We really thought we had a purpose
We were so anxious to achieve
We had hope
The world held promise
For a slave to liberty
Freely I slaved away for something better
And I was bought and sold
And all I ever wanted
Was to come in from the cold
– ‘Come In From The Cold’, Joni Mitchell
The subtitle of Die Zweite Heimat, Edgar Reitz’s sequel to Heimat (discussed here last month), is ‘Chronicle of a Generation’. The generation in question is my generation – the lucky ones born in the 1940s who came of age in the 1960s. Except that Reitz’s brilliant semi-autobiographical account of a group of gifted musicians, film-makers and intellectuals who arrive in Munich as students in the early 1960s is one that becomes increasingly dark.
Whereas the first Heimat spanned the best part of a century (covering 1919 – 1982), Heimat 2 concentrates on a single decade and a single generation, telling how Hermann, youngest son of Maria in Heimat, leaves his rural home in the Hunsruck to make a new life for himself as a student of music and then as a composer in Munich during the turbulent years of the 1960s. Every episode focuses on a different character from the group of avant-garde musicians, film students and radicals with whom Hermann becomes involved, each of them gradually drawn to the ‘Fuchsbau’, a mansion owned by a wealthy art patroness and ‘collector of artists’. Here, fleetingly, they create a new ‘Heimat’ that they hope will replace the authoritarian and repressive homeland of their parents’ generation.
For this is Reitz’s subject – the clash of generations that lay at the heart of the sixties cultural revolution. Over more than 25 hours of screen time, Reitz documents with an accuracy and intensity that I have encountered nowhere else the experiences of members of a generation that sought, in the words of Joni Mitchell’s song, to ‘come in from the cold’ – to reject the rigid narrow-mindedness of their parents’ generation. I remember well the frustrations and anger I felt with my own parents back then (one who saw no value in studying for a university education when you could leave school and earn money, the other unable to express any emotion). Their limited horizons and repressive joylessness impelled me to leave home for university and the dazzling youthfulness of the city that had nurtured the Beatles.
(Parenthetically, these sentiments were captured with great accuracy and wit in The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichols who died last November, and who was born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin. The son of a German Jewish mother (second cousin twice removed of Albert Einstein) and an Austrian Jewish father of Russian extraction, in April 1939, with the Nazis rounding up Jews in Berlin, seven-year-old Mikhail and his three-year-old brother Robert were sent alone to the United States to join their father, who had fled months earlier. His mother eventually joined the family, escaping through Italy in 1940. I mention him here in belated tribute to The Graduate and its final scene which, I suggest, captures the sixties generational conflict in a nutshell.)
In the first Heimat, Edgar Reitz told the stories of people whose families had lived for generations in the village of Schabbach, in the Hunsrück. In this second series, by contrast, he focusses on Hermann, who leaves his heimat – the place where he, his family and neighbours had been born, the home he had been given by fate – for Munich where he and his student friends attempt to make a new home for themselves and find their place in the world. Set against the background of the social changes that defined the sixties, Reitz presents this as a story of ambition and ideals that dissolve in disillusion.
As Angela Skrimshire writes in her detailed and insightful appreciation of the Heimat trilogy:
For a while they share a vision of a future life of glittering artistic success. But as the years pass, the group disintegrates, and the “young geniuses” are pitchforked into a workaday world where they must make a living, and cope with family responsibilities that have been too quickly or casually assumed. They struggle to reconcile the demands of their art with the demands of commerce, and of personal relationships. Marriages break up, careers are abandoned and reconstructed. There is a mood of disillusionment, a sense of being at a loss.
Die Zweite Heimat: Hermann, Juan and Schnusschen
These young people are portrayed by Reitz as belonging to a generation that, metaphorically at least, saw themselves as ashamed of their first home, orphaned and homeless. Those who gather at the Fuchsbau are in rebellion against their Nazi parents and their narrow-minded, intolerant, small-town mentality. At the Fuchsbau they attempt to create a second home for themselves, the ‘Zweite Heimat’ of the title, a collective of friendship, love and artistic projects.
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.
Hermann arrives in Munich in 1960, aged 19 and with no place to stay. He meets Renate, a law student, who lets Hermann sleep on her floor, before moving in with Clemens, a fellow Hunsrücker who plays jazz drums in Munich’s clubs. At the music conservatory he meets Juan from Chile (an outsider, a long way from his homeland), whose application piece played on the marimba is rejected on the grounds that it is simply ‘folklore’. Hermann and Juan are soon involved with the student avant-garde culture that embraces musicians such as the cellist Clarissa and the singer Evelyne, film students Reinhard and Stefan, Alex the philosopher and perpetual student, and Helga, a troubled young poet who eventually joins the Baader-Meinhof group.
Die Zweite Heimat: Salome Kammer as Clarissa
In the beginning they see themselves as ‘Kennedy’s children’: intelligent, free and young. Youth and art will prevail. But, half way through the series, Kennedy’s assassination marks a turning point. It is as if the collective dream begins to evaporate. From this point on, the central characters begin to drift – into doomed marriages, and artistic careers marked by compromise and the corruption of commercial values. One by one, they lose contact with the Fuchsbau, which ultimately is sold to a property development company and demolished. Evelyne’s lover Ansgar is killed in a terrible accident, Reinhard disappears mysteriously, Helga the poet eventually becomes a terrorist, and Alex the philosopher drinks himself to death.
The Fuchsbau is central to the series, a beautiful villa owned by Elisabeth Cerphal, the niece of a German publishing magnate. Middle aged, unmarried, but infatuated with art and youth, Elisabeth turns her home into a bohemian salon, a place of carefree, romantic nights and artistic creativity. But the house also stands as a darker symbol of the Nazi era as Elisabeth’s family secrets begin come to light. A wilful forgetting of the past proves impossible in a narrative that leads to Dachau concentration camp. When her father dies, Elisabeth is confronted with her own part in her family’s guilty past, only to once more refuse to face up to it.
Die Zweite Heimat: Reinhard (László Kish) and Esther (Susanne Lothar)
Such an account of the bare bones of the narrative fails to do justice to the breathtaking artistry of this series of feature-length films, each one given over to one of Hermann’s friends or lovers. Most of them, if judged individually, would regarded as among the greatest of cinematic achievements. It is a collective triumph, embracing Reitz’s direction, and powerful acting from a cast that included memorable performances by Reitz’s partner Salome Kammer as Clarissa, Gisela Müller as Evelyne, László Kish as Reinhard, and Daniel Smith as Juan.
Then there is the music and the cinematography. I can’t recall any other film where the process of creating music is presented with such authenticity and conviction. One reason for this is that so many of the characters are played by actors who are themselves musicians. For example, Salome Kammer who plays the cellist Clarissa, began her musical career as a cellist, but is also an exceptional vocalist and some of the most spine-tingling moments occur when her singing is married to intense drama and images of great beauty.
Die Zweite Heimat: Hermann and Juan
Another example is that of Daniel Smith who plays Juan, a Chilean student of music. In the first episode, one that is full of musical energy (memorably, a scene in which students in the conservatory cafeteria improvise with cutlery on tables, crockery and radiators), Juan plays his entrance piece for marimba. The actor Daniel Smith had himself studied percussion and recorder at the Conservatory in Santiago de Chile before becoming a member of the Philharmonic orchestra of Santiago at the age of 18. Later, like Juan, he travelled to Europe to study early music at the conservatory in De Hague. As the series progresses, Juan is revealed as a true Renaissance man, skilled in the martial arts, acrobatics, juggling, magic, Japanese carpentry, and origami, as well as being fluent in many languages. All of these accomplishments are also those of Daniel Smith.
The cafeteria scene
Juan plays the marimba
Music is central to the series for another reason: each episode features music – including several avant-garde, atonal pieces – specially composed for the series by the Greek composer (himself at one time a teacher at the Munich Conservatory) Nikos Mamangakis, who also wrote the theme for the first series. Among his compositional highlights for Die Zweite Heimat were a cello concerto written by Hermann for Clarissa, a beautiful piece for cello and piano that accompanied Reinhard’s trip to Venice, a requiem for the end of the Fuchsbau, and that wild, improvised percussion session in the university cafeteria.
Just as outstanding is the cinematography, largely by Gernot Roll, who was also responsible for photographing the first He shot parts 1 to 5 of Heimat 2, while Reitz’s son Christian shot parts 9 to 13. There is a perceptible difference in the quality of cinematography in episodes 6 to 8. It is Roll who is largely responsible for Die Zweite Heimat ‘s moody tone and expressionistic touches that contribute to the elegaic, not quite realistic feel of the series (as in the first Heimat, black-and-white sequences are strikingly alternated with colour).
Die Zweite Heimat: Hermann and Clarissa
It’s impossible in a short blog post to really do justice to the epic scope of these 13 films totalling 26 hours of screen time. They are works of great humanity, the closest I think cinema has come to matching the depth and psychological complexity of a novel. As the Rough Guide to Film puts it:
It is hard to convey the Proustian richness of this mammoth series which combines the appeal of the ongoing investment in characters afforded by a soap opera with the wide canvas of a screen epic.
The films that make up the series are deeply personal and semi-autobiographical. Like Hermann, Reitz was born in the Hunsruck and left home to study at university in Munich, where he became involved with the avant-garde of music, arts, literature and film. Most of all he was fascinated by cinema, and began making his first own short films in 1958. In 1962 he joined the group around Alexander Kluge which published the ‘Oberhausener Manifesto’ in 1962 that declared the old German film dead. From 1962 to 1965, Reitz worked as head of development and experimentation at Insel-Film in Munich, just as Rob the cameraman, and Reinhard and Stefan the film directors do in Die Zweite Heimat.
Berlin commune days in Die Zweite Heimat: Hermann (Henry Arnold) and Kathrin (Carolin Fink)
As well as being one of its richest portraits of a European city, and a great study of the conflicts between art, love, education and politics, the series may also constitute the finest cinematic portrayal of youth in the 1960s. There is music (the Beatles, as well as the avant-garde scene), young film-makers who will be in at the birth of New German Cinema – and politics. In the episode ‘Playing with Freedom’, Reitz sets the narrative against the background of the first stirrings of student unrest in Germany in 1962. The demonstrations that began in Munich on 22 June 1962, were triggered simply by the arrest of three musicians for playing the street, but marked the beginning of the German student movement. One participant in the demonstrations was a not particularly political young man – Andreas Baader.
The movement grew – at first opposed to the Emergency Acts which were being introduced by the Federal government to allow the state to limit civil rights in the case of an emergency, and later to the appointment in 1966 of Kurt Kiesinger, who had played an active role in the foreign ministry in the Third Reich, as chancellor.
Die Zweite Heimat: Noemi Steuer as Helga
In Die Zweite Heimat, Reitz shows Helga (who will later join the Baader-Meinhof group) returning to the Fuchsbau from the demonstrations with bleeding hand . Elisabeth Cerphal exclaims, ‘Have they declared open season on students?’ and then,recalling the Nazi years, ‘The mob is in uniform again.’ Hermann (whose guitar has been smashed y the police) has been venting his anger upon the piano, but, then asserts angrily, ‘I’ll never do what pleases the masses, I swear it. The masses are sick and crude like the state. Long live the individual!’
As with the first Heimat, the stories of its characters also unfold under the shadow of Germany’s history. The Nazi legacy that haunts many of the characters is a recurring theme throughout the series, seen particularly in the gradual exposure of the story of Elisabeth Cerphal’s family and their culpability in the deaths of the parents of Esther Goldbaum, daughter of Cerphal’s childhood Jewish friend, and the rightful heir to the family fortune.
Throughout the series Reitz continues his exploration of the meaning of heimat, this time as experienced by members of a generation who had turned their back on their roots (for example, Hermann is embarrassed by his Hunsruck accent and, on arriving in Munich, takes up elocution lessons, so that he can better speak High German. Angela Skrimshire has drawn attention to the significance of German expressions that occur often in dialogue during the series:
For many of the older characters in Heimat 1, their ‘Heimat’ in this sense is their whole world and the notion of leaving it is at most a vague, unrealistic fantasy. But the experience of ‘Heimat’, whether lived in real life or only in memory, is instinct with a sense of longing, the ‘Sehnsucht’ of romanticism (and of most human life), for what is not immediately, if ever, obtainable. Those still living in their ‘Heimat’ can suffer ‘Fernweh’, longing for escape to another, distant world, while those who have already left, and even those who have stayed on through many changes, may feel ‘Heimweh’ for a lost, remembered life. The objectives of both longings exist only in the imagination, until a choice is made to pursue them. The chosen way of life, once entered, can prove illusory, as in Heimat 3, or, as in Heimat 2, can itself become a ‘Heimat’, with dwellings, experiences and stories, a nexus of relationships, in turn to be lost or escaped, remembered and longed for again. In this recurring pattern lies the dynamic of the Heimat Trilogy.
This sense of circling back to the Heimat of one’s origins is underscored in the final episode which consists entirely of an almost metaphorical flight by Hermann as he criss-crosses Germany on repeated train journeys. Finally, he is seen returning to the Hunsruck, to the ‘repressive, narrow, limited, hopeless, shit-stinking place we call home’. He has gone back to the beginning, to the place that nurtured him. Now, he says, ‘My dreams are different, what they are I will find out here. I have to learn to wait.’ Approaching Shabbach, old Glasisch, astute observer as ever, tells him he hasn’t changed at all.
Hermann walks on, towards Schabbach. Reitz lets the camera linger on his figure dwindling in the distance, as the raod stretches on towards his original home – his Heimat.
- Die Zweite Heimat: email discussion with introductions to each episode by Ivan Mansley
- Heimat: unreliable memories and ‘living-in-spite-of-everything‘
- Angela Skrimshire’s appreciation of the Heimat films (pdf, 1,41 MB)
- Die Zweite Heimat: English fan site
- Heimat: German page on the Heimat trilogy, with some English material
- Visionary Storytelling: Edgar Reitz’s Die Zweite Heimat (John Mepham, Vertigo)