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Column: Why all roads in Europe lead me back to Syria

Growing up in Syria, Rim Dawa dreamed of visiting Europe. Now she lives in Germany and can easily hop on a train to Paris, Prague or Amsterdam - but her childhood dream has turned bittersweet.

Rim Dawa (Privat)

Rim Dawa came from Syria to Germany in 2012

While I was still living in Syria, up until 2012, traveling abroad seemed like merely a dream.

But now that I live in Europe, I feel trapped inside the EU. Its monumental capitals are like the walls of a prison that separate me from my home country.

Now, traveling to Syria is something I can only do in my head. Returning in person would mean stepping onto a battle field where flying bullets and bombs arbitrarily select their casualties. And would I fall out of favor with Assad's regime and be arrested - or worse? I don't want to find out.

As soon as I my feet touch the streets of Paris, and I hear the sway of the street musicians' accordions, I recall my childhood hope of visiting this magnificent city - the one that turns up in countless movies and love stories.

Visiting Paris was not impossible for us Syrians before the war, but it was very complicated and expensive, and getting a visa wasn't a sure-fire deal.

Eiffel Tower at night (picture-alliance/M. Child/robertharding)

For Rim Dawa, the Eiffel Tower has lost some of its romance

'Pieces of Europe' in Syria

So we limited our vacations to Syria's most impressive cities, which are also full of history and beautiful landscapes. We would describe them as "pieces of Europe."

However, my aspiration had always been to explore the world beyond my country - and beyond my home continent. I was fascinated by the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, and Big Ben, which I only knew from movies and books.

What pains me now is that I never visited the Shmemis castle in my Syrian hometown of Salamiyah. It was just a few minutes from where we lived, but at the time, my thoughts were far off in Paris, Rome and London.

Read more: Can 3D imagery save Syria's cultural heritage?

After coming to Germany and realizing how easy it is to travel between these cities, I found myself searching for similarities to Syria - anything that would remind me of home. But in Europe I have yet to find a sky that is as azure as the one in Syria; there is no sun that burns quite as fiercely. Neither are the streets nearly as chaotic as at home; and the seas cannot compare with the Mediterranean.

A lost opportunity in Syria

Palmyra (picture alliance/dpa/Y. Badawi/EPA)

Many of Syria's cultural treasures, including the ancient city of Palmyra, have already been destroyed

One day I woke up and realized that many of the historical treasures in Syria that I had never laid eyes had since been destroyed after the cancer of war had spread over the country, ruining it recklessly.

Those places that have survived the carelessness of destruction might not wait for my uncertain visit.

Now in Europe, I find myself traveling with different eyes. Instead of fulfilling my childhood dreams by shopping in Amsterdam or leaning on the Tower of Pisa, I - a "prisoner" of my Schengen visa - find myself comparing everything I see to Syria.

Read more: Syrian refugee in Germany tackles integration with humor and hugs on YouTube

The power of nostalgia

I used to complain about the roasting summers in Salamiyah, but here in Germany I fill my lungs with the hot August air and smile - while my German friends suffer in the humid, mercury-bursting temperatures.

In Paris, I no longer think about Napoleon traipsing down the Champs-Elysées or the kings who left their footprints in the gardens of Versailles. Now I only see the architectural details that are echoed in Damascus, where the French occupation in the 1920s-1940s left its mark. 

Nostalgia has overcome my sense of wonder. No matter where I go in Europe, my heart is steered back to Syria.

Rim Dawa was born and grew up in Salamiyah, Syria, and came to Germany in 2012 to complete her Master's degree in international media studies. She is currently a journalist with DW's Arabic department.

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