The New Homeland – The Germans are discovering their roots

Limburg, Deutschland Nuotrauką padidinti (© picture-alliance)

What is “Heimat” (roughly: homeland)? And why is it so popular all of a sudden? One’s homeland is where one comes from and where one belongs. Nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, in Germany, homeland has recently become something cool, modern and normal. And that is the extraordinary thing.

In Munich stands a Hofbräuhaus. But hardly any real Bavarians sit at the Hofbräuhaus. It is tourists from all around the world who sit there, drinking and laughing, and thinking they are getting a genuine look at the Bavarians. Two streets away, there are two souvenir shops, a traditional one and a modern one, both selling souvenirs. In the first, Japanese, Americans, Russians, Indians and Chinese go shopping for a “genuine Bavarian” souvenir to take home with them.


Hip rather than kitschy

In the other shop, most of the customers are from Munich or used to live in Munich and now live in distant lands, far from their home country, the place they came from. “More than anything else, what my customers want is to take a modern piece of their homeland to foreign places,“ explains proprietor Marion Marr. They long for pretzels, veal sausages and silhouettes of stags on breadboards, mugs and t-shirts. Modern and hip rather than rustic and kitschy. Meanwhile, the Bavarian regional capital has no fewer than three such shops. One of them is called Obacht, another one ist called Servus Heimat.

In the in-district of Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg homeland means hats. Heimat Berlin is the name of a shop belonging to Sebastian Mücke (41) and Stefan Lochner (40). “Until the thirties of the twentieth century, Berlin was a multicultural metropolis and the capital of fashion," explains shop manager Markus Lang. A native of Allgäu, Stefan Lochner chose the name Heimat Berlin because he sees Berlin as his new home. “Home is the feeling of belonging somewhere,“ explains his partner Mücke. Dirndl and lederhosen are also hanging on the rail. They are a piece of his old home that he has taken to the new capital, and people like it.

Angler am Havelsee, Berlin Nuotrauką padidinti (© picture-alliance / HB-Verlag)
Braunlage im Harz, Deutschland Nuotrauką padidinti (© picture-alliance/ dpa)

Smart and popular: Using Heimat in names

In January 2008, the members of the small artists’ colony at the Wiede factory on the outskirts of Munich were discussing the theme of their annual art exhibition. “We were not actually talking about a number of possible themes but about the theme of homeland,” recalls painter Carl Heinz Draxl. And the discussion was a controversial one. About whether it was not a dusty, reactionary concept. Whether it was of any artistic value. The result in October 2008 was an acclaimed exhibition showing a wide variety of different works. Draxl, for example, painted lovingly ironic scenes from his Bavarian homeland and its clichés on rough beer-table wood and planks, drawing his inspiration from comic strips.

Homeland is ubiquitous in Germany at the moment. Heimat is used in the names of advertising agencies and films, and designers craft their names from word; there is music, and folklore evenings for young people. There are even new print and internet magazines called Daheim. What was impossible just a few years ago now goes without saying: treating one’s identity in a laid-back, humorous way.

Her customers and friends have always felt at home at Luciana Monopoli’s hairdressing salon. So much so that recently, the Frankfurter (aged 36) even changed its name to Deine Heimat Kollektiv. With a café and cake, she also offers more than a wash, cut and blow-dry. “It is like home to my customers,“ explains Monopoli. But she also gives young designers such as the fashion label Affentor a small home. It can exhibit and sell its collection on her premises.

Rediscovering the provinces

The homeland tribute best known beyond Bavaria’s regional borders is the 2006 movie Wer früher stirbt, ist länger tot (i.e. If You Die Earlier, You Are Dead Longer). Nearly 2 million people throughout Germany have seen the film by Markus H. Rosenmüller (aged 38). The flood of new homeland films perhaps demonstrates most impressively how strongly the rediscovered, laid-back feeling of homeland is. The best-known ones are Winterreise (Winter Journey), Räuber Kneissl (Mathias Kneissel) and Das grosse Hobeditzn. There are homeland film festivals and homeland murder mysteries on television. The main characters live in the provinces, speak a dialect and feel at home where they live. Their language no longer seems silly or conservative, but authentic and in touch with reality.

The provinces, writes Matthias Hohnecker in the Stuttgarter Zeitung, are where connections are straightforward. It is the space of clearly arranged living units, the space where people know one another. Particularly in an increasingly complicated world, people are evidently once again seeking an identity, a sense of security. A straightforward place where they know their way around because it exudes carefree childhood memories. Their own homeland.

The German word “Heimat” is practically unique. As unique as “Kindergarten” and “Kitsch”. Other nations often have only the concept of fatherland or mother country to express this feeling. In the German language, Heimat means origin. It is the environment, the landscape where one was born and the strong association one feels for them. It expresses the place where one has roots and the place one associates with one’s family and childhood. Or the place where one has built up one’s life and where one feels at home. Heimat lost its dusty and backward-looking connotations long ago to be replaced by a relaxed, light-hearted self-confidence. The times of the Third Reich when the concept was politically abused during the National Socialist dictatorship are over.

Birgitt Hölzel
Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
February 2009

Naturpark Schönbuch Nuotrauką padidinti (© picture-alliance/ dpa)

The New Homeland – The Germans are discovering their roots

Uferpromenade in Cochem am Moselufer