Still there, long gone


Two years ago at work, we decided to each write a piece about what it felt like to come home for Christmas1. At the time I could begin with the very real joke that my home town had briefly disappeared from Google Maps, which had rendered it nonexistent in the digital age. And having walked through it that Christmas, I came back with the distinct notion that my home town, as I remembered it, was no longer the same. At least for the purposes of my article, it had vanished. I wrote:

It would be selfish to hold a grudge against your hometown just because it has changed. Particularly Berlin is infamous for reinventing itself, which is the very reason it attracts so many people. The word “home” is nevertheless steeped in a romantic notion: The corresponding place should remain pleasant and predictable. In our minds, it is the place we go to forever eat the same food, meet the same friends and then return to where we live, our actual home.

Coming back to Den Haag reminded me of that old article. It is a place I feel an intense nostalgia for, where getting off the train feels like coming home. Until it doesn’t; when I notice that some things are different, that some things have moved and that some lines are skewed. Almost exactly four years after having moved away from there, the place is still there, but the reality it used to hold is long gone – with most of the people I once knew having moved away. The city felt as comforting as ever, but remarkably empty.

This being a Friday, with everyone at home and here at work, and due to the fact that I was only in Den Haag for a few hours, I decided to skip most of the city and head straight for the beach to take a swim in the North Sea.

Strandslag 11

By the sea

A few days before, I had read a totally unrealated interview with a record collector about overvaluing old music. “Nostalgia invites a certain kind of blindness”, she had said. I couldn’t help but think about that statement as I stood with my feet in the ocean, blinded by intense brightness of the afternoon sun. Perhaps nostalgia has two components: The dictionary’s “sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past”, and the blindness that hurries that feeling along. You squint into the sunlight and the waves crash at your feet, all of which lets you momentarily forget that the past is long gone.


Nostalia from the tram

  1. You can find the article, in German, here