Representation and Mediation in Edgar Reitz's Heimat

by Christopher J. Wickham
Representation and Mediation in Edgar Reitz's Heimat
Christopher J. Wickham
The German Quarterly
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License


University of Illinois, Chicago

Representation and Mediation in Edgar Reitz's Heimat

Heimat can be seen as the antithesis of the critical films of the 1970s and a revival of pre-

1968 German cinema.'

Heimat is not only the fulfillment of all the hopes of the New German Cinema over the past few decades, but should also go down as a milestone in contemporary film hi~tory.~

When Edgar Reitz's television film Heimat was broadcast in 1984, it addressed issues central to three ongoing debate^.^ As a conse- quence, proponents of different positions in these debates have taken a stand on the merits of Heimat and have lauded or condemned the film for its success or its failure to meet their expectations. The first debate revolves around the course of fi history, especially the role of the Heimatfilm and Hollywood- style storytelling in German cinema; the sec- ond around contemporary German history and the attempts to find an adequate way of representing and coming to terms with the atrocities of the Third Reich; and the third around the concept of "Heimat" itself, what it is and what it ought to be. While many commentators find fault with Reitz for produc- ing a text that appears to give credence to the most conservative positions in each of these three debates, I shall argue that Heimat, by thematizing the process of mediation and representation, consistently calls those con- servative positions into question and demands a more differentiated reading.

Reitz's title challenges the spectator to view the film in the context of the traditional Heimatfilm, which constituted such a signifi- cant portion of German film production during the 1950~.~

The expectations aroused by the genre of the Heimatfilm include a seamless narrative extolling the virtues of pure romantic love (typically in conflict with duty), family and bourgeois values, a community (with its folk- songs, costume, and dance) in harmony with its natural surroundings, which are typically marked for timeless scenic beauty (moun- tains, forests, heathland), and a resolution in which the old, God-given order is restored and the source of the conflict is either eradi- cated or rendered harmless and integrated.

In 1968 Peter Fleischmann's Jagdszenen aus Niederbayern, based on Martin Sperr's drama, deliberately subverted the tradition of the harmless, affirmative Heimatfilm by re- taining the rural milieu and the homogeneous community bound by its way of life to the soil but by revealing at the same time the indige- nous brutality, lack of harmony, hypocrisy, and tension that dwell on the landscape. Jagdszenen, with its title suggesting the "romance" of depictions of the hunt, thwarts expectations brought to the Heimatfilm and provides in- stead images of an unwelcome reality that clash with the familiar false "Heirnat" idyll. Other Anti-Heimatfilmefollowed; they display the harsh side of existence in rural communities and foreground repression, exploita- tion, poverty, intolerance, and menda~ity.~

The German Quarterly 64.1 (1991) 35

Reitz's Heimat does not fit exactly into either the Heimatfilm or the Anti-Heimatfilm category. Heimat traces the decline of a way of life that at the outset is marked for its intact, nurturing community with clearly de- fined values, strong family ties, and obvious roots in the rural economy of a specific locality. Although this "Heimat" as initially defined can- not possibly survive the decades of social, technological, political, and economic change, the scent of nostalgia for the old times- the "intakte Beziehungen" of Hermann Bausin- ger's definition-lingers to the end.6 In fact, it resurges in the concluding episode with Her- mann's appropriation of "Heimat" fragments in his musical opus. The harsh reality of Reitz's fictional Hunsriick village of Schabbach never becomes as unpleasant and negatively charged as in the communities of the Anti-Heimatfilm; nevertheless, the bed of roses also has its thorns.

The real complications of placing Reitz's Heimat in fihistory lie on a different level. In 1979 Reitz had taken great exception to the NBC mini-series Holocaust, which was aired in West Germany with great fanfare and which prompted a protracted public debate about both the Nazis' treatment of the Jews and the aesthetics of representing those at- r~cities.~

Reitz objected to the appropriation and distortion of German history by the Arner- ican filmmakers.

Autoren in der ganzen Welt [versuchen], sich in den Besitz ihrer eigenen Geschich- te und darnit der Geschichte der Gruppe zu bringen, der sie angehoren. Aber oft machen sie die Erfahrung, da13 ihnen ihre eigene Geschichte aus den Handen geris- sen wird. Der tiefste Enteignungsvor- gang, der passiert, ist die Enteignung des Menschen von seiner eigenen Ge- schichte. Die Amerikaner haben mit Holocaust uns Geschichte weggen~rnmen.~

From Reitz's perspective, the makers of Holocaust reduced the complexities of Ger- man history to an abstract and formulaic con- frontation between manifest good and mani- fest evil. This confrontation, he argues, ap- pears in a form designed to ensure maximal appeal in a world market and, because it is an artificial construct, it lacks the true con- tradictions and ambivalences of human experi- ence. Reitz further abhors the leveling of re- gional and national specificity, and he attacks the policies of the industry, which he holds responsible:

Die Sprache des internationalen Unter- haltungsbusiness geht davon aus, da13 sich die Unterschiede in der Wahrneh- mung beseitigen lassen . . . Das kann nur gelingen, wenn man iiber Jahrzehnte eine systematische asthetische Marktbe- reinigung betreibt und alles, was an ein- heirnischer regionaler Filmsprache im Entstehen ist, vom Tisch fegt, asthetisch diffamiert und wirtschaftlich ruiniertg

We note that Reitz does not advocate a detached, unemotional, documentary-style ap- proach to this period of German history. His objection is not to the sentimentality of Holocaust; rather, he would like to see a Ger- man perspective on German history based on memories. lo

In making Heimat Reitz used his own memories of his youth in the Hunsriick as well as those of the numerous lay actors who played roles and of the local rdsidents who were engaged in the film production. The re- sult is a film that complements narrative with a wealth of incident, local lore, superstition, mythology, artifacts, and evidence of a way of life that has documentary function without being unstaged documentary. In his "Produk- tionstagebuch" Reitz holds up the rural life with all its complexities as an alternative model to the world of Hollywood-style movie scenarios:

Die bauerliche ist gerade nicht die Welt, in der man zwischen gut und bose, Liebe und Hafi, arm und reich, stark und schwach, Held oder Bosewicht, Angst oder Vertrauen und ahnlichen gegensatz- lichen Werten unterscheiden kann . . . Einfach waren die Gefiihle in der Welt der Bauerndorfer nie, weil die Beziehun- gen nicht auf einfache Begriffe gebracht werden konnten."

The activation of memory is the central pillar of Reitz's counter-aesthetic. The avoid- ance of false simplicity in favor of complexity and contradiction is another. A third is a pre-

dilection for incident, episode, and atmosphere over plot and suspense, along with a willingness to dwell on pictures of rural life, Genrebilder, which do not further the narra- tive but nevertheless draw on the memory bank.'" fourth concerns characterization: Reitz disagrees with those who see the strength of Holocaust in its successful transla- tion of atrocity into human terms through the creation of individual characters with their own subjectivity. "Die Figuren sind eindeutig Konstruktionen, Typisierungen, emotionale Pa~pkameraden."~Reitz's aesthetic rejects taking an abstract idea and wrapping a body around it; he prefers to begin with the bodies and let them tell their own story.

Reitz runs a risk in this discussion of character, which can best be illustrated by its homologue in traditional German social theo- ry. Since Schleiermacher in 1799, German thinkers have repeatedly made the distinction between Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft.Fedor Stepun has characterized the difference in these terms: in a community (Gemeinschaft) the distinct aspects of human individuals, those not shared by all individuals, are inte- grated; unique personalities take their own place; a shared lore exists between the mem- bers. In a society (Gesellschaft),on the other hand, one is not a total individual entity; one exists in a society as the agent of certain social functions.14 Reitz clearly advocates something like a community populated by whole individuals, while-in Reitz's analysis at least-Hollywood productions reduce characters to functions in a societal context. Reitz's risk is that he maneuvers himself so close to reactionary ideology. The National Socialists integrated the concept of commu- nity into their notion of Volksgemeinschaft,the ideological category used whenever it was necessary tc provide a distraction from social reality. By appealing to a vague sense of Gemeinschaft the Nazis were able to avoid the stricter analytical categories implicit in Gesellschaft. Ralf Dahrendorf has criticized the op- position GemeinschaftIGesellschaft as the basis of the specious Volksgemeinschaft,which inhibited social change and blocked the path of German society into the modern age.15 Reitz, it appears, would side with the pro- ponents of Gemeinschaft.

If we accept that in Heimat Reitz makes a bona fide attempt, however shaky its prem- ises, to provide an alternative to mainstream Hollywood-style cinematic discourse, we are left with the question: why does the process of "Aufarbeitung von Erinnerungen"I6 com- pletely omit any memory of concentration camps and the slaughter of Jews?17 The ques- tion has been asked frequently and Reitz has given his answer: "The question of Jews under National Socialism is a theme which has been treated in an infinite number of stories, and if I had introduced this aspect the whole story would have taken a different turn."" His critics would argue that this turn is necessary for any text purporting to cover German history of this period.

Reitz implies with this answer that because the theme has been treated in an "infiite number of stories," it is we1 enough known to be supplied by his audience. The closest Heimat comes to dealing with the issue is in passing allusions. Brief scenes show work on the building of a camp outside the view of the villagers as well as persecution of the elderly Jew who lives above Robert Krober's jewelry store (which is not in Schabbach). Anton wit- nesses the filming of the cold-blooded murder of a group of Jews at the Russian front. The severest indictment of everyday indifference to the suffering of Jews is the equally cold- blooded discussion by film editors of the aesthetics of shooting footage of such atroci- ties. But here again, no Schabbacher is irnpli- cated. These references serve to remind the spectator to provide the well known missing images. However, beyond the level of plot Heimat thematizes the processes of represen- tation and mediation and places before the viewer an account of the construction and limi- tations of its own text. One clue to the poten- tial treachery of filmmaking occurs in the execution scene mentioned above, where it is the filmmaker who indicates to the head of the firing squad that he is ready and issues the order to begin shooting- in both senses.

Heimat uses the leitmotif of photography (synecdochic for filmmaking) as part of its self-reflexive technique. By placing a deliber- ate emphasis on image-making Reitz directs attention to his craft and invites his audience to consider his own position relative to the broader context represented by that craft. The Heimatfilm and mainstream film enter- tainment on the American pattern are crucial points of reference in that context.

Eduard Simon is a compulsive photo- grapher; from the first episode we see him as the shutter-happy hunter of scenes that will become memories. Eduard collects im- ages of his "Heirnat" not as a location in its geographic and topographic specificity but as a social phenomenon. His photography is a narrative of the human history of Schabbach. Family, friends, and neighbors populate the pictures and, like the filmmaker, Eduard is always careful to arrange his groups the way he wants to capture them. The creative aspect is central to Reitz's project and to the aesthetic of memory-based storytelling. The memories themselves, which are the raw material for his film and here are represented by Eduard's snaps, are composed and created, not accumulated passively. "Memory does not re- member, but rather memory is creative, it builds new connections."19 Eduard's photography mirrors, on one plane, Reitz's activity as filmmaker documenting and manipulating "Heimat" fragments, while on another plane it parallels the manner in which memories themselves come into being, at least as Reitz understands this process.

The first episode presents a tangible exam- ple of Reitz's use of Eduard's photography as a self-reflexive signifier of his own Heimat project. The Simon and Wiegand families, whose lives form the core of the Heimat chronicle, make a trip to the ruins of Baldenau castle for a Sunday afternoon picnic. The seg- ment is rife with interreference on several levels. The Hunsriicker are returning to a lo- cation that links them to a past existing only in fragmented memory (the ruins). This mem- ory has both factual and mythological dirnen- sions: a descendant of the castle owners later appears, while the dialogue makes a reference to the legendary Johann Biickler (Schinder- hannes). Into this setting, defied by its indistinct but identity-forming characteristics, Paul brings the radio receiver that he has built for the wealthy farmer Wiegand. The radio breaches the decrepit fortifications and trans- ports the outside world to the symbolic his- toric/cultural focal point of the Schabbacher. The radio picks up a mass from Cologne cathe- dral and the Viennese singer Leo Slezak, per- forming on radio for the first time. At this point in time and space "Heimat" and Fremde confront each other- or rather, Frem& is injected into the cultural seat of "Heimat." As the chronicle unfolds, the village undergoes the gradual breakdown of traditional values, societal structures, and local consciousness due to influence from outside (Fremde). The mass media play a key role in the decline.

Eduard photographs the picnickers, includ- ing himself in the group. This self-portrait of the way we want to remember ourselves, with our past and present (Wiegand's new auto- mobile stands in the background, the horn of the radio in the middle ground), represents a part of Reitz's project in a capsule. The inclu- sion of the photographer as subject and object is central to the image, for "Heimat" is a con- cept in which the lines between subjectivity and objectivity are blurred. Reitz indicates that this sequence is intended to be read as more than a straightforward, realistic depic- tion of a family outing when the final shot, made from the point of view of Eduard's cam- era, is held for an unconventionally long time. The shot does not fade to Eduard's print but for several seconds holds the family posing. Reitz makes a conscious and conspicuous de- parture from traditional narrative syntax and directs his spectator to consider the cinema- ticity of Heimat vis-a-vis expectations engen- dered by established genres.

Within the context of postwar German his- tory and the debate surrounding the possibil- ity and adequacy of portrayal of the Third Reich, commentators have been quick to indi- cate the shortcomings of Heimat. At issue is the question: what contribution does Heimat make to the process of coming to terms with the Nazi past in the specific context of the Federal Republic in 1984-85? This temporal context is marked most sigmficantly by the ongoing Historilzerstreit and by the visit of U. S. president Ronald Reagan to the military ceme- tery at Bitburg.

A division has long existed between those who hold that the nature of the Nazi holocaust demands a sober, unemotional approach that addresses the intellect and persuades through the power of incontrovertible evidence, and those who maintain that the emotional immedi- acy of undistanciated representation through dramatization is indispensable. Countless documentary films have applied the former strategy, using eye-witness footage and a voice-over commentary to steer the reception of the visual image (Hams Burger, Todesmiihlen, 1946). Variations on this model attempt to link that past to the present by telling the story behind sites that can be viewed today (Alain Resnais, Nuit et brouillard, 1956) or by interviewing participants, victims, or wit- nesses (Claude Lanzmann, Shoah, 1985). Dramatization that depends on spectator iden- tification and that can be absorbed unreflectingly reached a high point with NBC's


Atypically, because of an intense publicity campaign and elaborate structures for public discussion, this series provoked more reflection and prompted the younger generation to ask more questions than any other portrayal, documentary or ficti~nal.~' Whereas Holocaust and Shoah, in their differ- ent ways address the Nazi atrocities directly and intensely, Heimat is diffident in the ex- treme, and since the NBC series and Lanz- mam's film set the tone for the discussion in the mid-1980s, Heimats pallor is conspicuous.

The context of the Historians' Debate, which began in earnest with Jurgen Haber- mas's complaint in June of 1986 about the re- visionist interpretation of Nazi history by the prominent scholars Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hill- gruber, and Michael Sturmer, gave opponents of Reitz's position further ammunition." By not taking an unambiguous critical position on the role of Germans and their everyday lives in the atrocities of the Third Reich, Reitz was -in the view of his critics-by default an apologist and a revisionist. According to the argument, he did not assign responsibility for those acts and therefore did not oppose views such as Nolte's, who claims:

Auschwitz resultiert nicht in erster Linie aus dem iiberlieferten Antisemitismus und war irn Kern nicht ein blorjer "Volker- mord," sondern es handelte sich vor allem um die aus Angst geborene Reaktion auf die Vernichtungsvorgange der Russischen Revol~tion.'~

In statements like this, the uniqueness of the systematic and thoroughly organized extermi- nation program by the Nazi state is relativized as just another historical excess.

Hillgruber's contribution to the revisionist side of the debate equated the sufferings of the Germans with the destruction of Euro- pean Jewry as "two national catastrophes" and pleaded for the "reconstruction of the de- stroyed center of E~rope."'~ In Hillgruber's analysis Hitler and his close collaborators were solely responsible for the holocaust, and the German majority was thus rehabilitated. Heimat conveys the same impression in the eyes of its critics; certainly, no blame is at- tached to the people of Schabbach." If it is true that "for millions of Jews, Poles, Com- munists, homosexuals, et~., the Holocaust was the central experience" while "for many German civilians, wittingly or unwittingly ob- livious to the horror around them, it was only a minor concern," is it legitimate to portray that unconcern as Reitz has done, knowing what we do in 1984?26

Konrad Jarausch, in his summation of the lessons to be learned from the Historikerstreit, urges that "to become more credible, academic analyses of the Third Reich should in- clude not only perpetrators and victims but also the majority of the German population that made their bloody dialectic pos~ible."~' If historiography in the guise of popular culture can be included in this demand, Heimat contributes to the restoring of the balance, since most film coverage of the period has focused on those perpetrators and victims. It is my contention that Heimat provides cinematic cues to prompt activation of the spectator's knowledge of the horrors and that these cues are again sited in the films discourse on medi- ation and representation.

The revisionist side of the Historians' De- bate has been read as the articulation of sen- timents identified with the Kohl era. This is a period during which conservative voices in the Bonn government sought to impose their own stamp on cultural politi~s.~~

The Kohl gov- ernment also made an attempt to revise his- toriography with the notorious visit of the Federal Chancellor and President Reagan to the Bitburg cemetery. Consistent with Hill- gruber's position, the purpose was to treat all victims of the war as equals and to place the responsibility firmly on totalitarianism and the dictatorship of Hitler.29 Careful choice of words meant that the enemy of the day, the Soviet Union, could be implicated under "to- talitarianism."

"Bitburg, like most of Heimat, illustrates a forgetfulness in remembering."3"Eric Rentschler excepts from this criticism those Heimat episodes covering the pre-1938 and post-1955 years, which make use of the point of view of outsiders (Paul and Hermann), but he considers Reitz guilty of willful neglect of the key issues of the war period. In my opin- ion, even though Reitz's primary interest lies elsewhere, the episodes covering the war years are not devoid of critical reminders of National Socialism. The most telling of these emerge in Heimat's concern with filming and media representation.

Reitz demonstrates the falsity of media pre- sentations of ceremonial events in his depic- tion of the filming of Anton's proxy wedding. The field film unit forces Anton to repeat his business with the telephone until the scene is exactly right for propaganda purposes. The filmmaker feigns spontaneous image-collect- ing while, in fact, he maintains tight control over all aspects of image production. Such undeclared preparation of spectacle for the camera recalls the staging of the 1934 NSDAP rally for maximum cinematic impact as Triumph of the Will and, what is more, it fos- ters a healthy skepticism toward the manipula- tive illusionism of contemporary events por- trayed by the media, such as the visit to Bit- burg cemetery. Heimat contributes in this way to a raising of the level of media literacy.

Heimat foregrounds the aesthetics of Fas- cist filmmaking by letting the officer in charge of the field camera unit relate expressis verbis the essence of his job. With the insight that Captain Stielke provides, viewers of the series are forced to revise, or at least to ponder the way in which they view all film. Zielke's words could come directly from Siegfried Kracauer's classic analysis "Propaganda and the Nazi War Film."31 Effect is everything, asserts Zielke: "Es geht doch nicht darum, dd Sie irnrner Ihre Kamera dahin tragen, wo der Dreck spritzt, sondern darum gehts, dd auf dem Film etwas zum Ausdruck kommt, was die Herzen be~egt."~~

The value of battle footage is assessed solely according to whether or not it contains the artistry to move emotions in the desired direction, just as the fig of Anton's wedding has value not as a documen- tation of an event but as the creation of images that will stir hearts. Like Eduard, the camera and its crew construct; they do not simply record. Kracauer notes:

[Nazi] propaganda could not proceed like the propaganda of the democracies and appeal to the understanding of its audi- ence; it had to attempt, on the contrary, to suppress the faculty of understanding which might undermine the basis of the whole system.:"

Reitz's unmasking of the mechanism (re)in- states that "understanding." He calls into question the validity of the visual image, which lies at the crux of the strategy of emotional mobilization. "Much use is made of the fact that pictures make a direct appeal to the sub- conscious and the nervous system," states Kracauer. Focus, lighting, close-up, composi- tion, and sequences of visual leitmotifs consti- tute the visual stimulus; verbal commentary and music play only a secondary role.34 For Zielke, the newsreel of war is the true art form of the twentieth century. The seeds of doubt that Reitz sets out to sow in his audience about the dependability of this art form ought to blossom into mistrust of the pictures in Heimat. By means of internal critical reflec- tion on image-production and its function Reitz urges his audience to approach all pictures- including his own- with caution.

Reitz's title situates his film squarely in the ongoing discussion around the notion of "Heimat," which between 1945 and 1984 has passed through three phases. For at least fif- teen years following the end of World War I1 "Heimat" circulated in public discourse in two primary contexts. One was that of popular culture in which the Heima~lmfeatured prominently. The other was the question of the Heimatvertriebenenand the legal status of their claims to the old "Heimat" in Eastern Europe. At the same time that "Heimat" in film offered the security of timeless serenity in an idealized German place, the more astute expellees realized that if they were to pre- serve "Heimat" in any meaningful sense, it would have to be as social and cultural space, not as the traditional geographical area in which they felt they had roots.35

Evidence of the shift toward perception of "Heimat" as a social entity appears again in 1967. Rudolf Endres's findings in a question- naire survey of Bavarian school children show that with increasing age "Heimat" is defined not only in broader geographical terms, as one might expect (Europe as "Heimat," not just Bamberg), but also in social terms: "he- rall dort, wo ich auf liebe Menschen stol3e," "Heimat ist fir mich . . . Toleranz anderen Menschen und Kulturen gegeniiber."36 This trend is observed along three scales: older students, those from wealthier families, and city dwellers apply social criteria more readily than younger, poorer, and rurally based pupils. During the 1970s the political left also began to rehabilitate "Heimat," with the result that in 1979 Der Spiegel announced that the notion of "Heimat" had now been reclaimed from sole use by expellee organizations and had experienced a surprising rejuvenation out of the spirit of opposition. 37 Elisabeth Moosmann edited Heimat-Sehnsucht nach Identitat (1980) and included statements by contributors for whom "Heimat" consisted of being with a group of like-minded people or striving together for a common social or polit- ical goal.38

The importance of physical "Heimat" space reasserted itself when environmental threats from nuclear power plant construction, dis- cussions surrounding the neutron bomb (1977), the NATO two-track policy of simul- taneous armament and superpower negotia- tion (1979), nuclear waste disposal (since 1979), and numerous ecological disasters world-wide entered public consciousness. Val- ued geographic locations were now threat- ened by ill-considered "progress" and "devel- ~pment."~~

In the early 1980s conservatism and withdrawal again became dominant in "Heimat" thinking. At this time, which marks the period of the writing, filming, and editing of Heimat, the Okopax movement suffered defeats (Wendland, 1980; the stationing of cruise missiles, 1983; a split in the Green Party and losses in state elections, 1984), and some of the critical edge of "Heimat" interest dulled in disappointment. The image of the countryside and "Heimat" as a rural idyll and refuge once more moved to the fore in popular c~~sc~~us~~ss.~~

Reitz's Heimat, for all its focus on social relationships and developments, reaffirms the role of locality in the "Heimat" concept. In fact, there is much in Reitz's understanding of the term that harks back to the theorists of the 1930s. I have already discussed his preference for the "bauerliche Welt" and his proximity to the problematic notion of Gemeinschaft, but Reitz shows other similarities to the views expressed in 1939 by Kurt Staven- hagen. The fist is a strong anti-urban vein, the second anti-Americanism. Stavenhagen wrote:

GroRstadtisches Dasein ist Dasein, das

nirgendswo hingehort und nirgendshin

Bindungen hat. Das ist nicht ein ~bel unter anderen mehr, sondern der Kern des Groastadtiibels, das menschliche Existenz ihrer Eigentlichkeit beraubt . . . Wohin die Entwicklung geht, zeigen in krankhafter Ubersteigerung in Arnerika die sogen. Trailerstadte . . . Aus dem . . . Nomadentum der Mietskaserne ist das freie Nomadentum des Motors gewor- den, das die letzten durch den Boden bedingten Fesselungen abgeworfen hat.4L

America is for Reitz the antithesis of "Heimat," as it is for Stavenhagen. Reitz complained about the loss of Eigentlichkeit brought about by the leveling style of American filmmaking. He also presents an unflattering portrait of Americans in Heimat. After making his for- tune in Detroit, Paul Simon-who is iden- tified as "der Amerikaner" -returns to Schabbach as a rich, overweight, insensitive man almost unable to speak his own language and dialect. Timothy Garton Ash has taken Reitz to task for his anti-Americanism and has reprimanded the filmmaker for siding with Maria (the Germany that remains true to it- self) against Paul (the Germany that sold it- self to Ameri~a).~~

Ash admonishes Reitz for ignoring the fact that, for reasons of its de- mocracy alone, post-war Germany is prefera- ble to the old Germania zntacta. One could add that Reitz conspicuously let pass the op- portunity to make any connection between Anton's business success and the Marshall Plan. Meanwhile, on the credit side, the re- lationship between the German artist Her- mann and his American mentor Paul brings a degree of complexity to the image of America in Heimat.

America appears in Reitz's theoretical writ- ing as the land of the Weggeher, those who leave home. It is associated-negatively- with Ernunft, commerce, Jews, intellectuals, and emigrants.43 The inclusion of Jews in this list of associated phenomena is disturbing. A barely concealed anti-Semitism seems to lurk in such undifferentiated assertions as: "Die Juden, seit je auch 'Weggeher,' passen gut in diese arnerikanische Kultur, die nur noch ex- pandieren will, die Konkurrenz auf allen Ge- bieten t~-eibt."~~

Does Reitz believe that all Jews are emigrants by choice? His bundle of associated sigmfiers is set in opposition to a traditional understanding of rural agrarian German "Heirnat," which implies knowing the place of one's roots, knowing one's place in the community, fulfilling obligations to that place and its people, subscribing to a com- plex structure of taboos, manners, religion, superstitions, and hierarchies. Reitz's vision of "Heimat" appears to have no room for Jews.

Any definition of "Heimat" depends on the definition of its opposite: Fremde. Whatever the "Heimat" community marks as not belong- ing is fremd; the range of dm Fremde in Reitz's film thus tells us much about that particular "Heimat" perception. Elements that do not belong are expelled: Apollonia, Kliirchen, the Dutch industrialists. In the 1920s fremd is de- termined by superstition and prejudice against the dark-skinned girl who is rumored to be a gypsy. In the 1950s the inhuman, brutal re- sponse to Klarchen is triggered by the bigotry and false morality of an insecure but econom- ically reawakening society. In the 1960s the threat from outside comes in the form of invad- ing economic power. As the nature of das Fremde changes, so "Heirnat" needs to rede- fie itself. Reitz indicates the spatial shifts in the demarcation line by providing a stage by stage account of the intrusion of comrnunica- tions media into Schabbach. Photography, radio, telephones, cinema (in Sirnrnern), and television dismantle the boundaries of physical space, which used to separate "Heimat" from Fremde, and force relocation of those bound- aries in social relationships, attitudes, men- tality, and-at least for the time being- memory.

The role of memory in "Heimat" formation moves to the center of the final episode "Das Fest der Lebenden und der Toten." Hermann's musical composition, an analogy both to Reitz's Heimat project and to the formation of "Heimat" conceptions, draws on percep- tion, recorded images, language, recollec- tions from a (supposedly) more innocent time, and the distortion and manipulation of all of these. Using the process of musical composi- tion as a model, Reitz takes his position in the debate about what constitutes "Heimat" in 1984. He fuses fragments of memory and experience and lends them shape in their as- sociation with the physical locality of "Heimat."

Reitz admits that Hermann is but a thinly veiled alter ego of the director himself.45 For Reitz their arts, too, are closely related.46 Her- mann is one of the Weggeher in Heimat but one who, unlike his half-brothers Anton and Ernst, cannot return except in the way that an outsider returns. His return comes through his music, when a radio broadcast of his first composition is awaited with great anticipation by the villagers. To them, however, the music is an incomprehensible cacophony, and they reject it in disgust. Only Glasisch, the village idiot, finds a fascination in the music and can identify a sense. Hermann establishes a de- gree of acceptance in Schabbach when he re- turns for Maria's funeral, an event we witness largely from Hermam's perspective. During this visit to the village Hermam is sensitized to the peculiar qualities of his home: the sounds of its language and its birds and the acoustic properties of its subterranean spaces. So captivated is Hermam by these fragments from his past that he sets out to process these impressions (memories in Reitz's sense) in another musical composition, the recording of which forms the closing se- quence of the final episode. Reitz's filmmaking precisely parallels Hermam's music-making. The outsider returns having experienced Fremde, rediscovers memories-both his own and those in the collective memory- processes them according to aesthetic prin- ciples acquired in the outside world, enlists villagers to perform, and uses the local land- scape as a setting, enhancing its natural prop- erties with the technoloni at his disdosal. Heimat foregrounds the process of reappro- priating "Heimat"; technological mediation and artistic representation are the literal means to this end for the director and the composer and are the metaphorical sigmfiers of the analogous process for all who have formed a conception of "Heimat."

The use of mediation and representation in Heimat on the levels of both plot and con- spicuous aesthetic strategy situate Reitz's film in relation to discussions about fi and film history, the interaction between past and pre- sent in the Federal Republic of Germany, and the nature and contemporary relevance of "Heimat." By means of self-reflexive devices, Heimat directs attention to its own construc- tedness as text and repeatedly dismantles the illusion of represented reality. This self-con- sciousness reaches a climax in the final epi- sode where a surreal, carnivalesque style brings the past into contact with the present, the dead with the living, stressing the paradox of the transitoriness yet simultaneous time- lessness of "Heimat." At the Kirmes barriers between "Heimat" and Fremde dissolve, and any specificity of "Heimat" in the Hunsriick disappears in an orgy of Allerweltsvergnugen. The tawdry, raucous environment of the fair- ground renders all participants -whether fremd or of the "HeimatM-as equals. Out of this apocalyptic circus emerges the music of "Heimat" as generated by Hermam, which closes the film.

It would be inaccurate to impute to Reitz a goal that is nothing more than self-indulgent fabrication of a synthetic Heimat out of the spirit of memory. He has maintained repeat- edly that his purpose is associated with public consciousness: this form of remembering some- thing very important happens: it's not that we thereby return to the past, but rather we reappropriate it, we use it for our present day life in a manner which is




Reitz seeks this effect on consciousness in both a local and a general sphere, both in the "Heimat" of the Hunsriick and in the outside world (Fremde).A Brechtian tone permeates these words about the local people working on the fi:

...dann sind sie ganz erstaunt, da13 sie

iiber einen Umweg, das heat iiber ein Fiteam rnit fremden Leuten zu ihrer eigenen Geschichte gefiihrt ~erden.~~

It is conspicuous that these declarations by Reitz stop short of claiming an explicitly crit- ical purpose for Heimat. While commentators may deplore the selective nature of the mem- ory and the inadequate treatment of the atroc- ities, which are the other side of the everyday "Heimat" coin, Reitz has opted to maintain the ambivalence of existence on the surface of his chronicle but to embed a line of self- reflexivity through his use of mediation and representati~n.~~

As Michael Geisler and Anton Kaes argue, it is possible to receive the film according to established principles, that is to say, by ignor- ing or shutting out those cues for reading against the grain.= Though the ideological per- spective of Heimat might not be as unambigu- ously critical as its opponents would like, the signs are there to be read. The ultimate "suc- cess" of Heimat as a text that takes a position on filmmaking, historiography, or "Heimat" thlnking depends on the media literacy of the spectator, which necessarily must differ from one viewer to the next. Media literacy itself, as I have shown, is a topic of Hezmat. Whatever its shortcomings, Heimat must be given credit for placing the issues in the foreground for public discussion, and the quantity of print and comment expended on the fitestify to its echo- both critical and affirmative- in the public consciousness.


' Village Voice 16 April 1985, quoted in Miriam Hansen, "Dossier on Heimat," New German Critique 36 (Fall 1985): 10. Variety 12 Sept. 1984, quoted in Franz A. Birgel, "You Can Go Home Again. An Interview with Edgar Reitz," Film Quarterly 36.4 (1986): 2.

' Heimat-Eine Chronik in elf Teilen, written by Reitz and Peter Steinbach between June 1979 and July 1980, was shot from May 1981 to November 1982 and was screened on ARD between 16 September and 24 Octo- ber 1984. Production was financed by the Westdeut- scher Rundfunk and Sender Freies Berlin. The 15%- hour fi was shown in movie theaters, both nationally and internationally. More than 300 Heima@ilme were made between 1947 and 1960, one-fifth of the entire West German film production. See Eric Rentschler, West German Film in the Course of Time: Reflections on the Twenty Ears since Oberhausen (Bedford Hills, NY: Redgrave, 1984) 103-28; Wii Hofig, Der deutsche Heimafilm 1947-1960 (Stuttgart: Enke, 1973); and Claudius Seidl, Der deut- sche Film der fiinfiiger Jahre (Munich: Heyne, 1987).

' Among them are Der plotzliche Reichtum der armen Leute won Kombach, Volker Schlondorff (1970); Ich liebe dich, ich tote dich, Uwe Brandner (1971); Mathias Kneissl, Reinhard Hauff (1971); Wildwechsel, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1972); Paule Paulander, Reinhard Hauff (1975); Der Hauptaizrsteller, Reinhard Hauff (1977).

"'Heimat ist ein vages, verschieden besetzbares Symbol fiir intakte Beziehungen." Hermann Bausinger, "Hei- mat und Identitat," Heimat und Identitat: Probleme re- gionaler Kultur, ed. Ko~ad Kostlin and Hermann Bau- singer (Neumiinster: Wachholtz, 1980) 19. "Unabhangiger Film nach Holocaust," Edgar Reitz, Lie-be zum Kino: Utopien und Geaiznken zum Autorenfilm

1962-1983 (Cologne: Verlag Koh 78. n. d. ) 98-105. "eitz, "Unabhingiger Film" 102. Reitz, "Unabhangiger Film" 99.

I"Reitz, "Unabhangiger Film" 102.

" "Aus dem Produktionstagebuch geschrieben wahrend der Dreharbeiten zu dem Spielfilm-Zyklus Heimateine Chronik in elf Eilen, September 1980 bis Ende Oktober 1982," Edgar Reitz, Liebe zum Kino 150. " Thomas Elsaesser, "Memory, Home and Hollywood," in Miriam Hansen, "Dossier": 12; see also Anton Kaes. Deutschlandbilder: Die Wiederkehr der Geschichte als

Film (Munich: edition text & kritik, 1987) 178 f. IJ Reitz, "Unabhingiger Film" 100. l4 Fedor Stepun, "Heimat und Fremde: Allgemeinsoziolo-

gisch,"KolnerZeitschriftfi Soziologie 3 (1950151): 146-

59. l5 Worterbuch der Soziologie, ed. Wilhelrn Bernsdorf

(Stuttgart: Enke, 1969) 339 f.

'"eitz, "Unabhingiger Film" 102.

" I have restricted my discussion to the parameters given

by Reitz himself. A comparison of the text of Heimat and classical Hollywood cinema, as analyzed indepen- dently, shows a high degree of conformity. David Bordwell has identified the distinguishing features of classical Hollywood cinema: among the fundamental rules that set limits on individual innovation are that 1) a film must tell a story, which Heimat certainly does, although it indulges in digressions of incident and Genrebild, 2) unity must obtain, which is given in Heimat by the structuring around Maria's family, 3) realism, both as probability and as historical fact, be adhered to, which-with the exception of the surreal passages in the final episode and the occasional ghost-must be granted for Heimat, 4) the storytelling be invisible, which holds partially true but which-significantly- cannot be claimed absolutely, 5) the film be compre- hensible and unambiguous, which Heimat-for all its ambivalence and resistance to stereotypes-accom- plishes for the most part, 6) its appeal transcend class and nation, which-in spite of its heady German and conspicuously regional theme-Heimat has demon- strably done. David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode ofProduction to 1960 (New York: Col- umbia UP, 1985) 3.

'"nteniew with Heike Hurst, quoted by Gertrud Koch, "How Much Naivete Can We Afford? The New 'Heimat' Feeling," Frauen und Film 38 (May 1985), in Miriam Hansen, "Dossier": 13.

I" Birgel 8.


In the middle ground lie such dramatized, intellectual attempts to deal with that period as Alexander Kluge's Die Patriotin (1979) and Hans-Joachim Syberberg's Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschiand (1977).

" For an analysis of Holocaust as a media event in Ger- many, including an evaluation of letters written by view- ers in response to the telecast, see Friedrich Knilli and Siegfried Zielinski, eds., Betrifft "Holocaust": Zuschau- er schreiben an den WDR (Berlin: Spiess, 1983).

" For a discussion of the central issues and problems of the Historikerstreit see Konrad Jarausch, "Removing the Nazi Stain? The Quarrel of the German Historians," German Sfudies Review 11(1988): 285-301.

'"mst Nolte, "Zwischen Geschichtslegende und Revi- sionismus? Das Dritte Reich im Blickwinkel des Jahres 1980," "Historikerstreit": Die Dokumentation der Kon- troverse um die Einzigartigkeit der nationalsozialbti- schen Judenvwnichtung (Munich: Piper, 1987) 32. This article was first published in the FrankfurterAllgemeine Zeitung 24 July 1980, under the title "Die negative Lebendigkeit des Dritten Reiches. Eine Frage aus dem Blickwinkel des Jahres 1980."

"Jarausch 286.

'me one exception is the SS officer Wiried Wiegand, who is portrayed as an odious figure from his earliest years.

z6 Jarausch 295.

"Jarausch 297.

" Examples include the attempt to withhold promised funding from Herbert Achtembusch because of alleged sacrilege in his fi Das Gespenst (1982). The courts decided in favor of Achternbusch. Conservative politi- cians also tried to curtail any liberal and critical pro- grams at Goethe Institute houses around the world, demanding more affirmative content.

" No words were spoken at the cemetery, but President Reagan later made a speech at the Bitburg Airbase in which he said: "Our duty today is to mourn the human wreckage of totalitarianism . . . The war against one man's totalitarianism was not like other wars." Geoffrey

H. Hartrnan, ed., Bitburg in Moral and Political Per- spective (Bloomington: India UP, 1986) 258-61. See also Eric Rentschler, "The Use and Abuse of Memory: New German Fiand the Discourse of Bitburg," New German Critique 36 (Fall 1985): 87 f.

:" Rentschler, "Use and Abuse" 89.

" Originally published in 1942 by the Museum of Modern Art Film Library, New York; reprinted in Siegfried Kracauer, Frm Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological His- toy of the German Film (Princeton: Princeton UP,

1947) 273-331. " Heimat soundtrack, ep~sode 7. "Kracauer 278. "Kracauer 279.


Cf. Whelm Brepohl, "Die Heimat als Beziehungsfeld. Entwurf einer soziologischen Theorie der Heimat," Soziale Welt 4 (1952-53): 12-22.

* Rudolf Endres, "Der Heimatbegriff der Jugend in der Gegenwart," Geographische Rundschau 19 (1967): 25-


""Heimat-unter griiner Flagge," Der Spiegel 33.30 (1979): 134. " "Fur mich ist 'Heimat' am ehesten realisiert in sozialen Zusammenhingen. Ich denke, daR 'Heimat' etwas zu Entwickelndes ist, etwas, das in der Zukunft liegt." Eke in Heimat-Sehnsucht nadt Identitiit (Berlin: Aes- thetik und Kommunikation, 1980) 35.

"' See Jiirgen Bolten, "Heimat im Aufwind: Anmerkungen zur Sozialgeschichte eines Bedeutungswandels," Literatur und Provinz: Das Konzept 'Heimat' in der neueren Literafur, ed. Hans-Georg Pott (Paderborn: Schoningh, 1986) 23-38.

'"Bolten 36.

" Kurt Stavenhagen, Heimat als Lebenssinn (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1948) 6, 8. The page numbers given are those of the 1948 edition. The word- ing of these passages is unchanged from the 1939 edi- tion.

42 Timothy Garton Ash, "The Lie of Death," New York Review of Books 19 Dec. 1985: 29-39. Ash even goes so far as to perceive in Heimat a line linking Nazism- Modernity-America. Support for this association might be seen in the banner displayed at the celebration of Hitler's birthday proclaiming: "Der Fuhrer ist ein Ko- lumbus."


Reitz, 'Aus dem Produktionstagebuch" 141-51. Reitz, "Aus dem Produktionstagebuch" 146. 45 Reitz, 'Aus dem Produktionstagebuch" 186.

* Reitz, 'Nus dem Produktionstagebuch" 189.
"Reitz, Film Quarterly 36.4 (1986): 8.
'n Frauke Liesenborghs, ". . . die Nahe zu den Menschen

nicht einzubiikn. Ein Interview mit Edgar Reitz zu seiner Fernsehserie 'Made in Germany,"' medium 2 & 3 (1983). In 1937 Brecht wrote: "Es liegt dem Lehr- stuck die Erwartung zugrunde, dd der Spielende durch die Durchfiihrung bestimrnter Handlungsweisen, Einnahrne bestimrnter Haltungen, Wiedergabe bestirnrnter Reden und so weiter gesellschaftlich beein- fldt werden kann."

"Among the harshest critics of Reitz's project are Eric ~entsihler, Gertrud Koch, Heide ~chl"~&nn,

andJim Hoberman. See Miriam Hansen. "Dossier."

"' Michael E. Geisler, "'Heimat' and the German Left: The Anamnesis of a Trauma," New German Crift'que 36 (Fall 1985): 52 f. ; Kaes, Deutschlandbilder177,200.

  • Recommend Us