Heimat; Die Zweite Heimat

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Director: Edgar Reitz



West Germany, 1984

Production: Edgar Reitz Filmproduktions/WDR/SFB; black and white, parts in color; running time: 924 minutes; length: 83,130 feet. Released September 1984. Later shown on television in 11 parts.

Producer: Edgar Reitz, co-producers: Joachim von Mengershausen, Hans Kwiet; screenplay: Edgar Reitz, Peter Steinbach; assistant directors: Elke Vogt, Martin Höner; photography: Gernot Roll; assistant photographer: Rainer Gutjahr; editor: Heidi Handorf; sound recordist: Gerhard Birkholz; sound re-recordist: Willi Schwadorf; art director: Franz Bauer; costume designers: Reinhild Paul, Ute Schwippert, Regine Bätz; pyrotechnics: Charly Baumgartner; music: Nikos Mamangakis.

Cast: Marita Breuer (Maria Simon, née Wiegand); Michael Lesch (Young Paul Simon); Dieter Schaad (Paul Simon); Karin Kienzler (Young Pauline Kröber); Eva Maria Bayerswaltes (Pauline Kröber); Rüdiger Weigang (Eduard Simon); Gertrud Bredel (Katharina Simon, née Schirmer); Willi Berger (Mathias Simon); Johannes Lobewein (Alois Wiegand); Kurt Wagner (Glasisch-Karl); Marliese Assmann (Apollonia); Eva Maria Schneider (Marie-Goot); Wolfram Wagner (Mäthes-Pat); Alexander Scholz (Hänschen Betz); Arno Lang (Robert Kröber); Otto Henn (Glockzieh); Manfred Kuhn (Wirt); Karin Rasenack (Lucie Simon); Helga Bender (Martina); Rolf Roth (Young Anton Simon); Markus Reiter (Anton Simon); Mathias Kniesbeck (Old Anton Simon); Ingo Hoffmann (Young Ernst Simon); Roland Bongard (Ernst Simon); Michael Kausch (Old Ernst Simon); Andrea Koloschinski (Young Lotti Schirmer); Anke Jendrychowski (Lotti Schirmer); Gabriel Blum (Old Lotti Schirmer); Virginie Moreno (Horsewoman); Rudolph Wessely (Emigrant); Gertrud Sherer (Martha Wiegand); Hans-Jürgen Schatz (Wilfried Wiegand); Kurt Wolfinger (Gauleiter Simon); Jörg Hube (Otto Wohlleben); Johannes Metzdori (Fritz Pieritz); Konrad Lindenkreuz, Ulrich Lindenkreuz (Todt Workers); Joachim Bernard (Pollak); Sabine Wagner (Martha Simon); Gerd Riegauer (Gschrey); Roswitha Werkheiser (Erika 1); Heike Macht (Erika 2); Hans-Günter Kylau (Captain Zielke); Alexander Katins (Ursel); Ralph Maria Beils (Specht); Gudrun Landgrebe (Klarchen Sisse); Joseph E. Jones (Chauffeur); Andreas Mertens (Horstchen); Frank Kleid (Hermannchen); Jörg Richter (Young Hermann Simon); Peter Harting (Hermann Simon); Ann Ruth (Nurse).

Award: BAFTA Special Award 1986.



Reitz, Edgar, and Peter Steinbach, Heimat: Eine deutsche Chronik, Nordlingen, 1985.


Elsaesser, Thomas, New German Cinema: A History, London, 1989.

Kaes, Anton, From Hitler to Heimat: The Return of History As Film, Cambridge, 1992.


Lughi, P., in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), August-October 1984.

Film (West Germany), September 1984.

Variety (New York), 12 September 1984.

Nave, B., and others, in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), November 1984.

Pawlikowski, P., "Home Movies," in Stills (London), November 1984.

Detassis, P., in Positif (Paris), December 1984.

Frodon, J. M., "L'Allemagne se souvient," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1984.

Chalmer, M., in Framework (Norwich), no. 26–27, 1985.

"Dossier Edgar Reitz," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), January-March 1985.

Elsaesser, Thomas, "Memory, Home, and Hollywood," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1985.

Petit, Chris, in Time Out (London), 14–20 February 1985.

City Limits (London), 15–21 February 1985.

Le Roux, H., in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1985.

Ranvaud, Don, and John Pym, "Heimat, Home, and the World," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1985.

Syberberg, H. J., "The Abode of the Gods," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1985.

Elsaesser, Thomas, "Our Germany," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1985.

Koch, Gertrud, "Kann man naiv werden?," in Frauen und Film (Berlin), May 1985.

Bachman, G., "The Reitz Stuff," in Film Comment (New York), July-August 1985.

Baron, Saskia, "Home Truths," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), July 1985.

Hager, F., in Filmkunst, August-September 1985.

Berndts, T., in Skrien (Amsterdam), Winter 1985–86.

Soderbergh Widding, A., in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 28, no. 1, 1986.

Listener (London), 10, 17, and 24 April 1986.

Birgel, Franz E., interview with Edgar Reitz, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1986.

Schneider, R., "Aux antipodes du simplisme hollywoodien: Heimat," in Cinemaction (Conde-sur-Noireau, France), October 1990.

Angier, C., "Edgar Reitz," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 1, 1990–91.

Andres, A., "The Music of Heimat," in Film Score Monthly (Los Angeles), no. 51, November 1994.

Papen, M. von, "Keeping the Home Fires Burning?: Women and the German Homefront Film 1940–1943," in Film History (London), vol. 8, no. 1, 1996.

Liebman, Stuart, "Heimat: A Chronicle of Germany," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 22, no. 3, December 1996.


(Leaving Home; Heimat II)

Germany, 1992

Production: An Edgar Reitz Production; colour/black and white; running time: 1,532 minutes. Premiered at London Film Festival, November 1992.

Producer: Edgar Reitz; screenplay: Edgar Reitz; photography: Gernot Roll (parts 1–5), Gerard Vanderberg (6–8), Christian Reitz (9–13); editor: Susanne Hartman; assistant director: Robert Busch; production designer: Franz Bauer; music: Nikos Mamangakis; sound: Heiko Hinderks, Haymo Heyder, Manfred Banach, and Reiner Wiehr; costumes: Bille Brassers and Nikola Hoeltz.

Cast: Henry Arnold (Hermann); Salome Kammer (Clarissa); Anke Sevenich (Schnusschen); Daniel Smith (Juan); Michael Schonborn (Alex); Franziska Traub (Renate); Hannelore Hoger (Elisabeth Cerphal); Hanna Kohler (Frau Moretti); Gisela Muller (Evelyne); Michael Seyfried (Ansgar); Armin Fuchs (Volker); Martin Maria Blau (Jean-Marie); Lena Lessing (Olga); Peter Weiss (Rob); Frank Roth (Stefan); Laszlo I. Kish (Reinhard); Susanne Lothar (Esther); Veronika Ferres (Dorli); Franziska Stommer (Frau Ries); Manfred Andrae (Gerold Gattinger).



Angier, C., "Edgar Reitz," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1990–91.

Nodolny, Sten, "On Leaving Home and Perfecting Oneself," in The Sequel to Heimat, Jutta Muller, editor, Cologne, 1991.

Albano, L., "Tra arte e vita," in Filmcritica (Rome), September-October 1992.

Angier, C., "Like Life Itself," in Sight and Sound (London), November 1992.

Hansen, E., Variety (New York), 7 December 1992.

Kilb, A., "Scènes de la vie parallele," in Positif (Paris), January 1993.

Holloway, R., in Kino (Warsaw), May 1993.

Pezzotta, A., "Imitation of Life," in Segnocinema (Vicenza), no. 63, September/October 1993.

Holden, S., "Critic's Notebook: a 25 1/2-hour German Epic of Discovery and Art," in New York Times, vol. 142, 17 June 1993.

Mepham, John, "Visionary Storytelling," in Vertigo, Spring 1994.

Andres, A., "The Music of Heimat," in Film Score Monthly (Los Angeles), no. 51, November 1994.

Feldvoss, M., "Hannelore Hoger: Energie und Eigensinn," in EPD Film (Frankfurt), March 1998.

* * *

Described as a "chronicle in 11 parts," Heimat tells the story of the (fictional) village of Schabbach in the Hunsruck, a rural area of the southern Rhineland, between the years 1919 and 1982, focusing in particular on the members of one family, the Simons. It was shown on West German television in 1984, and was also screened as a film (over two days) in cinemas there. It has been widely seen, both as a film and a television series, in other European countries and in America.

When Heimat was shown in Germany it was a major media event, surpassed only by the television screening of the American miniseries Holocaust in 1979. In fact, the genesis of Heimat lay in its director Edgar Reitz's reaction to Holocaust. Reitz accused Holocaust of reducing the misery caused by the Nazis to a "welcome background spectacle for a sentimental family story," of trivializing German history and, indeed, of willfully expropriating it for simplistic, entertainment purposes. He argued that what Germans needed to do was to take "narrative possession of our past" thus "breaking free of the world of judgments and dealing with it through art." The way to do this, he argued, was to tell stories: "there are thousands of stories among our people worth filming, which are based on endless minutiae of experience. These stories individually rarely seem to contribute to the evaluation and explanation of history, but taken together they could compensate for this lack. We should no longer forbid ourselves to take our personal lives seriously." The source of the problem is, of course, the Nazi past: "we Germans have a hard time with our stories. It is our own history that is in our way. The year 1945, the nation's 'zero hour,' wiped out a lot, created a gap in people's ability to remember. As Mitscherlich put it, an entire people has been made 'unable to mourn.' In our case that means 'unable to tell stories' because our memories are obstructed by the great historical events they are connected with. Even now, 40 years after the war, we are still troubled by the weight of moral judgments, we are still afraid that our little personal stories could recall our Nazi past and remind us of our mass participation in the Third Reich. . . . Our film, Heimat, consists of these suppresed or forgotten little stories. It is a chronicle of both a family and a village and is an attempt of sorts to revive memories. . . .We try to avoid making judgements."

Heimat, then, is an example of what has come to be known as "history from below," an interest in which has increasingly come to the fore in many European countries. It is concerned with oral history, the personal experiences of ordinary people, folklore, the local, the regional, "popular memory" and so on.

Heimat is not only a celebration of the "positive human values and hopes" of the rural community, it is also a lament for their passing. Indeed, a sense of loss and of nostalgia imbues the film's very title, which cannot be adequately translated into English. As Reitz himself has explained: "the word is always linked to strong feeling, mostly remembrances and longing. 'Heimat' always evokes in me the feeling of something lost or very far away, something which one cannot easily find or find again." In a remarkable study of the film, Anton Kaes traces the concern with "Heimat" back to the late nineteenth century and the reaction against rapid industrialisation and urbanisation: "Heimat was precisely that which was abandoned on the way into the cities; from then on the word 'Heimat' began to connote 'region,' 'province' and 'country'. . . . Heimat means the site of one's lost childhood, of family, of identity. It also stands for the possibility of secure human relations, unalienated, precapitalist labour, and the romantic harmony between the country dweller and nature. Heimat refers to everything that is not distant and foreign. . . . It conjured up a rural, archaic image of the German Reich and a German community rooted in ahistorical, mythic time."

Reaction to the film in Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, was extremely positive. It was only when Heimat was shown in the United States that the negative opinions which had been expressed in Germany gained a wider hearing. In the light of the above this should not have been surprising; as Thomas Elsaesser noted, calling a German film Heimat was a "calculated provocation and was bound to be controversial." Likewise Anton Kaes: "scenes of provincial life are never innocent in Germany."

According to its critics, Heimat's main problems lie as much in what it does not show as what it does. The argument here is one leveled against any broadly realist text, namely, that it cannot escape from the mental horizons of its protagonists. The same criticism can be leveled at some versions of the "history from below" mentioned earlier. Major political events and wider economic factors, which undoubtedly have their influences on individual private lives, are ignored or glossed over because that is what the characters themselves do. This might matter rather less if that history did not include the Third Reich. Indeed, almost half of the film takes place in the years 1933–45. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Timothy Garten Ash stated: "when you show the 1930s as a golden age of prosperity and excitement in the German countryside, when you are shown Germans as victims of the war, then you inevitably find yourself asking: But what about the other side? What about Auschwitz?" Or as one of the film's sternest critics, Gertrud Koch, has it: "in order to tell the myth of 'Heimat,' the trauma of Auschwitz had to be shut out of the story." The Third Reich seems almost to take place off screen, and when Nazi activities are presented (which is not often) it's in a curiously elliptical fashion and usually without much explanation— on the grounds, presumably, that this is how they were actually experienced by the characters. Accommodation with the Nazi regime is shown largely as comical, or merely opportunistic, or as the result of seduction of one form or another. Admittedly one or two characters— a Jew, a Communist—disappear, but no one seems to show the slightest curiosity about this. Again, all this might matter less were it not for the historical fact that the countryside was extraordinarily important to the National Socialists ideologically, politically andeconomically, and found a good deal of support amongst the peasantry. Reitz himself has said that to have taken on the Jewish question would have "overburdened the narrative" and that "the story would have immediately taken a different turn." He has also argued that there were very few Jews in the Hunsruck and that people there were largely ignorant of Nazi genocide.

Unease about the representation of the Third Reich period is further compounded by the way in which postwar, modern Germany is shown. In short, it appears to be downhill all the way, and the main villain here is definitely America. (One begins to see why it was in America that misgivings about the film were voiced). But this is only the most extreme instance of a process throughout the film whereby no good comes from events, influences or people outside the Edenic, pastoral idyll of the Hunsruck. This comes dangerously close to a reactionary agrarian romanticism with disturbing similarities to the "Blood and Soil" ideology; moreover, it also seems to suggest that all of Germany's contemporary problems, whether it's the despoilation of the countryside or people's inability to connect with their past, can be laid at the door of the Americans, thereby neatly letting the past 100 years of German capitalism (in which the Third Reich and the "Wirtschaftswunder" were both highly significant episodes) neatly off the historical hook.

Die Zweite Heimat is a project even more epic than its predecessor, although it spans a much more limited time period. The entire film runs a remarkable 26 hours (cinema screenings are normally spread over three or four days, television over 13 episodes) and took a total of seven years to make, of which 552 days were taken up by shooting. There are 71 main roles, 310 smaller ones, and 2300 extras. The budget of DM40m was put together by television companies in Germany, Britain, Spain, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Austria, an indication of the enormous popularity of Heimat outside Germany. Although extremely well received both in Germany and abroad it was not a media event of the same proportions as the first film and, to date at least, has attracted rather less critical attention. This may be because the subject matter, and Reitz's handling of it, is simply less controversial, but it would be paradoxical indeed if this were to limit discussion of what is an undoubted masterpiece.

Die Zweite Heimat's central character is Hermann Simon, born in 1940 in the Hunsruck into the family at the centre of Heimat. At the start of the film he moves to Munich, vowing never to return home, to devote his life to music, and never to love again. Eventually all three vows are broken, and his love affair with the young musician Clarissa runs like a connecting thread throughout the length of the film.

If Heimat is about the country, stability, older generations, people who lived and died where they were born, Die Zweite Heimat is about the city, change, the young, those who pull up their roots. In the first film people are connected by blood ties and the pull of an ancient, close-knit community; in the second by friendship, love, commitment to art and ideas, rejection of the past, and a desire for a better present and future. Quite clearly the title signifies much more than that this is the second part of Heimat; there is a very strong sense of "second home" here. As Hermann puts it at the start of the film: "I left for Munich's bright lights and mysteries I refused to look back even once. Ahead of me lay freedom. I would be born a second time, not from my mother's body but from my own mind. I would seek my own, my second home." And, since these are very much times remembered from a distance, times which include Reitz's own youthful experiences, the sense of loss and longing that imbues the word "Heimat" is as present here (if perhaps less obviously so) as in the first film.

With 26 hours at its disposal, Die Zweite Heimet succeeds where many films fail—it captures the feeling of life as it is actually lived. Characters appear, disappear, reappear much later, or not at all; at different moments different characters are predominant or subordinate; things are left unexplained and unresolved; pace and tone change from episode to episode, sometimes even within the same episode. Reitz has drawn the analogy with a stream which sometimes flows on the surface, then disappears below ground, only to rise again much later on and further away.

If one of the problems with Heimat was that its basically realist aesthetic meant that it was tied to the limited perceptions of its provincial characters, Reitz avoids this here by presenting us with a very different set of characters and, more importantly, by adopting a different aesthetic approach. Hermann and his friends are people who spend their lives thinking and analysing, they live and breathe ideas, they want their lives to connect with the wider world of history and politics, and above all they're interested in the relationship between their various forms of artistic practice and society at large. Indeed, the whole epic project of Die Zweite Heimat can be seen as a profound reflection on the nature and value of avant-garde artistic activity, and the fact that it eventually founders here is due not to the shortcomings of its practitioners but to the destructive influence of external, indeed global, forces. Reitz, as himself, along with Alexander Kluge, one of the most aesthetically radical of the new German filmmakers at one time with films such as Cardillac, Geschichtenvom Kubelkind and Das Goldene Ding, presents us with a remarkably insightful and sympathetic portrait of the avant-garde, but ultimately he does not shy away from suggesting that whilst these artists were dreaming of creating the alternative society, the history that was being made behind their backs was preparing to render their efforts somewhat irrelevant.

However, unlike in Heimat, Reitz here remembers the avant-garde critique of the shortcomings of realism, and although he by no means abandons realism entirely, he subverts it to a quite remarkable degree. Perhaps the clearest example of Reitz's approach here is provided by the end of the crucial episode which includes the assassination of Kennedy and signals the beginning of the end for Hermann and his friends. On hearing the news, the group gather in Hermann's room, and the episode closes with a deliberately stagey, clearly fabricated and non-naturalistic shot as they all look up simultaneously to a mirror, on which there is a photo of Kennedy and Khruschev, and contemplate their collective image. This is one of the film's most obvious and decisive breaks with realism and, as Mepham has put it: "What this shot exemplifies is Reitz's method of moving beyond naturalistic image-making and the conventions of realist storytelling, to conjure up a polysemic image, which transcends its literal meaning and proposes a symbolic framework in terms of which we can read the entire episode."

One could also mention, in this context of breaks with realism, the remarkable number of times that the film self-reflexively foregrounds moments of performance of one kind or another, but even more striking, in this respect, is its use of colour and black-and-white. As a general (though by no means unbroken) rule, Reitz uses black-and-white for the daytime scenes, and colour for the night ones. The spectator is thus forced to take notice of colour, rather than unconsciously accepting it as part and parcel of the apparently literal representation of the fictional world. Here, colour, or black-and-white, become significant in their own right, and are clearly labelled as such. In a general sense, black-and-white signifies that, for Hermann and his friends, the days are dull, banal and anodyne, whilst the use of colour underlines the fact that it is at night that they really come alive. But it is much more complex than that; as Mepham puts it, throughout the film "the literal or naturalistic quality of the image is always in question, because there is no one style of image which we can accept as simply showing us what the fictional world is like. Therefore we become used to looking for more than literal significance. Visual poetry becomes the norm, and light and colour become radiant with meaning." Again, the Kennedy episode provides a good example. This opens with one of the most beautiful and haunting images of the entire film: a slow pan in the early morning light across bare trees in which crows are settling. The scene is accompanied by a song about crows, which contains the line: "soon it will snow. Lucky is he who still has a home." There is no question but that this scene has hugely symbolic, connotative overtones; we, the spectators, know exactly what is going to happen on this day, but the characters most certainly do not. However, there is no question of us being asked to accept their viewpoints here—and indeed, this opening is not observed by any of them, it is pure directorial inervention, a deliberate establishing of the symbolic framework which imbues the entire episode, much of whose poignancy stems from the spectator (and of course Reitz) knowing what the characters do not and cannot know. Here, as in many other striking scenes in this truly extraordinary film, Reitz manages triumphantly to pull off the extremely difficult feat of departing from conventional realist practices whilst at the same time presenting an epic fiction which is not only entirely coherent in its own right but deeply moving and thought-provoking at the same time.

—Julian Petley