by Rowan Charlton
“Papas Kino ist tot!” read the flyers from the film students. This brave statement from them also acted as an advertisement for their anti-films. They were stamped all over Munich, including at the top of Saint Peter’s Church, overlooking Marienplatz (see photo of it in September 2022). Time was changing in the 1960s with the clash of the youths and their elders – the authority figures that held no real grasp.
“Dad’s movies are dead”. In the twenty first century, this is a truer fact than before.
In July 2022 I cancelled my cinema membership after nine years of monthly payments and access to unlimited movies. I saw hundreds. I saw fantastic ones. I saw awful ones. I saw American ones, British ones, Swedish, Korean, German. Hollywood, Bollywood, independent. There were exclusive screenings and discounts and secret screenings that gave an exciting and nervous anticipation as we did not know what the film was until it started. I saw any movie to get my money’s worth, and for about just over seven years I did.
I do not recognise the film industry anymore. Am I becoming older, and my movies are dead? The cinema has been oversaturated with superheroes and one-liners that the Hollywood film-by-committee believe can be a solid joke. I do not remember the last new film I laughed at or cried at. My only laughter and tears come from films over or almost twenty years old. My movies are dead.
Six years ago, I bought the film, “Das Boot” (1981) off Amazon. A film I had always heard great things about. I bought the extended television cut, and over one weekend afternoon I devoured it in one go. I binged it like the modern fashion has been since Netflix. A couple of days later Amazon recommended me another German film that it strangely did not even have in stock. I researched this movie, and it looked like a movie calling to me.
When I was studying film at University I worked hard in my Screenwriting lessons, ultimately gaining the highest grade out of anyone in my year for my writing. I developed a story that focused on almost anti-cinema itself. It came from when I realised all historical dramas or war films from America or England were all patriotic in a way and one-sided. The stories were obvious with its clear good versus evil and I never saw a story from the opposite perspective, at least not yet.
The story I devised started a few months before the start of the Great War and focused on an orphaned German boy. He was discovered on the edge of death covered in snow and saved by a political figure and adopted into their family. Instead of a phoenix rising from the ashes, my character is saved from the freezing Winter snow. And I wanted my story to focus on him and this family before, during and after the Great War, which would cause loss to the family. It would then move through time at different parts during their lives. It would look at the events before the Second World War, the impact it has on the German people instead of typical good-verses-evil Western view on the war, which I believe disregards the actual lost life on the German side too. My story would end in 1982 when my main character would pass away.
At the time I originally wrote this, I never knew of Edgar Reitz’s “Heimat”. And it was this film that appeared on my Amazon recommendation. A film that felt as if it was calling to me. I saw the trilogy DVD box sets being sold on eBay soon after. I took chance and bought them. This was the first start of my eventually growing “Heimat” collection (see photo for my collection mid-2021).
I remember the opening clearly with its striking theme (see photo featuring the remastered first film and its poster hanging behind). It struck a chord in me. Paul Simon arriving home at the end of the Great War to a home he does not fully recognise. He had survived the war but at what cost of the horrors he has seen? Back home the quick family gossip begins. His brother continues to have a dodgy lung, (“Eduard, your lung!”). Nothing had really changed for them. And yet here was Paul seeing a spirit. It is never fully established what the line is between life, death, and the afterlife. The film never directly says, “yes, this is an actual spirit talking to Paul”. It leaves it up to the viewers interpretation and personal faith. Did Paul see the spirit of his friend or was he simply hallucinating from exhaustion? It is left up to the viewers interpretation, and here within the opening moments of the entire fifteen-hour movie, it establishes the groundwork.
“Heimat” is a film that feels so grounded in reality with its strong direction and writing that it feels like I am a spirit myself observing this family through the years and decades. The black and white gives it an older feeling and the spark of colour triggers an emotion or memory. The images and sounds of the film have become imprinted on me that one time I was at the gym running on a treadmill and behind me I heard a familiar clanging. The sound of metal being drummed together like in Mathias smithy. This is the first colour we see in “Heimat”, with the warm fiery glow. And I had to stop myself on the treadmill and look back over my shoulder to see it was only a weight machine. But as the sound first went out it striked a memory in me that is not even mine. In my mind I saw the forge and the clanging of the hammer on warm metal. My memory felt distorted from fact and fiction within those moments.
In the opening moments of “Die Zweite Heimat” after Hermann declares he will love never again, his wardrobe door swings open and Hermann glances over his shoulder and at his own reflection from the mirror inside of the door. He was seeing himself from a opposite perspective. This direction happens a few times through the film, almost as if time has stopped for him and the life he has been living is a memory and his future self is looking back. This is something I have experienced myself – a sort of imposter syndrome.
I have enjoyed movies and television programmes since I was a child. I was born in 1993, months after “Die Zweite Heimat” was released. I was raised in the West Midlands, approximately half-an-hour from Birmingham city centre. I grew up in a family with girls, so most of the films I watched at an early age were ones they wanted to watch. I wanted to discover more movies and see what else was out there. When I was 15 or 16-years-old I watched my first foreign-language movie with English subtitles. This was the “Ju-On: The Grudge” (2002). To note, I had watched Japanese anime movies before with my cousins, but these were always English dubbed. The film that made me realise how fantastic foreign cinema could be was when I first watched the Swedish adaptation of, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2009) in 2010. My first subtitled movie I saw at the cinema was “Troll Hunter” (2011). Some of my absolute favourite movies are foreign language. These include “Let the Right One In” (2008), “The Orphanage” (2007) and “Metropolis” (1927). I have seen the latter at the cinema when it had a slightly extended remastered release close to ten years ago.
Regarding more of my childhood and growing up, I did not have many friends. I lacked a lot of confidence and would work quietly. It was not until 2009, when I started college and studied Media, Film and Television, that I came out of my shell more as I grew with confidence. I remember when I was at school, I asked an older student if I would ever gain confidence and he told me that I would. I gained hope one day my anxieties and low confidence would disappear. After four years at college, I naturally in 2013 moved out and went to study Film Production at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham. I did not attend Freshers like every other student or go out drinking. That was not for me. I did not find the idea of nightclubs and staying out late comfortable. While many other students would come back to their halls or student house with six packs of beer and be skint for a few weeks, I’d arrive back with actual food to live on. While at University I watched the documentary, “Educating Essex” and its sequels. I very much enjoyed the portrayal of a school and how every day was different. This was when I had my first inkling of a future career.
After gaining my film qualification in 2015 I had a time of limbo. I was not sure how I could continue with film as I was more of a writer and producer myself. I moved house and in 2016 I found a job working at a college as a learning support assistant. I would help and support teenagers with special educational needs. They might have autism, or dyspraxia, or need personal care help with toileting. Some students are mute, others have a visual impairment. I have worked well and had a lot of success. I have dealt with incredibly poor behaviour, cried over safeguarding concerns and contemplating leaving a few times. But there was always something that kept me working there. During the pandemic it got me thinking about my career, and that September once work had started back up, I supported a boy who studied Media Level 2 for most of the year when we were not isolating or working from home due to another pandemic lockdown. I thought at this time, I could teach this course. I thought it during every lesson. Then in September 2021, I went back to university, this time at the University of Worcester to start teacher training.
Linking back to “Heimat”, this imposter syndrome I felt and still feel as a teacher. I am left alone in a classroom full of sixteen-year-old students. These students are the target audience for the modern films I no longer enjoy. And I teach them film theory, auteur theory, colour theory. We look at the importance of film. And just like Hermann mentoring Tommy in Part 5 of “Die Zweite Heimat”, I encourage my students to be the best person they can be. I treat them equal. I incorporate diverse material in my teaching. I make sure I talk to each one of them. I become a trusted adult. But I still feel like an imposter. Am I really here sharing my knowledge to them?
In the United Kingdom, right now in 2022, the living costs are rising but our salaries remain low. We are told we can save money if we give up on Netflix and avocado on toast. The government is an embarrassment and I believe whoever is outside of the country looking back at us might not understand how we do not do anything and sit by. It is typical British fashion for us to complain and do nothing. We sit by and vent our frustrations on social media. It has become part of our culture and is in our English blood. But how can we do anything about it? For myself, as one person, I cancelled my cinema pass. Not only will it save me money but will cause a miniscule noticeable loss to the film industry. Dad’s movies are dead. Films have been failing at the box office. Disney+ releases anything they own onto their streaming platform approximately six weeks after the cinema release. When I was a child, it would take close to a year for a film to be released on video and DVD. I did not see the film, “Lightyear” as I knew it would be on Disney+ in a few weeks and judging by the film’s box office so did a lot of people. Cinema was my home once spiritually and the UK is physically my home. But I do not feel at home in either place anymore…
“Die Zweite Heimat” focuses on characters who are around the same age I am. They are living in Munich to study, work and find themselves. You have Renate who due to meeting Hermann follows his circles and starts her dream of being an actor. In the second part we see Renate mouthing along to the song “Fine and Mellow” and lyrics, “My man don’t love me. Treats me oh so mean”. Hermann is oblivious to her love and feels embarrassed when she talks to him when he himself is talking to Clarissa. Him and Clarissa are two strangers who fell in love at first sight, but both do not fully recognise this at the start. You have the talented Juan who later falls into depression. The film students Stefan, Ansgar, Rob and Reinhard. Ansgar who we see to be abusing Olga but later seems to be the best boyfriend with Evelyne. We also meet Helga, who is to me the most tragic character. She sort of feels like introverted and sits observing the others who she cannot fully see as friends yet. She somehow falls in love with Hermann, and it is implied she is a virgin at twenty-three when she asks her slightly older friend Marianne if it is better to sleep for the first time with someone you find attractive or sleep with someone you love. And after a series of negative world and personal events that shape Helga, by the final hours of this epic film, Hermann and Clarissa see her more as a stranger than a friend.
I can relate to these characters, some in more ways than others. The way Hermann does not realise he is wasting time until it is too late. Juan’s depression and help from Elizabeth Cerphal. Ansgar’s anger with his family. The way Helga feels like a stranger in the end. I myself have been oblivious to encounters I had with peers at university. Just before the pandemic I had several months of depression that I was fortunately able to receive help with. If it started during the pandemic I do not know if I would still be here. To me, the themes of friends and family and home, wherever you make it, are timeless to me. I do not know why Amazon recommended me these movies even though it did not have them in stock. However, I am glad it did.
“Heimat” became a comfort movie to me, and by the third film (HEIMAT 3) it was like meeting up with old friends. I loved seeing an older Hermann and Clarissa and seeing them settle down. It brought me a lot of comfort, and after having felt I had known them their entire life, I gained this huge connection to these characters. These fictional characters felt as real to me as real people. In a way, I have known Hermann his entire life. From his conception to his affair and heartbreak with Klärchen. From his childish forbidding to ever fall in love again to eventually falling in love with Clarissa. To his other relationships and friendships. And then seeing him as a middle-aged man. As “Heimat” acts as a snapshot of life, I really have as a viewer gotten to know him. He is so real to me, that I wonder what him and even Clarissa would be doing in 2022. They were born around the 1940s. They could still be alive. Would they be happily retired and living in that beautiful house he built in the third movie? I even worried what if Clarissa’s cancer returned? Could she have passed away? Would they have even survived the Covid-19 pandemic? These are questions that I find myself getting emotional over. Yes, they are fictional, but to me they are so real as these films are so well-lived. I am such an admirer that I have even acted as the main editor for its English Wikipedia page. I have a lot of work to do still, but that is all from me!
I remember when I found out the first film had a remaster in Germany. I could not believe it would ever get a release in the UK, but when it did, I had never been so excited. I pre-ordered the remastered Blu-Ray straight away. And for years I wondered would “Die Zweite Heimat” receive the same treatment? I did find out it was in the process of a restoration, and almost a year ago, I sent an email to “Edgar Reitz Filmstifung” declaring my admiration of the movies and asking when the remaster might be released. I received this response (see image). I was very excited. But when would I get to see this? I wondered. I had patience, as I knew I would one day. Then, in early August 2022, I saw a post about it being complete and having a premiere over the weekend of 17th-18th September in Munich. I had to go. There was no question. The director and cast were going to be there. On the Sunday morning Henry Arnold and Salome Kammer were going to perform a musical piece. It would be like seeing Hermann and Clarissa perform!
I do not earn much in my job role as a learning support assistant. I am trying to save up for a house. I only have a few hundred pounds in my bank, not including the small amount of money I have saved. But I needed to go to Munich. I had to. I have never gone anywhere myself before alone. I have never done a long journey alone. I was always too quiet and introverted to do this. But without hesitation, I booked a plane ticket followed by an AirBNB. I was going to Munich to watch, “Die Zweite Heimat” over that weekend. For the rest of the August summer when I was not working, I watched the movie again. I even made detailed notes on the first five films which ended up totalling seventeen pages.
My father dropped me off at Birmingham Airport at 4:30am on the morning of Saturday, September 17th. It was the same day as my niece’s birthday. She turned two. It was over the same weekend of the final days of mourning for the loss of our Queen Elizabeth II. I would have gone to London to pay my respects, but I had already booked this weekend. My flight into Munich arrived precisely on time. I had watched YouTube videos and used Google Maps in the weeks leading up to this trip on how to travel through Munich. I caught the train and got off at Marienplatz. As I walked up, alone into this city I looked around at the architecture with a smile. Here I was, alone in a place I had not visited before. I had come to this city for the love of a movie that was filmed here. I walked for two hours slowly looking around and got caught in the rain. The one thing I forgot to bring was an Umbrella, and I was soaked. On the long walk up a straight road to my AirBNB I went undercover for a few moments. It was the University of Music. This was where Hermann and the others studied. I looked through the closed door windows and could see the staircase. I would come back here on Monday, I told myself (see photo from Monday 19th). This place was built in the 1930s and was called the Führer’s building. It was surreal to be in a place where Adolf Hitler was and I walked the same steps that type of man did.
Before checking into my AirBNB I went to the Astor Film Lounge, the cinema where “Die Zweite Heimat” was being played. I picked up my tickets. I only spoke English. They must have thought I was a sight with my wet face and hair (see photo selfie with the film poster). And a few hours later, I returned to the cinema dry with my smart shoes I had packed and dry trousers after I used a hairdryer on them. My seat was next to a man called Ronald, who I asked if he spoke English. He did to my fortune. I told him I had travelled from England to see this film just that very morning. I spoke to him, as I knew we had some shared interest already with the movie. I was glad to make an acquittance here. I do not speak German, part of my own ignorance and the British educational system not putting language on us more. This film had no English subtitles, but I did not need them. I have watched the films enough to know what is going on without subtitles now.
While I was sat in my seat, I saw Edgar Reitz, Henry Arnold, and Salome Kammer! I never would have dreamed I would see them with my own eyes. I had to be rightly correctly for mispronouncing Salome’s name. They talked to the crowd, in German of course. But before I sat down, I saw a professional camera and asked the cameraman, Patrick where the footage was going to go. It was going onto the DVD and Blu-Ray he told me. So, I knew one day I would be able to watch these events back with English subtitles, unless I learn to speak the language first! (See photo for the cast appearing at the end of the night).
After the film I introduced myself briefly to Christian Reitz and praised the remastered quality. I also stutteringly said hello to Salome Kammer, who thought it was interesting I came from England! She told the media team Patrick and Simon about me. And later that evening they interviewed me! I was stuck on camera and had a microphone put on me. I almost did not know what to say, but Patrick kept giving me thumbs-up as a direction to what I was saying was all good. They wanted me to introduce myself, say I travelled from England. I ended up rambling, but I hope in a positive way about my love for the film and what it means to me. Simon, who later told me he had interviewed Edgar Reitz for seven days, said I answered all his questions in one go. They were both very nice and welcoming and could see my enthusiasm. I passed them my contact details and they said I would be emailed with a release form to sign. Maybe I would make it onto the DVD? If not, I hope they can send me the footage though of me.
The following day I arrived for Edgar Reitz’s book reading. It was part of the weekend package ticket. I made out a few words and names, but not enough to gather a full picture. I was here for the experience though. To start the day Henry Arnold and Salome Kammer performed songs, including the one about stranger’s eyes meeting. There was Edgar Reitz being interviewed and Henry Arnold reading from the book. From the audience reactions I could tell it was a unique book with humour. I bought it myself. I can use the Google Translate app and hover my phone camera over it and it automatically does a translation. It is never exact and perfect, but it gets the job done and I can understand more than enough. I did this with some of the “Heimat” books I have.
After the reading had finished, I had to introduce myself to Edgar Reitz otherwise I would regret it. After another audience member was talking to him inside the screen, I approached him and said how I travelled from England for this movie. It means a lot to me as I relate to a lot of the characters and the struggles they go through. Edgar Reitz seemed a bit positively taken back by me being a younger fan, and to him a foreign-fan! (see photo taken in the cinema screen by heimat123.de website owner, Thomas). This was my first of two meetings with Edgar I was fortunate to have, as within the next hour I was able to get the autobiography book by him signed, and the “Heimat 2” DVD English booklet I brought along with me.
When I talked to him at the book signing, I repeated what I said and talked about how I feel like Hermann on my journey from England. He travelled far from home to Munich for the arts and I travelled here from England for “Heimat” which I also see as full art. This is the first time I have ever travelled alone. Am I confident traveller? Not particularly, but I made myself because this is where I wanted to be. He seemed moved and very appreciative, almost a bit taken back as from what I can gather the film does not have many younger and new audiences anymore. He was happy to listen to me praise his film, as he could see the impact it had on me. His assistant Anna, who I found out later was the one who emailed me back last December, took a photo of me and him.
It was so lovely to meet him. I am not bothered about Hollywood celebrities. I have been to Comic Cons in the UK and seen some stars, but I have never really fancied meeting them. It was cool to see these people with my eyes, but then I moved on. But here I met Edgar Reitz. Why his name is not on the list of influential film makers I do not know, but boy am I going to make his name known more.
Later on I managed to get a photo with Henry Arnold (who, according to Google, shares the same birthday as me – May 10th!), Salome Kammer and Daniel Smith. Thomas, the owner of heimat123.de, kindly introduced Daniel Smith to me. And I spoke to Daniel about how I loved his character Juan, especially with what I felt was a realistic portrayal of Juan’s depression.
On the Monday 19th my AirBNB host nicely let me stay longer to watch the Queen’s funeral. After the main service at midday I went and walked Munich for four hours. I walked to the Edgar Reitz Film Studio offices which is five minute’s walk from the University of Music. It was closed, but I looked through the window and saw shelves of “Heimat” material from books to DVDs and CDs. Oh, I hope they can sell those, and they are not just for display. I then walked to Königsplatz and sat where Juan and Hermann do in the first part of “Die Zweite Heimat”. I then went to the Univeristy, and while I could not sadly go in, the man on reception nicely let me take a photo through the window.
I walked round the city more, and took some of the other photos I have shared above. I walked to the English Garden. Tried to take a photo of the Monopteros and replicating a shot from when Hermann or Juan pass it. And then, after hours of walking around Munich alone and understanding the Geography of the city which would allow me to understand exactly where the characters are in future viewings, I left for the train back to the airport. Instead of a decade in Munich like Hermann, I only had a weekend. I wondered what areas I walked down that the characters also did but I simply did not recognise them due to change since filming. I would have loved to visit the Foxholes, and I will see it at some point. I heard about another festival in a few weeks. I wish I could travel down for that but realistically I could not afford another trip right now. I can only go home, continue “Die Zweite Heimat” from part 6 to the end and be happy.
My praises of these movies have been overly announced to my own friends and family, who have yet to give the films a chance. I find it strange though, as we live in a time with video streaming platforms and how binge-viewing is encouraged. My parents were able to binge several “Game of Thrones” episodes in one go. My friends can binge “Mad Men”. The closest success I had was with the Netflix German show, “Dark”. In the weeks before the third and final season of the show was released, I convinced my partner to watch it and they loved it. And on the release date of the third season during the pandemic we binged the entire thing in one go. At the end, I was almost in tears at this phenomenal and rewarding television programme with a rich and smart science fiction drama storyline.
Perhaps if “Heimat” was on video streaming platforms, especially with the full beautiful and sharp remaster of both, it would gain new and potential younger audiences who can also relate to the characters such as I do. Edgar Reitz to me is as big of film maker as Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick (who had watched and loved “Heimat” by the way!), Ingmar Bergman and Krzysztof Kieślowski. I have a colleague whose daughter binges South Korean dramas on Netflix. And after the success of “Squid Games” and “Parasite” there has been a huge surge of interest in South Korean media and foreign-language television shows in general. Western audiences love anime and there are always hard debates whether to watch dubbed or subtitled. There is love for foreign cinema in the world, and “Heimat” needs to be re-discovered as it is overdue new love. I have one colleague who watched the film decades ago and remembers it well but also very little about it. My friend told me his aunt who loves foreign drama is watching it right now and was praising it. I need to meet his aunt! Dad’s movies may be dead, and a film like “Heimat” may never be made again, but it does not need to remain with its cult and niche audiences. I just hope it can gain new audiences. And with the remaster of “Die Zweite Heimat” I hope Second Sight can release it in the UK just like they did with the first a few years ago. When the remaster premiere was first announced, I tweeted the popular independent cinemas that they need to show this once it makes its way to England, and I hope they can.
© Rowan Charlton, 22.09.2022
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