Heimat  -- Chronicle of Germany (1985)

 

 

Director:  Edgar Reitz

Starring:  Marliese Assmann (Apollonia), Eva Maria Bayerwaltes (Pauline), Helga Bender (Martina), Gabriele Blum (Lotti), Roland Bongard, Gertrud Bredel (Katharina), Marita Breuer (Maria), Willi Burger (Mathias), Peter Harting (Hermann), Otto Henn (Glockzieh), Jrg Hube (Otto Wohlleben), Michael Kausch (Ernst), Karin Kienzler (Pauline), Mathias Kniesbeck (Anton), Manfred Khn (Wirt), Gudrun Landgrebe (Klrchen), Arno Lang (Robert Krber), Zarah Leander (Zarah Leander), Michael Lesch (Paul Simon), Johannes Lobewein (Wiegand), Johannes Metzdorf (Pieritz), Karin Rasenack (Lucie), Jrg Richter (Hermann), Gerd Rigauer (Obergefreiter Gschrey), Dieter Schaad (Paul), Hans-Jrgen Schatz (Wilfried), Eva Maria Schneider (Marie-Goot), Alexander Scholz (Hnschen), Kurt Wagner (Glasisch Karl), Sabine Wagner (Martha), Wolfram Wagner (Maethes-Pat), Rdiger Weigang (Eduard).

Heimat means homeland.  11 episodes follows a woman named Maria from the village Schabbach, on the Hunsrueck in Germany, through the years 1919-1982 covering such issues: WWI and its aftermath; the rise of Hitler; WWII; the fall of Hitler; the rebuilding of Germany; and the return of prosperity to the village.

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Each section is introduced by a narrator, Glasisch.

Episode 1:  The Call of Far-Away Places (1919-1928). 

1918 (November) --  World War I ends.

1919 --  the Weimar Republic is set up at Weimar, Germany. 

Katharina and Mathias Simon live in the small village of Schabbach in the Hunsrick area of Germany.  They have three children: Eduard, Pauline and Paul.  Eduard has health problems with his lungs and has to be careful with his body.  Following the end of World War II, Paul Simon walks at least part of the way home to his little village.  He sees his father busy at his blacksmithing duties as usual.  Dad doesn't skip a hammer blow when his son shows up suddenly.  Paul just joins in the hammering.  His mother and sister are more excited about seeing him, but their reaction it is still somewhat subdued from what one might expect on such an occasion.  Paul's response is also very subdued.  It's as if he were still in the POW camp in France from which he was released.  Perhaps he felt as if he was simply going from one prison to another kind of prison.  The people of the village start to show up at Paul's house and they are much more excited than any of the Simons, at least outwardly, to see Paul return. 

Paul starts to fall in love with Apollonia.  This again indicates an attitude of distance from the village because Apollonia, who is called a gipsy for her ways and her darker features, has been socially ostracized by the village for her fraternization with a Frenchman.  Apollonia even gets pregnant by the Frenchman.  She likes Paul saying that he is the only village resident who is nice to her.  One day she actually asks Paul to run away with her by staying on the train with her instead of getting off at Schabbach and settle elsewhere.  Paul is a bit tempted, but he settles for caution and returns to his home. 

And then all of a sudden Paul marries the lovely Maria, the daughter of the wealthy town mayor Wiegand and brother to the egotistical and somewhat sadistic Wilfried.  They have two sons, Anton and Ernst.  Paul becomes a real radio enthusiast and builds his own radio, which takes some doing since the small village does not have most of the components.  He then puts on a little picnic concert with some of the villagers, the radio providing the entertainment.  The villagers are enchanted to hear the music on the radio and Paul is seen as a kind of local hero for his accomplishment.

Just when it seems that Paul is adjusting somewhat to village life, one day he just simply walks away from the village without one word to anyone.  (This is just after a bit of symbolism with his setting a trap for a bothersome pine marten.  To Paul the village was his trap.)

1923  --  inflation explodes prices upward creating great problems in Germany.  Adolf Hitler's Munich Putsch fails and he is imprisoned.  In prison he writes his Mein Kampf (My Struggle).  

 

Episode 2.  The Center of the World (1928-1933).

1929  -- the Great Depression begins further impoverishing the less fortunate Germans.  This puts great pressure on the ill-equipped Weimar democracy. 

1932  --  unemployment is now extremely high.  The fascist private army, the SA, with its brownshirts spreads violence in city streets.  The Nazi Party makes headway in elections.

1933.  Hitler becomes Reich Chancellor.  The Reichstag burns and the fascists blame it on the communists.  Hitler gets sweeping powers to handle the "threat". This finishes the weak Weimar Republic.  A reign of terror begins giving Hitler all the power. 

Eduard, Paul's younger brother, has developed tuberculosis and he is sent to Berlin for special treatment.  He is a little slow emotionally, often appearing way too naive about life.  Standing outside a brothel, some of the prostitutes strike up a conversation with Eduard.  He seems so sweet and innocent that they invite him into the house.  Eduard has no idea where he is, but he enjoys the attention that he receives.  The madam Lucie takes an almost immediate liking to him and she has sex with Eduard.  Eduard unknowingly misleads Lucie into thinking that he is a member of the landed gentry.  Lucie almost immediately marries Eduard. 

Hitler is starting to become more well-known and powerful in Germany.   The villagers get excited about celebrating Hitler's birthday.  It seems the only one with any real sense in the village is Katharina Simon, the mother of Paul.  She is a down-to-earth, no nonsense woman with a big loving heart for her own children and other people.  Katharina is very skeptical of this Hitler character and she decides to get of the village rather than stick around for the Hitler worship.  She visits her brother in Bochum.  Her nephew Fritz is said to be a communist and he is arrested and sent to a camp where he is to be "reeducated".  Katharina takes Fritz's young daughter, blond-headed Lotti, with her back to Schabbach as part of her family.  Back home Katharina is further upset with all the Hitler mania.  She asks her grandson Anton to tell everyone he has a weak heart and to never put on any kind of  fascist-inspired uniform. 

 

Episode 3.  The Best Christmas Ever (1935).

From Berlin the sickly Eduard brings his wife Lucie home to Schabbach.  Lucie is an extremely ambitious woman and wants her husband to rise politically.  She constantly henpecks poor Eduard to figure out a way to become more and more successful.  Eduard's real love, however, is his photography.  He is always taking pictures of all kinds of village events and village people.  But Lucie pushes him to become a prominent local person in the Nazi Party. 

Lucie gets Eduard to borrow money from a Jewish banker (despite the hatred of Hitler for the Jews) with which she builds her "dream" house which is the most prominent house in the village. Eduard soon becomes mayor and Lucie revels in her role as the village's first lady, constantly entertaining Nazi party officials so that Eduard will be able to rise even higher in the fascist power hierarchy.  Christmas Time, 1935 Lucie is sitting pretty and considers it the best Christmas ever. 

1935  -- the Nuremberg Laws strip Jewish people of their basic civil rights.  The Jews are becoming legally, socially and politically separated from the non-Jewish Germans.  Inter-faith marriage, or even sexual relations, with Jews is strictly forbidden. 

 

Episode 4.  The Highway (1938).

1938  --  to escape the politically worsening situation in Germany, the famous German movie star Marlene Dietrich emigrates to the United States. A young Swedish girl named Zarah Leander with a lovely singing voice (whose grandparents were actually Jewish) becomes Dietrich's replacement.  Many of the women in Schabbach simply adore seeing a Zarah Leander romantic musical.  Maria, Paul's wife, and Pauline, Paul's sister, return from such a movie and have great fun as Pauline styles her hair in the Zarah Leander fashion. 

But Maria is still very sad.  It has been ten years since Paul left her and her two children: Anton and Ernst.  She is the only one of the family who still believes that Paul will return one day.  But she is very restless after so many years.  So it is no wonder that she responds so well to the family's new boarder, chief engineer Otto Wohlleben who is working on the new highway being built in the area.  Otto helps Ernst with the building and flying of model gliders and they develop a close relationship.  Otto fractures his right arm in three places and has to have his arm set in a cast.  Maria takes care of Otto and the two fall in love.   

 

Episode 5:  Up and Away and Back (1938-1939). 

1938 (June)  --  German heavy-weight boxer Max Schmeling loses badly in a rematch with American boxer Joe Louis.

A bombshell is dropped on Maria and Otto.  Paul Simon of Simon Electric Incorporated, Detroit, Michigan, USA, has written to Maria telling her that he is returning to Germany on August 30, 1939, two days before the start of World War II.  Paul wrote that he has been worried because of all the bad news about Germany in the press and wants to make sure his family is all right. 

Maria is devastated and almost panicky.  This could not have happened at a worse time, since she now loves Otto and no longer loves Paul.  In fact, she is very resentful of Paul who abandoned her and her two children.  But as the day of Paul's arrival arrives, Maria becomes so scared of the unknown that she sends Otto away.  Naturally, Otto is devastated by having to leave.  (Otto, because of some Jewish ancestors, is fired from his job as chief engineer.)

On August 30 Maria learns that Paul cannot get off the ship without proof of his Aryan ancestry.  To the fascists, the last name of Simon sounds too Jewish.  Paul has only three days to get the proof.  He talks with Maria on the phone about his problem.  Maria has Eduard try to get the necessary papers, but three days is just too little time to get the necessary proof.  Paul has to remain on the ship and then has to return to the United States.  Maria returns to her village without really seeing Paul.

1939 (September 1)  --  Hitler invades Poland starting World War II. 

1942  -- the Wannsee Conference fine tunes the Final Solution to eradicate European Jews. 

 

Episode 6.  The Home Front (1943). 

1943  --  the last large-scale German offensive assault on the eastern front begins at Kursk.  The military situation really begins to deteriorate for the Germans in the Soviet Union.  

Maria gave birth to a son by Otto, named Hermann, unbeknownst to the former chief engineer.   Both of Maria's older sons are in the German armed forces.  Anton works with the film camera unit in the Soviet Union.    Son Ernst has become an air cadet learning to fly fighter planes. 

Out of nowhere, Martha, the pregnant girlfriend of Anton, suddenly sows up at the Simon family home in Schabbach.  Big-hearted Katharine of course takes her in.  Martha and Maria becomes close friends.  Later a special proxy marriage by phone takes place between Martha and Anton.  In Russia, his film crew shoots his picture as the wedding by phone takes place. 

 

Episode 7.  Soldiers and Love (1944).

1944 (June 6)  --  the allied forces land on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. 

1944 (July 20)  --  would-be assassins plant a bomb which goes off near Hitler, but Hitler escapes death. 

1944 (August 25)  -- liberation of Paris. 

1944 (October 21)  --  Aachen is the first German city to fall to the Allies. 

Otto is in the area.  He joined the German armed forces and now works with the bomb disposal unit to defuse Allied bombs that have fallen onto German soil without exploding.  He and his friend Pieritz are now working in the Schabbach area.  On the job at the local air cadet training facility, Ernst recognizes Otto and speaks with him.  He tells Otto of his son Hermann by Maria.  After defusing a couple of bombs, Otto and Pieritz drive over to Maria's house.  Maria is stunned, but very pleased, to see him again and Otto meets his son.  Otto stays overnight in Maria's bed and they reunited even if for only a day. 

The next day Otto has to defuse a bomb near a railway station.  The 250 pound bomb explodes killing Otto and creating a huge crater.  Eduard is there to take a picture of some of the villagers standing by the crater.  

In Russia Anton is there when his film unit records German troops shooting Russian civilians.

Two American soldiers arrive to secure the home of Lucie and Eduard.

 

Episode 8.  The American (1944-1947). 

1945 (May 8)  --  Germany surrenders. 

Lucie sees the arrival of the Americans in Schabbach as just another opportunity for her to help Eduard move up in terms of economic and political power. 

Paul Simon is now able to return to Schabbach.  He shows up in the village with a black driver and a fancy automobile.  He, of course, stirs up a lot of attention in the village.  His father is already dead, but he meets with his mother Katharine.  Maria arrives later and she and Paul say hello but they remain across the room from each other.  Later, Paul tries to renew the relationship with his wife, but she is not really interested and tells him so.  Paul is not able to give her an answer to why he left her and the children so many years ago.  He only says that he does not really know. 

A woman named Klarchen shows up at the Simon house to falsely maintain that she is the girlfriend of Ernst, who told her she should go to Schabbach where his family would take care of her. 

Anton shows up at the house.  He walked thousands of miles from beyond the Urals to Turkey and Greece and back to Schabbach.  The family is happy but a bit surprised to see him. 

Ernst also returns home.  He was recovering in France for a while after the end of the war.  He gets involved in the black market and then marries the daughter of a wealthy family.  He uses his flying skills to flay a helicopter to earn money flying cut timber from the forest to the boats at the river docks, but the business is not really profitable. 

Before Paul returns home to America, he gives Anton enough money so that he can build an optical instrument factory in Schabbach. 

1949  --  Germany is divided into East and West Germany. 

1951  --  in what is called the Economic Miracle, West Germany (but not communist East Germany) prospers economically. 

 

Episode 9.  Little Hermann (1955-1956).

1955 --  West Germany joins NATO, while East Germany joins the Warsaw Pact. 

Maria absolutely dotes on her son Hermann.  She has great plans for him, wanting him to become very educated.  He is actually the first member of the family even to receive a grammar school education.  He is somewhat of a poet and wants to become a music composer.

The young Hermann is at the girl-crazy stage of his life.  He flirts a lot with the two women who live in the family home: Lotti and Klarchen.  He persistently and annoyingly pesters the two young women.  He is so persistent that the eleven-year older Klarchen starts to return his attention.  And when Klarchen starts kissing him, Lotti joins in with a hand job that leads to an orgasm for Hermann.  Klarchen and Hermann are soon in love with each other. 

Klarchen becomes pregnant by Hermann.  She goes to a clinic where she has an abortion.  She then leaves the village to protect both herself and Hermann from the possible consequences of a village scandal.  Hermann, however, visits Klarchen in Koblenz.  They try to keep the affair secret, but one day a letter is delivered to Maria from Klarchen to Maria's son Hermann.  Maria is very curious and opens the letter and discovers the affair.  Maria tells her son Anton.  Anton goes ballistic and the two of them gang up on Hermann when he returns home.  This only manages to make Hermann more alienated from his mother and his brother Anton.  (His Uncle Ernst was his ally and even agreed to act as middleman between Klarchen and Hermann. This creates a further rift in the relationship between Anton and Ernst.) 

Anton writes a nasty letter to Klarchen threatening her with prosecution for having sex with a minor.  The letter also explains that her employer has been informed of her conduct and she will soon be fired from her job as the children's caretaker.   

 

Episode 10:  The Proud Years (1967-1969). 

1968  --  there are student demonstrations and unrest in West Germany as in the rest of the West.

1969  --  Chancellor Willy Brantd opens negotiations with East Germany.  He is also the man who introduced color television to West Germany.  

A Dutch multi-national company was to buyout Anton's optical factory.  Anton seeks business advice from his father Paul when he learns that Paul is back in Germany.  Anton travels to the city where his father is working and surprises his father.  But the bigger surprise comes to Anton when he sees Hermann with his father.  Anton not only realizes that Hermann, who calls Paul "daddy", is working on his musical compositions with Paul but that they also have an extremely close relationship with one another.  Hermann acts very polite to Anton, despite the fact that Anton stole his beloved Klarchen from him, but he actually is rubbing his relationship with his father into Anton's face.  In a sense, Hermann stole Anton's father Paul just like Anton stole Klarchen from Hermann.  Anton is none too pleased.  His father advises Anton to sell the business and have fun spending money instead of having to work to make it, as he himself is currently doing.   But this advice is just not acceptable to Anton.  The entrepreneur loves his work in the optical field and knows that many Schabbach residents are dependent on his business. 

Upset, Anton leaves.  On the trip back he runs into his estranged brother Ernst.  Ernst agrees to take a ride with Anton and Anton agrees to let Anton give him a tour of his new contractor business working on improving the appearances of homes and businesses. 

The whole village gathers to listen to a radio broadcast of a musical composition by Hermann Simon.  But the concert is just too modern for most of the villagers, including Hermann's mother Maria.  Hermann visits his mother but Maria is struck more by their distance from one another than their closeness as mother and son.  There is obviously a generation gap in Germany, just as there was in the United States and other advanced industrial societies in the 1960s. 

 

Episode 11:  The Feast of the Living and the Dead (1982).

1982-1998  --  reign of Helmut Kohl as Chancellor of Germany.  He saw the destruction of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989) and the formal unification of West and East Germany (October 3, 1990). 

At the age of 82, Maria Simon dies.  The entire family, including Paul, attends the funeral and traditional feast in Maria's honor.  There are some real divisions among the three sons of Maria, but at the street fair they smooth over some of the hardest feelings. 

Upset by the death of so many of his friends, but especially over the death of Maria, Glasisch dies. 

 

Good movie.  Given the lack of German treatments of World War II, this covering of Germany from just after the end of World War I to 1982 is very welcome.  It is very interesting watching the changes in the Simon family over the many years from 1919 to 1982 as well as hearing of some of the various historical events during this period: the rise of Hitler, the tragedy of World War II, the destruction of much of the German economy, the economic miracle of the recovery and the rise of great prosperity to Germany.   

A not very admirable character was that of Paul Simon, the eldest son of Katharina and Mathias.  The man just simply and literally walked away from his family consisting of a wife and two sons.  Even when he returns to Germany, he arrives in a fancy car with a fancy chauffeur and prances around like a conquering hero in an American cowboy hat and fancy clothes.  He thinks that the money he earned in the United States will make up for any sins resulting from his abandonment of his family.  But he has done a great deal of damage to his wife and his two estranged sons (from him and each other) and their troubled relationships with half-brother Hermann, Maria's son by Otto

The most admirable character is Katharina Simon.  In the small village, she was the only skeptic and out-spoken critic of the fascist Hitler and his government.  And, more importantly, she had a kind and very caring heart.  Through all the troubles caused by Paul abandoning his family, while she lived, she was the key player in keeping the family together.  The next most admirable character was Maria who helped her mother-in-law keep the family together and was the key family player following the death of Katharina Simon. 

Regardless of all the problems that faced the Simon family, all three of Katharine's children, Paul, Eduard and Pauline, prospered.  And all three of Maria's sons, Anton, Ernst and Hermann, prospered (and this despite the great divisions between the brothers caused primarily by their being abandoned by their father Paul).  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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