Liv Hambrett

Germany + Australia + Culture + Motherhood + Home

Essays

The Sixth Stage

I’m working on a book. Heimat covered the first five years of living here in Germany and finding contentment, a feeling of Wohl, in a country I never expected to marry, have children, and buy a house within. But lately my preoccupation, and thus my writing, has shifted from what home means, something the latter half of my twenties was dominated by, to the shift in identity I have sensed since becoming a mother outside of my own culture and language.

This book will, in a way, pick up where Heimat left off. I have been busy bashing away at the chapter outline and the introduction chapter, which is taking longer than I would like, but such is life with children and a job. I thought I had written the latter, so began chapter one. As I wrote chapter one, I realised that I was actually writing a far superior introduction, and thus gave the original introduction the chop. Half of it became a stand alone essay I might publish here one day, and the other half is below. A little introduction to this book, and to me for those of you who are new around here.

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Most people, when they move to Germany, go big; Berlin, Munich, or at least one of the million-plus cities like Cologne or Hamburg. I didn’t. I started with a mid-sized city in the country’s west, moved to a tiny town in the south-east, got terribly homesick and terribly uncertain that Germany was supposed to be where my future lay, and then found my feet in a city by the sea in the far-north. This unlikely tour of the country meant I stumbled across its regional divides rather early on. In fact, mere months after I had settled in my first German apartment, on one of Münster’s most beautiful tree-lined boulevards, my flatmate warned me about my new romantic interest. He was from the north, you see, and the northerners are … different. Frankly, if he was anything to go by, they were also rather good looking and the idea he brought with him a sense of fresh, salty air when all around me were cobblestones and church steeples, felt like I had found a kindred spirit. Different was good, particularly at a time in my life where I felt, although I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, so very different to the surroundings I was attempting to make some sort of a life in. Münster, for all its beauty, for all its perfection and precision, proved to be a place I simply could not make myself fit into and consequently, as I tried to find a way to make things work, before following die Liebe to Bavaria, where the fit was even more uncomfortable, the latter half of my twenties came to be hugely preoccupied with the idea of home; what it is and how we find it.

German-American psychologist Eric Erikson theorised that people advance through eight stages of psycho-social development during their lives, with each stage representing a crisis that must be resolved to allow for progression. Life is therefore, I suppose, something like a video game and each time we level up, we are given more weaponry with which to tackle the next level. The sixth stage, Intimacy vs Isolation, is a stage in which we learn to develop intimate relationships with other people, and ideally emerge from with an understanding of the basic virtue of love. We are then prepared for the seventh stage which, from what I can gather, is rather existentialist: what have I contributed to the world, and how am I going to be remembered?

But I am getting ahead of myself. I am in the sixth stage and shall be for another seven years. This stage of my psycho-social development sees me working through the ideas of intimacy and isolation, learning, essentially, about myself within the context of a loving relationship. I entered this stage at nineteen, as we all do, when I was coincidentally at university studying psychology and indeed Erikson himself, although his theories fell by the wayside (the ‘wayside’ being litres of Malibu and Coke, and hours spent drinking coffee and being philosophical) until I found myself reading about them nearly a decade and a half later. And it struck me, as I read about them, for a class I was teaching on identity, how very perfect the two words are for life as I currently live it; intimacy and isolation. I had fun avoiding intimacy before allowing it to track me down, and once it did, I uprooted my life and replanted it on the other side of the globe, which was when isolation introduced itself to me, a bedfellow of one of the defining chapters of my twenties and early thirties; immigration.

Isolated from friends and family, yet enormously in love and willing to do whatever it took, something else happened, something that pushed me into my thirties with a quiet, seismic shock; I became a mother. Someone brand new was on the way, a relationship that would rearrange all others and, itself, be defined by intimacy and isolation.

Intimacy. Isolation. Immigration. I find myself in a stage of life in which I seemingly cannot avoid the letter I. It is somewhat unavoidable that I must add another; identity. The relationships that began during the sixth stage of my life have created what I now know myself as; an immigrant and a mother. And if there is one thing I am learning, it is these two things are not entirely unalike, indeed very often they are the same. Both demand you learn, constantly; a new language, new borders. Both demand you assimilate with a plethora of preconceived notions you learn on the trot. Both rewrite who you are.

Childhood becomes important once more when you have children of your own. I revisit mine often, as my children tear through time. I grew up in a semi-rural area in Australia’s New South Wales, with my sister and brother and a menagerie of animals. We had the quintessential Australian childhood of the nineties; long, hot summers during which Mum lost track of us as we tramped through the bush, setting up makeshift cubbies, avoiding snakes, and trying to catch wild rabbits as pets (we were successful approximately once, and the thing ran around the stable yard in circles until we let it go, disappointed by its somewhat unexpected wildness). After school, I went straight to university, and after finishing my Bachelor’s degree, spent six months on a round-the-world trip with two girlfriends. The trip took us, among many others, to two places to which I would return, and to which I would always belong; Greece and Germany. The former I returned to the following year, during the summer holidays of the first year of my Master’s degree (unsure of what I wanted to do or be in life, but certain writing was to comprise the heart of whatever I did, I had been accepted into an MA in Creative Writing) and then again after graduating. And again after that. I pulled beers and told drunk backpackers to stop throwing chairs in the pool and go home, for long, hot, mercurial summers. The latter I moved to and never left – not, in all honesty, entirely deliberately.

With a BA, an MA, a Working Holiday Visa and a view to teach English, I left Australia in July 2010 with plans to be back after a couple of years. I would spend a year in Germany with friends I already had, then move on to an Asian country, and then most likely return to Sydney – a city I never entirely felt comfortable in – and figure out The Rest of My Life. I spent another summer in Greece, on the island of Santorini, working and working on my tan, before arriving in Münster on a cold, rainy September’s day, with inappropriate footwear and absolutely no jacket. Four months later, as the coldest winter I had ever experienced dawned, I met that different man with the kindest eyes and the rest, as they say, is history.

From Münster, a city of students and bicycles and 13th century buildings, we moved to Weiden, Bavaria, and that is where this new book will begin. Not because Weiden, the place where I ran head first into tremendous isolation, taught me everything about what a home needed to be, but because Weiden was where our journey into parenthood – into the greatest intimacy – began.

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What do you think?

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Silke

    8 July, 2018 at 4:15 pm

    I definitely would love to read more! 🙂

  2. Christian S.

    8 July, 2018 at 11:05 pm

    Beautifully written. And talking of Weiden, I can completely understand your feeling of isolation you had there – also thinking back to your older posts on this town from a couple of years ago. I have been to Weiden multiple times during the last two years on business purposes and experienced it a as nice small cosy but also very sleepy town in the middle of nowhere with people talking in a funny way. Even as a German who can understand quite a lot of dialects, I sometimes have my difficulties with Oberpfälzisch, especially when sitting in the taxi and trying to understand anything they say over the radio communication. That dialect appears to almost completely have abolished all consonants.
    The first couple of times I had to visit Weiden, I was lucky since by a funny coincidence a good friend from school was working there temporarily, so I had someone to spend the evenings with – and also he was very happy about the company since his wife was living and working in far-away Mainz at that time and they only saw each other on the weekends. But last fall he was withdrawn back to his headquarters in Cologne and during my two most recents trips to Weiden since then, I was so utterly bored. After having arrived at the train station I walked over to the hotel, checked in and then went to Marktplatz to have some dinner. But after that, I had absolutely no idea what else to do, so I just walked back to the hotel and watched Netflix until it was sleeping time. Such things barely happen to me in other places I have to travel to. Since I’m a hobby photographer in my free time, I often take my camera with me on business trips and explore the city by foot, especially during long summer evenings. But in Weiden I had already photographed everything noteworthy and interesting ages ago, so even that possibility is gone. I think Weiden is really the smallest town I’ve been to for my job so far – ein Ort, wo Fuchs und Hase sich Gute Nacht sagen. I’m really glad I that nowadays I have to go there only every couple of months and not every month as was the case when my fried was still working there.

  3. Brigitte

    9 July, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    I think it’s great. I love the way Erickson’s life stages inform you in making sense of yours. EE, who incidentally lived right here in Cambridge, MA and died at the hospital where I work, has always been one of my favorites.
    I have now lived in a foreign land for 40 years! and still there is that sense of belonging to two places, not one. It creates an immediate kinship with anyone I meet who has more than one homeland and it makes me identify with quotes like this:
    Legendary ballerina Margot Fonteyne once said:
    Traveling carries with it the curse of being at home everywhere and yet nowhere, for wherever one is, some part of oneself remains on another continent.
    Thank you for your keen observations Liv.

  4. Dagmar Dolatschko

    10 July, 2018 at 6:48 am

    I like it! That will be a good book. I have your Heimat book somewhere in my moving boxes. We moved again. I tried to move back to Germany, Bavaria, and it did not work after 28 years in the US most of them in California. So here we are back in Northern California and I think i finally found home. I am intrigued by your writing. I may write too, the other way around … you found home in Germany. I came from there and didn’t. I will be looking forward to how your next book evolves. Do you have a working title yet?
    Warm regards, Dagmar Dolatschko

  5. Debbie Welss

    11 July, 2018 at 7:37 am

    Hello Dear Liv,
    I too am married to a German( dare I say Franconian), although we met, married & had our kids in Aus. We decided to come live in middle Franconia, so hubby can be near his older parents. OMG, I’ve suffered for the last 6yrs. It’s been bloody hard. Some people especially hubby’s family are extremely difficult. It’s so true that Aussies are open & relaxed. Well, not here in mid Franconia. Although now I stay away from small minded people & have found some beautiful Franconian friends. I can relate to everyone of your posts. I was so isolated & lonely & stressed out from people here that in my first 6 months I had gurtelrose (shingles).
    It’s definitely true that we go through different stages in our life. I’m still finding my feet here. I do love the countryside & a lot of things about Germany, I miss Aus. However people aside, Germany has taken a big piece of my heart & it would be hard to leave. So I think Integration will be a lifelong thing for me. Sometimes I feel like an alien because I dnt know if I truly fit in anywhere. I’m not 100% here & definitely not 100% in Aus. It’s a very weird feeling. So I say, I’m a person of the world. My daughters are 11 & 13 & I know they feel the same because of their 2 heritages. We speak Denglisch, haha! So we as a family of 4 with 2 different languages & families will just always be different. It is how it is. To tell you the truth I’m proud of my daughters, myself & my man because we have to work harder, just to do your normal everyday living things. We have come a long way in 6yrs.} Most people live their lives taking the small & big things for granted. Wishing you lots of love & happiness. Love your posts, so relatable, it’s like a mirror for me.
    Debbie

  6. Colette – Liv Hambrett

    8 January, 2019 at 11:06 am

    […] as with every year, the desire to write more and write better, is present – the goal of another collection of essays is one I am determined to kick in 2019. I have always used this blog as a tool, and it’s one […]

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