A Sense of Belonging

I greatly enjoyed our initial discussion of Edgar Reitz’s Heimat series on Tuesday, and have been thinking about it a lot since.  When I prepared to lead class that day, I anticipated that we would have to work through some largely formal objections – the slow pacing of the series, the many amateur actors, etc.  But clearly I underestimated you, because you rightly identified these characteristics as important elements of Reitz’s style.  And while we may not have found a coherent answer for why he would use such a deliberately amateurish style, we’ve already made significant inroads into our analysis of the series, inroads that we will build on next week.

While talking to you, I did however notice that Reitz’s entire notion of “Heimat” was even more alien to you than I had anticipated.  So for this week’s discussion question, I want to once again ask you to engage in some personal reflection.  Share with us some concrete anecdote that epitomizes what “home” means for you.  Did any of the events depicted in the first episode trigger memories of your own childhood?  Something that made you think: “oh yeah, I did something like that too?”  I realize the distance between rural Germany in 1919 and your own American upbringing in the 1990s is vast, but that’s the point: we’re trying to find common ground here.  You can write about whatever you want, but be as specific as possible.

If this question strikes you as being too personal, here’s an alternate one.  The title of Monday’s episode was Fernweh, which the English version renders competently as “The Call of Faraway Places.”  The German term Fernweh is actually an antonym of Heimweh, meaning “homesickness.”  As first year college students, you probably all have some understanding of what homesickness means.  But what would it mean to literally be sick with longing for far-away places?  Can you think of any non-Heimat related examples that would illustrate such a condition?

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6 responses to “A Sense of Belonging

  1. What does “home” mean to me? Thinking of one scene in particular of this week’s screening, the one where the boy almost sets the house on fire, reminds me of a story about my family and my home. No, I didn’t burn my childhood house to the ground, thankfully. But, I can remember countless episodes involving the smoke detector. You see, the previous owners of my first home had, for some reason, decided to install the smoke detector immediately outside the kitchen. So, if anything in the oven even came close to burning, or if any pot even looked like bubbling over, or even if the kitchen just got too hot, the smoke detector would go off. And let me tell you, it was the loudest alarm. Seriously, the whole neighborhood would be alerted to the fact that the Spears were cooking dinner. So, some of my earliest memories involve Mom in the kitchen standing over the stove, my brother and I playing on the kitchen’s tile floor, and Dad standing on a chair in the hallway with rolled up newspaper fanning the air near the smoke detector.
    And sure, it’s just a silly memory that doesn’t have anything to do with the major events of my childhood, but it’s one of the million little details that made that house my home.

  2. One thing that almost every first year college student fears is the thought of being away from home and the chances of feeling “homesick”. You are being taken out of the comforts of life at home and thrown essentially into a new “world”, which is far from your home. So, who wouldn’t be at least a little worried about that? After all, college is something totally different from anything that one has experienced before. I think one thing that every college freshman looks for is a new “home” at school. It’s not necessarily to replace the one that they are leaving behind, but more so to feel comfortable in their new surroundings. It is tough to leave behind family and friends and go into the unknown, where almost everyone is a stranger. No one wants to feel left out or uncomfortable, or even worse in “homesick”. Everyone is looking to fit in and make a new “home” for themselves.

  3. Many people think of home as the place that they grew up, where they spent their childhood, and where they graduated from high school. Recently, I was caught with a different view. So, what do I now call home? Talking to my parents, as I was ready to head back to college, I said, “alright, I think I’ve got everything ready to go back home.” I didn’t even notice this difference, but my parents laid notice to the fact. But, in truth, college has become my home, it’s where I live, where my favorite possessions reside, and where my friends are. College has already brought many changes, but until recently, I didn’t realize how much it had changed my perception of home.

  4. The small-town feel that pervades “Heimat” appealed to me, perhaps because it reminded me of a few places that I’ve lived or gone to school in. That sense of community—of knowing everyone’s name and business, of knowing a place inside and out, of feeling a connection to your hometown—is a special thing. Like Paul, I also know what it’s like to leave a place you’ve called home, and to return to find that it hasn’t changed very much—but you have.
    The abrupt, jumpy editing of “Heimat” also struck a chord with me. When we first see Paul, he is a young man returning from war; less than an hour later, he has settled down with a wife and family. A lot of the “in-between” action is cut from the series. When I visit Escondido, Bethlehem, or anther place I called home in my childhood, I’m always struck by how similar the towns themselves are, but how much the people have grown. Kids grow up, neighbors move, families are created and split up—and it may be one, two, or, in Escondido’s case, 7 years until I get to witness these things firsthand. It’s then that I wonder what else I’ve missed out on in my absence.
    The difference between Paul’s hometown at the beginning of the first episode, and years down the line at the end, are minor. The changes that occur in Paul, his sister Pauline, and the other townspeople, however, are vast. We only see the before and after, however (not the transformation). That makes for slightly-confusing television, but from personal experience, I can say it’s even more strange and disorienting in reality.

  5. Though not truly from my childhood, Paul’s homecoming reminded me a lot of my brother’s first time home after being away at college. We knew he was coming, unlike Paul’s, so it was a big to-do. We had to clean the whole house and clear all of our stuff out of his room and make sure everything was perfect for his arrival. But besides that, his arrival at the house was very much like my brothers. Everyone fawned over him and made his favorite meals and my grandparents stopped by to say hello and everyone was so excited for him to be home. But like for Paul, being home for my brother wasn’t really like being at home. He had become so accustomed to his new life at school that coming home made him feel like a stranger. Now he spends most of his time away from home, and hopefully for Paul coming soon, has found a place that has become more of a home.

  6. I can also relate to the small town feel that Christina mentioned. My family is originally from Malta. The island is the size of the San Francisco Bay (which interestingly and relevantly means more to me than to you because that is close to home #3 for me) so needless to say, you are seeing the same people over and over again each day. The particular instance in Heimat that made me think back to Malta was when Paul’s mother kept asking him to eat food right when he returned then everyone proceeded to update him on what he had missed.

    Every time I return to Malta my grandma tells me how skinny I am (she actually took the time a few weeks ago to write me a letter telling me I need to eat more in college) and then puts mountains of food in front of me and begins to talk about all the change that is happening in Malta. She complains about all the refugees coming to Malta, about the electricity prices going up, and of course, about the nationalist government. All I can do is sit there and take it all in.

    While I don’t sit there with a PTSD style gaze I am overwhelmed by all that she tells me – all that I missed when I was away from home.

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