Heimat”, the original box set.



Heimat, a Chron­i­cle of Ger­many, com­pris­ing of 3 sea­sons and a pre­quel and made up of 32 indi­vid­ual films that last for more than 53 hours, is one of the most ambi­tious and bril­liant series ever broad­cast. Sea­son 1 has eleven episodes that cov­er the years 1919 to 1982 and was first broad­cast in 1984.

The whole saga cen­tres on the Simon fam­i­ly in the fic­tion­al vil­lage of Sch­ab­bach in the Hun­sruck, in the heart of rur­al Ger­many. Specif­i­cal­ly, on Maria, and the two sons she has with Paul, and then with Her­mann, the son she lat­er has with Otto. What Edgar Reitz, who writes and directs them all, does then is to con­cen­trate on the things that mat­ter most to all com­mu­ni­ties, big and small, rur­al and urban. Fam­i­ly life, love and loss, tri­umph and despair, on all those who leave the fold nev­er to return, and on those who stay behind.


Mari­ta Breuer as Maria.

Each of the decades from the 20s to the 70s get about a cou­ple of episodes each in sea­son 1, so all of those defin­ing events that Ger­many was sub­ject to through the course of those years are seen through the prism of vil­lage life, where every­body knows every­body and prac­ti­cal­ly every­one is relat­ed to one anoth­er in some shape or form.

So instead of being the ful­crum around which every­thing else piv­ots, the rise and fall of the Nazis is just one of the many back­drops against which vil­lage life pro­ceeds. It’s not remote­ly sur­pris­ing then when Lucie, Maria’s sis­ter in law, cosies up to the Nazis in the 30s and ear­ly 40s, only to com­plete­ly switch sides in the late 40s and 50s, that she then sidles up to the Amer­i­cans, who effec­tive­ly replace them in the wake of the sec­ond World War.

Season 2 of Heimat was made in 1992, and the 13 episodes cover the 60s.

Sea­son 2 of Heimat was shown in 1992, and the 13 episodes cov­er the 60s.

There is noth­ing immoral about her denial. It’s entire­ly amoral. You do what you have to, to sur­vive. The sec­ond world war, like the first before it, the great depres­sion, the swing­ing 60s and the fall of the Berlin wall to come, all look very dif­fer­ent when viewed from the pur­blind con­fines of vil­lage life, buried deep in the heart of nowhere.

What Reitz does so bril­liant­ly is to make a suc­ces­sion of indi­vid­ual, stand-alone films that each focus on one or two  char­ac­ters. So that the rhythm, pace and feel is not that of a suc­ces­sion of episodes, but of indi­vid­ual, 70–80 minute Euro­pean art house films.

Season 3 of Heimat was screened in 2004 and covers post 1989 in 6 episodes.

Sea­son 3 of Heimat was screened in 2004 and cov­ers the post 1989 peri­od in 6 episodes.

Every frame is care­ful­ly and pre­cise­ly com­posed, and you’re delib­er­ate­ly giv­en the time to take in its com­po­si­tion. Music is used but spar­ing­ly, and in its place tac­tile sounds res­onate; film being loaded into a very ear­ly cam­era, the soles of worn, leather boots scrunch­ing on a dirt track, the chop­ping of veg­eta­bles being read­ied for a soup. And all the while, Reitz slips in and out of the pre­dom­i­nant black and white and into occa­sion­al bursts of colour, as his very per­son­al aes­thet­ic dictates.

His­to­ry unfolds in the dis­tant back­ground as vil­lage life is brought to a stand­still by the defin­ing events that shape their lives; the lay­ing down of the first tar­ma­cadam road, the arrival of the very first tele­phone, the open­ing of that first indus­tri­al fac­to­ry in the post war years, those gor­geous, cur­va­ceous, open-top Mer­cedes’ that they man­u­fac­tured so tri­umphant­ly in the 60s, and the ero­sion of their very specif­i­cal­ly Ger­man, and rur­al Ger­man cul­ture, that all that late 20th cen­tu­ry progress destroyed so method­i­cal­ly as it made its way inex­orably onwards.

The 2013 Heimat prequel covering the 1840s.

The 2013 Heimat pre­quel cov­er­ing the 1840s.

Like Syberberg’s equal­ly mag­is­te­r­i­al Hitler: A Film From Ger­many from 1977 (over 7 hours and in 4 parts) and the work of W. G. Sebald (specif­i­cal­ly his almost unbear­ably mov­ing nov­el Auster­litz), Heimat is a nuanced and mea­sured explo­ration into how what hap­pened in Ger­many could have hap­pened there, and what it means there­fore to be Ger­man. Like the peo­ple it deals with, it’s a serous work that demands to be seen.

Sea­son 1 was screened over the sum­mer on Sky Arts, so there’s every chance it’ll be repeat­ed there. While the recent pre­quel Home from Home, which Reitz made in 2013 and which cov­ers the 1840s, was  screened recent­ly on BBC4, so keep an eye out for it there. All four hours of which are every bit as cap­ti­vat­ing as the very first episode of sea­son 1, first broad­cast over a quar­ter of cen­tu­ry ago.

You can see the trail­er to Home from Home here.

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