The social web can lead you in strange directions. Some months ago, Chris Bertram mentioned German director Edgar Reitz’ Heimat trilogy in a Tweet and it struck me that I had watched the original Heimat on TV back in the 1980s and Heimat 3 some years ago, but for whatever reason Zweite Heimat – Reitz’ portayal of a group of young artists coming of age in Munich during the 1960s – had eluded me. I have no idea why: Perhaps it was just the effort needed to follow a TV series in thirteen parts, each of which lasts two hours (with the exception of one episode lasting two and a half hours!), which overwhelmed me back in the mid-1990s.
So I decided to make a search on Amazon.de and sure enough: The entire Heimat trilogy was available as a massive 18 DVD set. Time to order, wait for the postman and to get watching.
On a curious note: Despite being screened in the early 1990s, the edition of Zweite Heimat had no subtitles – not a big deal to me as long as the characters speak High German, but when they began speaking Bavarian or Pfälsisch I was competely and utterly lost.
Zweite Heimat is a very strange experience: In many ways, it must be one of the most ambitious TV series ever made, and despite all the developments in the production of US TV series during the last 15 years (cue: Sopranos), I find it hard to imagine a mainstream TV channel take on a similar project today. It simply doesn’t fit easily into any of the predesigned formats preferred by today’s executives. It is slow, it is highly stylized and theatrical and as far as I can see, the interplay between picture, word and music takes its cues from the post-war musical avantgarde. Somehow, it could only have been made in Germany – not just because of some of the themes (the heritage from the Nazi era, the 1968 rebellion turned into terrorism), but also because it fits into what I see as a particular German theatrical and musical aesthetic. The series may look naturalistic but in many ways we move between a real and an imagined world – Hermann Simon’s journey through a Germany in social, political and personal upheaval during the last episode is a major case in point.
It is as much meditation as drama and this is why the individual episodes have to be long in traditional TV terms.
But for those who would like to make the journey through a (West) Germany of what is now the distant past, here are some of my cues:
Obviously, the main character Hermann Simon experience the same development most of us do during our youth: From a not quite mature 20 year old, uncertain of his future, to more weathered 30 year old, finding himself in a position much different from what he had imagined ten years earlier.
We find the old dynamic of an unhappy love story: Quirky Renate loves Hermann who is in love with beautiful Clarissa who marries Hermann’s friend Volker. Hermann instead marries hometown girl gone city girl Waltraud aka Schnüsschen while Stefan longs for distant Helga who almost becomes his bane.
Interestingly, even if Reitz may have built the series around the male protagonists, it is the women who stand out. Perhaps this is because the role of women – even in conservative Germany – changed so much during the 1960s. Clarissa, the cello player, becomes involved in a travelling collective of female performers, Schnüsschen takes up sociology while Renate becomes an inn-keeper presenting absurd theatre plays. Finally, Helga joins the RAF becoming one of the hard women of the terrorist left. The men almost strike me as bland in comparison.
And then there is the music which is a far cry from the standard Hollywood fare being used (and especially abused) in most movies and TV series an an integral part of the narrative. I really can’t describe it in a competent way, but the soundtrack is that of the 1960s avantgarde. I suspect that what people who – like me – are not from Germany or Central Europe fail to understand intuitively is the role played by art music in modern bourgeois culture – not just in terms of specific compositions but also in terms of music as an essential part of that culture.