This is and it isn’t the second part of Heimat, the 15 hour 1984 German miniseries (and/or extended film) by Edgar Reitz. This is more of a spin-off of Heimat than a continuation of the original story. The ‘two’ in Heimat II means a second home (heimat) not “part two”. Whatever its name means, Heimat II is an improvement over the first installment. It took Reitz seven years to paint a slightly larger canvas of a much smaller subject and perhaps because it is more autobiographical than historical, there’s more life in Heimat II.
In the first Heimat, “Little Herman” Simon and his illicit love affair in1955 with an older woman is the center of an entire episode. I thought that this chapter derailed the series which had been nominally anchored to Herman’s mother Maria and Schabbach, the little German village in the Hunsrück region of the Rhine. The ensuing episodes try to get back on track but it seemed to me that Reitz might have emotionally moved on to what would become his next project and he was just going through the motions in finishing the first Heimat.
Heimat II begins with Herman Simon (now played by Henry Arnold) getting on the bus out of Schabbach in 1960. He’s 19 and his thwarted love affair has soured him on Schabbach. He has shown considerable talent as a musician and composer and is determined to attend the high-powered music school in Munich. When Herman is accepted into the school, he begins a new life in a second home... his Heimat II.
Herman’s life at school is like many coming-of-age/going-off-to-school stories from Tom Brown’s School Days through Animal House to Harry Potter. He meets people he will know and love for the rest of his life and they are his new family. There is considerable 1960s “back in the day-ism” that will make the post-boomers roll their eyes, but Heimat II is more than a German Woodstock revival.
If Herman is the primary character in a larger cast, the matrix that brings and holds them together is “The Foxhole,” a suburban villa that is owned by a wealthy and slightly older woman with a Nazi past who likes to hang with the brilliant college kids. She wants to revive the glory days the villa saw as a Weimar-era salon and tells everyone that “... Brecht met Furtwängler here....” I suppose (at first anyway) Reitz is making The Foxhole a metaphor for Schabbach — a village of geniuses instead of idiots. When some of Herman’s relatives come to The Foxhole for his wedding, the contrast is emphasized.
Reitz is as scrupulous in his historic detail and setting as he was in Heimat. He really catches the 60’s zeitgeist when he sets one whole episode on the day Kennedy was assassinated. Through it all there are the iconic scenes of the decade, Kennedy in Berlin, Kennedy dead, student/police riots, Vietnam, Apollo 11. And he properly ends the series in 1969-70 with the appearance of hippies, drugs, and the Baader-Meinhof gang. There seem to be more historical events intruding on the story line than in the first Heimat. Is this because Herman/Reitz is older and more aware, or because Reitz is reacting to criticism that the first Heimat was too removed from real world events? One scene in particular — where the students seize a university lecture hall — seems to have been the source for a similar event in The Reader. That scene might have been borrowed or perhaps it was a shared experience.
The story of Heimat was told by the town drunk Glasisch and seen through the lens of old photographs ... perhaps the way Reitz sees German history? Heimat II on the other hand was experienced first hand by Reitz and each chapter is narrated by one of the characters ... often that person is Herman himself but there are others as well. This is another hint that Heimat II is more personal than the first series. And there is an ongoing visual bit where Herman catches his reflection in a mirror ... usually at an odd, revealing or embarrassing moment. Herman is always looking into his soul, doubting his own genius and we get to come along for the ride.
In fact all the characters question their own worth. Is this a message Reitz is sending or simply standard German post-modern operating procedure? Or maybe it’s just good old fashioned German Romanticism. What a bunch of drama-mamas these kids are... but what fun to watch. The actors are a special treat in that several are accomplished musicians who actually are playing their instruments. This is not your standard American soap opera. Imagine a version of General Hospital where the actors really are skilled surgeons.
Music plays a central role in Heimat II. The detailing in Herman’s (and the other students’) compositions is such that I have to think that they were serious pieces ... perhaps written at the time portrayed? I should think that musicians would particularly appreciate and be entertained by Hiemat II because of the risible earnestness of the modernist student work. Now whether they will laugh with, or at, the music is another question ... just as long as they are laughing.
There are some good takes on modern film as well. Herman meets a trio of young Munich filmmakers out to change the world and who will have entire episodes dedicated to their stories. Reitz himself apparently started out as a music student and then found himself making films. So he has a stake in both camps. And because of the length of Heimat II (more than 25 hours) we have the time to look deeper into this other art rather than just making it an aside.
In the end Herman must return to Schabbach. No spoiler alert necessary here as he says so many times over the course of the story that he will never go back that you know that’s exactly where he will end up. Nor can there be a better ending than having him walking back down the same road he was on 10 years earlier. Herman often marvels at how much he and the world have changed in 10 years. Yet as he walks towards the village, the old man Glasisch sees Herman and immediately recognizes him. “Herman!” he says “It’s so good to see you again. You haven’t changed a bit!”... roll the credits and on to Heimat 3!
This is the second review of the Heimat trilogy, The review of Heimat 3 will follow.
There is an accompanying booklet with episode synopsi and character analysis. The essay On Heimat II by Reitz is worthwhile reading.
Picture and Sound
As in Heimat, Reitz switches between color and black and white. Apparently the rule is that night scenes are to be in color. There are some interesting wipe transitions that go from one to the other that I liked.
How to Use This DVD
You don’t need to see the first Heimat to understand the second. In fact you might enjoy it more, as the story lines do not mesh perfectly. However if you do watch Heimat II and want to see more, Heimat is also engaging and you get to see Herman’s back story as well.