 22 led to my first of three Greek summers at 23, and both of those adventures led to moving across the world at 25. Eighteen months in Münster led to a year in Weiden which led to where I am now – with my little family in Kiel. I liked moving, liked having something different and new in the foreseeable future. When I didn’t, I felt unadventurous, tame, like life was out there for the taking and I was inside on the couch watching it all go by. Being ‘content’ wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. Finding and creating newness was – I chased change as a sport. It wasn’t that I sought discontentment, although often that leads to pursuing and unearthing the different and the new; it was more that there were other things I wanted to be than content. I wanted to be interesting and stuffed with stories to wheel out at dinner parties. I suppose, in a way, I erroneously equated being content with being mediocre – content people were the people sitting on the comfortable couch while the world went by.
Yet, here I am, a few months out of the end of my 20s, a decade marked by movement and pursuing unfamiliarity, by the need to be and feel interesting, and contentment suddenly – and it is sudden, because it has crept up without warning – feels nothing like mediocrity. It feels lovely. It feels like walks around a city I feel at ease with, it feels like knowing my way, it feels solid. For the first time in a long time, I am not looking for the next city, the next patch of newness to drag my self to and splash about in. Oh, sure, merely writing those words makes me think how wonderful it would be to make a home in any number of different countries, but the drive to uproot and move on has quietened for now. And that is okay. It had to quieten at some point to allow for complete, still enjoyment of this period of my life, and to enable deeper digging into a part of this country and its people I feel such an affinity for.
The German word for content is zufrieden and I hear it often these days, in reference to my baby who is for the most part, when clean and well fed and rested, zufrieden. And just last week I read that Schleswig-Holsteiners have, once again, come out on top as Germany’s most zufrieden people. They rank as the Germans most satisfied with their lives, most content with their lot. Perhaps it’s rubbing off on me. Perhaps the sense that what we have up here is pretty good, pervades my days in ways I cannot see, only feel. Perhaps this affinity with this corner of the world that I speak of has helped – along with a few happy occurrences beyond my control – put the brakes on a period of my life in which pace was so valued.
Or perhaps, and I have thought about this, it is my age. But I don’t think so. I do believe there will be many more phases in my life, as I grow older, in which the drive to move and chase change, will resurface loudly and with great urgency. Contentment may well morph one day into a restlessness and this restlessness won’t so easily be assuaged like in times gone by, because it is no longer just me packing a bag and taking off. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
I think, as it is with most things in life, it is quite simply a number of things, an indecipherable equation that has spat out the result of welcome and rosy-cheeked contentment. Where I do think age comes in, is being old enough to enjoy it.