Interview Series 1: Finding Heimat

Heimat is a unique term in the German language, describing more than just the feeling of being at home. It describes a feeling of belonging, a feeling of being rooted somewhere.

Heimat (pronounced [ˈhaɪmat]) is a German word with no English equivalent[1] that denotes the relationship of a human being towards a certain spatial social unit. The term forms a contrast to social alienation and usually carries positive connotations. It is often expressed with terms such as home or homeland. (Wikipedia)

Your Heimat does not have to be where you currently live or where you were born, it has individual meaning to everyone. My Heimat is the countryside in Bavaria, where my family lives and where most of my early memories are. Going to Vienna feels like “coming home” too, when I arrive in the city it usually takes me a while to grasp that I am just a visitor now.

Vancouver has grown to become Heimat for me very quickly. Being with my husband makes me feel at home and I truly connect with the mentality and lifestyle in Vancouver – I feel like I belong here. It’s the sum of places, friends, family and memories that give me a sense of Heimat. A beautiful concept: It means you are never lost.

Many of my friends and fellow bloggers have this one thing in common: They live or have lived abroad for multiple years. I am fascinated by how our notion of home and Heimat changes with the experience of being abroad, being a foreigner and searching for a home away from home.

These four people have never met and yet they have a whole lot in common.

Kemara Pol

Blogger and Photographer

Kemara Pol Photographer and BloggerWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

I don’t necessarily see home as something that is geographically determined. To me it has to do with a certain emotion of comfort, trust and understanding. I think home is where your people are, that could be your family you were born into, the family that you’ve created yourself or your friends you’ve become close with over the years. Home is being with people you love and trust and where you unapologetically can be your true self.  ‘Heimat’ as in a geographic area that you feel close to or connected with, isn’t really something that I think about and it’s not the way I want to go through life.

Which cities have you lived in?

I’ve lived in Berlin, Vienna, Linz, Shanghai and Bangkok.

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

For me it’s all about the people you choose to surround yourself with, your social environment, your support system, people who literally make you feel at home. Why is it that we get homesick when we’re abroad? Why do we feel isolated if we just moved to another city or even another country? Because we feel left out and we miss the people who we’ve left behind who gave us the feeling of comfort and being at home.

What do you miss about living in those places?

I miss the big city life, the challenge of conquering a metropolis, the exciting feeling of being somewhere else, exploring new horizons and adventures. I still remember the day when I moved to Shanghai as part of my exchange semester as if it was yesterday. I found an apartment for myself in just four days. On the first day I sat on the window bench in my room on the 28th floor or something and looked out the window at the amazing skyline and thought to myself ‘This city is mine now, and I’m gonna conquer it!’

Where to next – or are you staying?

I don’t know yet. I’m hoping  to move to a major city that excites me culturally as well as mentality-wise at some point in my life. My absolute priority for right now is to establish my blog and I’ll see where life will take me….




Cheryl Howard

Travel Blogger

Blogger Cheryl HowardWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

I now live in Berlin, Germany, which I feel is the best city on earth! While I’ve lived the majority of my life in Toronto, Canada, I feel much more “at home” in Berlin. It’s where I’m most happy and there’s no where else that I’d rather be. It’s odd how a person can move to an entirely new city and country and feel more at home there than in their native land. But I think I’ve found my place. So, I think the key to “Heimat” is simply the feeling of being happy with where you are.

Which cities have you lived in?

I’m Canadian and have lived all over the country! I was born in Woodstock, a small city in South Western Ontario. At age 13, I moved to a tiny village in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia where I spent my high school years. Terrified at the thought of living out the rest of my life in a rural setting, the day after my graduation, I eagerly left Nova Scotia behind to spend the summer before university with my father in Brantford, Ontario. That fall, I began post secondary school in Toronto and three years later, finished my last semester in Calgary, Alberta. After graduation, I returned to Toronto to establish my career as a project manager. I then stayed in Toronto for a very long time, but longing for a new life I eventually moved to Europe, ending up in Berlin for 18 months where I started a new career as a travel blogger. For personal reasons, I moved back home to Toronto for two years. After realising how much I missed Germany, I happily moved back in November 2014.

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

When I first arrived in Berlin, I was pretty homesick. I’d never been on a vacation longer than three weeks and had never lived so far away from home before. There were a lot of Skype calls! But then I started going out and meeting people and that changed everything. I met people with whom I had more in common with than the friends I had at home. People who loved travelling, pursuing new adventures abroad and more. I really came to like the German culture and identified with it in a way that I never expected. The new friends made all the difference and made me feel at home in my new surroundings.

What do you miss about living in those places?

When I moved home to Toronto in November 2012, it seemed like the right thing to do. I missed my friends and family, was tired of freelancing and dealing with some of the difficulties of expat life. Sometimes it takes leaving a place before you figure out where your home (and heart) really are and for me, that was Berlin. My two years home were great, but I constantly ached for Berlin and for the longest time, it didn’t seem like it would happen. Thankfully, it did and now that I’m back, I don’t imagine myself ever leaving.

Where to next – or are you staying?

As I said, there’s no other place I’d rather be than in Berlin. I even plan to apply for permanent residency in about two years and may even consider citizenship at a later date.

W. D.

Recent MSc Graduate

ViennaWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

I’d say that I’ve had several homes throughout the years. Home is a place – certainly Bavaria, where I grew up and where my family lives, and whose traditions, music, food, fashions I relate to. I’d probably describe Bavaria as “Heimat”, too, because of these traditions, which for some reason I connect with the German word “Heimat”. However, what I call “home”, and not “Heimat” in what I see as a traditional word, has a lot to do with the people I connect with. Therefore, home is also a feeling and not just a place. My friends are my home, special evenings or days of happiness with my friends are and have been my home. When I’ve been happy in relationships I was at home when I was with my respective partner. People who make me feel good about myself are what makes me feel at home.

Which cities have you lived in?

Munich, Vienna, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, and, briefly, London.

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

Having my own flat or room, it doesn’t matter where but it has to feel like my own place. Also having a regular pub or someplace where I can easily get to talking with people in the evenings. The advantage of not being straight is often that you’ll find people in any city that has some kind of gay scene, too. It might also just be superficial encounters and chats but it helps to not feel alone when you’re completely new. I also like exploring a new place via public transport and on foot. Once I know my way around a bit, I feel much more at home.

What do you miss about living in those places?

About the places I’ve lived, I miss the specific atmospheres of those cities.
For Hong Kong, I miss the food, the contrasts between sky scrapers and expensive malls on the one hand and the smaller alleys with cheap and local food markets or diner-like places. I miss hearing Cantonese and the excitement I felt at all the differences I saw to European cities. With Sydney and Melbourne, I miss the good friends that I made there. I miss what I perceived as a much more easygoing vibe in general (as opposed to Germany, for instance). I also miss the beach and the good times I had working as a bartender. For Vienna, I miss the pubs and bars I used to go to, the Danube and going swimming there in the summer. I miss the Viennese grumpiness and special sense of humour. I especially miss the great times I had with some of my best friends there. It still feels like I only just left Edinburgh, so I don’t necessarily miss it that much – although I recently heard a bagpipe play at a festival and became nostalgic as I used to hear them play everyday outside my window in Edinburgh. London: I miss the great walks that I took there, through all the big parks, along the Thames and the canals.

Where to next – or are you staying?

Hopefully China, but via Iceland and Vancouver. It could also be Brussels or London, though, depending on job situation…

Barbara Tiedke

Paediatric intensive care nurse and Blogger

Barbara Tiedke BloggerWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

One of my new years resolutions for 2015 is to find a place I can call home. I truly don`t know where that particular place could be…I guess it is true: Home is where your heart is. Whereas I had a feeling of belonging during my last visit in Vancouver. “Heimat” means one thing to me: Back to the roots, back to the family. Especially my Mam`s place in Germany.

Which cities have you lived in?

I have lived and worked in a few cities for months and years. For example: Bochum and Tübingen (Germany), Whangamata (NZ), Rarotonga (Cook Islands), Brisbane (Australia), Vancouver (Canada), London (UK).

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

I adjust to new environments quite easily. I have the tendency to call a flat/room “home” quickly, even though I have no real bond with it and am basically just renting it for a while. It might be the excitement which comes with new places, people and experiences.

What do you miss about living in those places?

I wish that there would be a combination of them! Close to my family, vast and wild like Canada, sophisticated like London, and relaxed and with warm temperatures like the Cook Islands and Australia.

Where to next – or are you staying?

I have a stop over at my Mam`s for two weeks before I will hike along the Camino de Santiago. My mission is to clear my mind and think about what to do with my life, which also means where to stay or settle for more than two years. Eventually I will return to Vancouver. Who knows? There are so many beautiful places out there! So much to explore!



Part 2: Vienna and the MQ

Exploring the MuseumsQuartier (MQ) is a great introduction to Vienna. The museum complex offers a mix of art and culture right in the heart of the city. Not only is it home to some of Vienna’s best museums, it also functions as a communal space for outdoor events like the yearly MQ Winter with Djs, Iglu-Bars, light projections and a curling area. In the summer, the MQ comes to life with outdoor bars, music events and the famous “Enzo”-loungers.

There is lots to see and do around the MQ…


Start your morning with breakfast at the Café Leopold located above the Leopold museum. The amazing brunch spread is accompanied by a great view of the quarter. In the summer the upper patio area is the best spot to enjoy a cup of coffee and watch the buzzing courtyard. At nighttime the cafe turns into a bar/club, so check the event schedule while you’re enjoying your breakfast.

The morning is the ideal time to check out the city’s museum scene. The monumental buildings of the Natural History and Art History museums across the street host  impressive exhibitions that will keep you captivated all day. The Leopold museum gives a introduction to some of the most renowned Austrian artists: Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka.

The mumok is located in the imposing grey basalt cube in the MQ. This modern art museum hosts contemporary photography, film and video art, installations, sculptures and paintings. Little fun fact: The outside of the building is musical –  knock against the walls and you will hear them resonate.

Mumok Vienna

Photography by Matt Kilburn


There is plenty of lunch options in the MQ. My favourite is the well hidden Glacis Beisl which has it’s entrance at Breite Gasse. The “Beisl” hosts a cute glühwein-garden in winter, complete with a little wooden cabin outfitted with blankets to snuggle up. In summer their beer garden is a popular spot to dine.

Burger de Ville Vienna

Photography by Maria Müller

Just a few blocks down from the MQ the 25hours hotel is located. On warm days the airstream trailer “Burger de Ville” offers some of the best burgers and fries in the city. The hotel bar “Dachboden” on the upper floor is a great choice in winter and summer. Enjoy an espresso after lunch overlooking the Parliament.


Right next to the architecture centre in the museums quarter you will find the Corbaci Café. Under it’s oriental tiled roof dessert specialities like Marillenknödel or Apfelstrudel are served.

Corbaci Vienna

Photography via

Right behind the MQ you will find the cobblestoned quarter Spittelberg. It’s galleries and artisan shops make it an ideal place to hunt for little gifts and souvenirs. Speaking of souvenirs- who doesn’t love a retro-selfie? There is an old photo machine right at the MQ point entrance. Be patient, the old machine takes a while to spit out your sepia- portrait.


One of Vienna’s best Italian restaurants is just up the street of the quarter, on Burggasse. I Ragazzi is famous for authentic Italian pizzas from the woodburning oven, made with buffalo mozzarella and freshly shaved prosciutto di parma. The pizza “I Terroni” and “Ragazzi” are highly recommended as well as their limoncello. Just saying.

At night:

The Donau Bar (Danube Bar) is an old synagoge transformed into a cool bar with the help of daily changing light projections and Djs. Oh, and there’s a sausage stand located right in the bar. Brilliant. Classic sausage orders are the “Käsekrainer mit Kren” (cheese sausage with horseradish) and “Waldviertler” (smoked sausage). Sausages are usually eaten with mustard, horseradish and a piece of bread. After this snack you should be ready to sleep party.


If you’re lucky, the Volkstheater hosts a party at their “Rote Bar” next door – nothing says Vienna like partying under a chandelier. Another good party address is the quirky Wirr a few blocks down on Burggasse.

Volkstheater Vienna

Photography via

10 Signs of Becoming a Vancouverite

The place you live changes you. For the better and the worse. Leaving my German “Pünktlichkeit” (punctuality) behind and cutting back on the infamous “Direktheit” (brutal honesty) has come naturally. Some things though, like addressing your employer or instructor with their first name or shouting a heartfelt “Thank you” to the Bus driver still take some courage. But I start feeling the change and despite being a “Working Traveller” on paper, I feel closer to becoming a Vancouverite already.

1. The 24/7 Yoga Outfit

To the coffee shop, to the bank, meeting a friend for lunch, at the grocery store, to the park, in class, on public transport, at the beach, in restaurants, in the pub. They are everywhere. Yoga pants are the uniform of Vancouver’s women. Casual, comfy and flattering, it fits almost any activity of the day – hard not to see the benefits of that. For me as a European this is a new definition of effortless style and it didn’t take me very long to embrace it.

Note from the author: A velour track suit or the very popular parachute style (Berlin) are definitely not accepted in public in Vancouver. If you are unsure about the rule set, consult your nearest Lululemon sales assistant.

2. No Umbrella

Big news – it rains a lot in Vancouver. But you will hardly find a local carrying an umbrella with them. You invest in good (looking) rainboots and a stylish rain jacket, but umbrellas are tourist wear. Toughen up!

Dylan King Red Umbrella                                  Source: Dylan King Photography

3. The Bacon

Maple Bacon Donuts? Eww. My first reaction was disgust. Meanwhile, about a year later, I like to eat my Sunday waffles topped with raspberries, maple syrup and some bacon. Yes, I am a convert.

4. “It’s local!”

Having people over for dinner? You better check where your beets are from. Knowing each and every origin of your dinner supplies is crucial for hosting a dinner party. Even better: Get a Community Garden lot and serve the best introduction possible “They’re homegrown”. Jackpot.

5. Own a Growler

The Growler has become a collector’s item and at the same time is a way to express your enviro-friendly self. The further your branded beer container has travelled, the more nods from bearded men you will get at the brewery.

Note from the author: I am not talking about animals here. A Growler is a 1,9l refillable jug for craft beer.

Growler at Brassneck Brewery

6. No  Smoking

Having lived in Vienna for six years I got pretty used to yellow stained walls and constant cigarette smoke around. Vancouver is the complete opposite. Vancouverites don’t smoke. Well, let’s say they don’t smoke tobacco.

7. Be Active

Run, Hike, Paddle – Vancouverites love the outdoors. And there is no excuse. Heavy rain? Pack an extra set of clothes. Snow? Throw some snowshoes on. Heat? Well. Okay. Let’s go to the beach then…

8. Kale, Quinoa and Kraft Dinner

Kale is the arugula of the 21st century. Just salad does not fulfill any yoga-triathlete-crossfit-practicer. Kale is the Vancouverite’s superfood of choice. Only quinoa might be a competition. Or Kraft Dinner. Not celery though (Have you seen this awesome Portlandia episode starring Steve Buscemi?).

9. Hike in MEC

Owning a piece of MEC is crucial to survive the daily city grind. And if you are out on trails, MEC is everywhere. Just like Germans are easy to spot in their trafficlight-coloured Jack Wolfskin gear, you will be able to identify the Vancouverite. Only their Return policy is more loved than their gear.

10. Fear the Wildlife

You’ve stopped requesting a bear sighting in the city. While tourists get very excited about spotting a bear on top of Grouse Grind or seeing a coyote warning sign at Charleson Park, you get excited if there is no wild animal crossing your path. Bears and cougars don’t really phase you much, you care more about that racoon in your garage or the skunk in your neighbour’s garden.

Bear Warning Whistler

Put a Little Oom-pah in Your Life

Living abroad means that I sometimes crave the things that I take for granted at home. Like a German newspaper, the obligatory “Tatort” crime series ritual each Sunday, fresh pretzels and white sausages, or even things I would complain about in Munich. Like the public transport system. Or Oom-pah Music. Never in my life have I voluntary listened to bavarian music, except when driving with my granny in the car or visiting one of the region’s famous beer festivals. But things have changed. Recently I caught myself craving a good Oom-pah-pah for dinner time and studying seems to flow much better when there is a brass band playing in the background. This being the case, my excitement for Canadian Oktoberfest celebrations shouldn’t come as a surprise.

We visited the Bomber Brewing Oktoberfest in East Vancouver last weekend and my Canadian fiancé and I were buzzing with excitement. German sausages, beer kegs, bavarian music and a beer garden party – that’s what dreams are made of!  Riding my bike through the city in a ‘Dirndl’ (traditional bavarian dress) was also a highlight. Suddenly the houses looked more bavarian and even the air smelled just like home…but reality caught up with me and next thing I knew, we were standing in the craft breweries concrete ‘backyard’, fenced in with wire. The prison flair gave the beery neighbourhood party some edge for sure.

A legal beer festival outside – this is still a novelty for Vancouverites. No German would understand the excitement of drinking outside (!) but it is a big deal in this city. Any trace of homesickness was forgotten when I smelled the bratwurst on the BBQ and saw the white and blue flag flying overhead. Funny how the little things become so important when you’re living abroad. I didn’t even complain too much about the plastic stein or the unsalted pretzels. The music wasn’t particulary German either and the ‘costumes’ could have been offensive to my bavarian eyes. But I was on cloud nine. Teaching bavarian drinking chants to my friends and sharing Oktoberfest stories with locals made me embrace my Bavarianism more than ever. And I truly believe that everybody needs a little Oom-pah in their life.

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