Transcribing Heimat Q&A from London Goethe Institute 17 April 2005 - ENGLISH ONLY.
(Note: Unfortunately the recording is of poor quality, and the interpreter is the one speaker clear enough to transcribe throughout. The deeper men's voices are hard to hear, so that I could transcribe only fragments of the English introduction and questions (apart from Ivan, who must have been sitting near the recorder). Gaps are marked by lines of dots: '..' In these conditions my German is not good enough to transcribe usefully what Edgar Reitz himself said in German. Someone else is attempting to do this. - Angela Skrimshire).
(0:01) CHRISTOPHER COOK (CC) : ... I wouldn't like you to ...if only. to say thank you to Edgar Reitz .. for the extraordinary achievement of Heimat ...there's really no easy way I can describe both the scope and the scale of this extraordinary work, Imean, unique perhaps . to the century of our existence .. certainly to the last century . comparable perhaps to the great tradition of the 19th century novel, to that kind of confidence in the idea of narrative story telling that the 19th century took for granted in these kind of questions, so much .....The thing that amazes me about all three parts of Heimat is of course its refusal to let you go. It is not only the narrative drive, it's the way in which the characters within Heimat stay with you .. they suddenly pop up at your shoulder ..long after ... they're there for you at your table when you. ..they're there . I was there last year. .. and what you get... in Heimat 3 ... is an extraordinary sense in which both my life has coincided with the characters.. Maybe the extraordinary power of this series is because it manages extraordinarily to put at the centre of one single amily .... maybe too, because that family .. giving Heimat .. with one particular place, with the Hunsrck .imaginary village of Schabbach..that sense of place, of landscape, of identity., to .exercise of a powerful (?) force on the imagination not only of Germans but of all Europeans, maybe all of us .... Perhaps I should remind you , though I'm sure none of you need reminding, that the first Heimat followed the rise of Nazism and took us through the aftermath of the first World War, through to the second World War to the defeat of Germany .economic miracle (?) .. Heimat 2 is set in Munich in 1967 to 1971 and follows that new liberation of younger Germans, basing their lives as artists ..and indeed radical .. Now Heimat 3 .decade of German history from the moment of the collapse of the Wall through to the Millenium . in Schabbach .....Now the village has really become his scene .doing battle .. (it becomes unintelligible again here, then goes on to explain how the conversation will proceed, in "chapters" with opportunities for asking questions .. then more unintelligible stuff...)
That comes to me, the only question comes to me, can I ask you did you always intend there should be a third Heimat(?)... ?
(4:00) ER: ..
(5:14) INTERPRETER (INT) : First of all Herr Reitz apologised for the fact that he is rather hoarse..today, and said he would also like to speak in German so he can convey more clearly whatever he wants to convey to you . He says I didn't know ..
(Break in recording here, for some reason - .it picks up again in the middle of someone's question: )
(5:25)..for you to raise quite .sums of money ..surely .you'd had enormous success .. . it should have been relatively easy, was it? .
(5.36) ER: ...
(7:30) INT: No it wasn't easy at all, to get the financing .., in fact very much the opposite, it was an extremely difficult time for me in the 1990s. I had the idea of Heimat 3 while we were already shooting Heimat 2, but of course that didn't end till 1990-91.late eighties., but what I intended at that particular moment was to film a sequence on the transit roadway route between Berlin and Munich where it went through the GDR, and Imade a request to the GDR government for permission to film that route and of course received no answer, I wasn't allowed to do it, therefore,. If any of ou .know that period to know what it was like, to try hard to film on that transit route would be like a declaration of war there. So instead I went to Berlin and ..almost immediately while I was there the Wall fell, so that in fact weeks later I was able to go on that same transit route without permission at all, and so in fact I had the feeling at the time that the Wall had actually fallen for me . then it was some years later that we gradually developed the plot.
(9:53) INT: to go back to the question of money, I wrote the first manuscript for Heimat 3 in 1994-1995, and the situation is if you are trying to make a film in Germany and you are trying to get subsidy money from the State, you have to have TV involvement as well. So I went to the television and there I had a shock , everything had changed, the mentality had changed entirely . television and they were not prepared to be involved and co-produce it. In fact I ended up having to write the script, the manuscript, eleven times, resubmitting it each time, and then five or six years later I finally got an agreement from them.
(10:33) CC: Can we ask about this word "Heimat", it's a word that's very difficult in English to translate, other than as "home", but of course, it's associated with a whole range of slightly different ideas. Can you ..what the meanings around this word .?
(12:53) INT: Yes, the word Heimat is known to be difficult to translate into English, it's difficult to translate into most other European languages as well, there are some kinds of .. in Russian and certain Scandinavian languages, however. In German it has its roots back in the medieval period, ..at the time of the Germanic migrations and then it was where people found themselves for the first time, that they would be an adult in a place where they hadn't been when they were children, in that sense the meaning of Heimat .the same(?) , but normally in everyday language it means the place where you were born, the place where you have your roots. But on another level, on the sort of sentimental level of the word, it is also associated with melancholy, it has the sense of something that's actually lost. Everybody has in a sense lost their Heimat. Ernst Bloch, the philosopher said that Heimat is the place of childhood, but one also where no one ever actually was, and from that you can see that in poetic terms it's an ambivalent one.
(13:51) CC: It's also perhaps a word that was hijacked by the Nazi party, the Third Reich, in a way that you deliberately sought to remove.
(14:00) ER: ..
(15:51) INT: Yes, that was the hurdle from the outset, the word 'Heimat' and the way it's been misused by the Nazis, and in fact there were two kind of misuse of this word. The first misuse is the ideological one of the Nazis, their blood and earth philosophy, a blend of Romanticism and ideological propaganda. And of course the second misuse of this word is as it's used by the tourism industry as a kind of pseudo folklore ., you know, folklore as it appears in music, 'Heimat' films and so on, and that of course still continues to this day, there's Heimat music, there are Heimat films, there are Heimat regional costumes, and so on,. And that all of these seemed to me to be good reasons NOT to use the title originally , but ..it's not the fault of the poor word itself that the Nazis .. , everything can potentially be misused in that kind of way. It's actually a very rich and a very beautiful word, and I'm grateful to live in a country that has a language that actually has that word.
(16:51) CC: Do you think of yourself as a historian, I mean should we see each of these three parts as a historical chronicle?
(17:03) ER: .
(19:13) INT: I'm not a historian, and I've never tried to use film making to be some kind of amateur historian, but, if I'm going to tell these stories I need to know the time itself .of these people. We are none of us indeed free of time, we are all children of our time, of politics, and of society, and we are all children also of course of places, and all our ability to experience things, to sense things, is tied to the sense of the place where we actually live. We can't after all live in an electronic world, in cyber space, where we can't feel things, we can't smell them, we can't taste them and that's what I need to develop, sense of place and sense of time, and it's absolutely necessary in this context , and I experience myself, as much as I possibly can when creating these characters, of the time and of the place where they are going to be. And in a sense therefore there is an historical picture that comes out of that as a by-product(?).
(20:08) CC: I hope we can come back in a moment to the idea of time and space and how they play some considerable part in Heimat, but can I continue the historical line of questioning, - you must for long having considered this place . have a sense of how this historical process operates. What have you arrived at . how history ..... ?
(20:43) ER: ..
(22:54) INT: I don't think that historical forces are in themselves abstract. In Heimat 1 for example, in the village that is described there, we see how Adolf Hitler comes to power, but he's not there and the Nazi party isn't actually there, what's there is an expectation in the people, so at the end of the 1920s there was this atmosphere of expectation, an expectation of salvation, and that was what actually made Adolf Hitler possible in the first place. So I don't think that these historical processes are anonymous, they're products of the fantasy of people, and these people influence each other, they pull each other along with these fantasies. For example in the case of Heimat 3, there we have the historical event of the fall of the Wall, it seems like something entirely unexpected like a flash of lightening out of a blue sky, but it's not actually so, there was an atmosphere there that prepared for it, and that's what I studied ....
(23:50) ER: ..
(25:05) INT: Atmospheres are often something that is very difficult to describe, on the other hand film is a medium that can actually do that, it is indeed the best medium that there is to describe atmospheres, and that's perhaps one of the practical values of film, because this film through its images, and through its cinematic language, we can discover our world. Something is always being prepared at any time in the world in which we live, it's like thunderstorms, or climatic changes, there's always something building up somewhere. Philosophers have made all these attempts to discover and consider this question of how do historical events actually occur, and he says that's perhaps going a bit too far (laughter).
(25:43) CC: Why don't we ask the audience if they would like to join us?
(25:50) QUESTION (Q): (inaudible)...
(27:56) INT: what interests me are all the byways, rather than the highways, and as I was preparing this film I didn't read the history books, and when I was looking at newspapers for example I wouldn't be bothered with the front pages but rather look instead at the personal columns and the local news items instead. But I think it's from those that you can see better what the time is really like at a given moment. You can't leave out those big events, of course not, but they aren't the beginning, they're the effect of something, the consequences of something, that's what history is. Historical events are indices of something else.
(28:35) Q: At the moment the word "Unbefangenheit" (?) ... much discussed in German books and films .. I'm interested , do you see your films ... beginning of something or are they accompaniments(?) of German identity which at the same time confronts history? Would you recognise that description or do you think that's ...?
(31:58) INT: This term 'Unbefangenheit' ... it doesn't say very much to me, this term. Of course I have to deal with detailed discussion of whether the terrors, the terrible events of the Nazi period are in some way made harmless by thinking(?) focussing on the everyday. It's not a question for me of what did the Third Reich do, I certainly don't want to add more judgements ot the judgments that are already there about what happened then. The unanswered question for me is how was it possible in the first place, how could people actually do those things and how could other people, how could we, be witnesses to them. The same things apply today, today we are witnessing such horrors all the time, it always seems much simpler here and now , but it isn't, of course. How can people be part of these things, and what I'm tempted to do is to provide some sort of answer to that question. The issue of German identity won't be ....for certain amount of time, but now of course we no longer live simply within national boundaries, the spaces are growing and getting bigger all the time. We are Europeans, but where are the borders of Europe? That's the question of our identity now, the borders are endlessly fleeing away in all directions.
(33:14) CC/Q?: May I interrupt .. Do you sense that one of the themes that are visually represented in Heimat 3 is precisely this sense of: 'There are no frontiers .borders' and so on, there's a sense in which throughout all the. films, characters are driven in motor cars, they're driving , they're arriving, trains and buses are leaving, aeroplanes take off, there's an extraordinary sense of restlessness about the lives of all of them. And in a way when Ernst is flying into Russia he's the only character who finds the border with peril (?)... Now, is this really kind of the theme of the truth/trilogy(?), how do we live in a world where there are no borders, where the sense of Heimat, simply in the sense of 'home', .no longer exists?
(33:58) ER: ...
(35:31) INT: Yes, that is exactly the question, but what is at issue now is that there is a huge amount of new mobility, we experience it ourselves every day, it seems to be something, this new mobility, which is the opposite of the idea of Heimat, which is related to being attached to one particular place, with your senses, but also in terms of your responsibility. Mobility is of course much more attractive, you're always en route, you never arrive. What it is in fact is a new kind of Romanticism, it's the modern equivalent of Romanticism, this feeling, the romantic idea that life is a journey without an end, one way or another, but what I believe is that concrete experiences ARE needed, one does need stability, you need to arrive, in the sense that you need a house - a place, a house, a landscape and a family.
(36:20) CC/Q?: If you take ... where I work .which is in the Hunsrck , what are the values, do you think, which are, associated with that ...it's a real place ...between the Rhine and the Moselle ..what are the values ....
(36:36) ER: ..
(38:00) INT: First of all it's the Hunsrck.first it's the landscape, it's the landscape of course where I myself grew up, where I was a child, and you never have such an intense relationship again with a landscape as the one which you had in your childhood. The radius of a child is very small, the horizons of childhood are small, but you know every single stone and you know ..of places by their smell. This is the kind of way you describe experiences in landscape , it's a landscape that I knew and that's why it's the one that I use. I'm describing my own experiences there, I believe it's in describing my own experiences, that's how you reach the hearts of other people. It's no good being general and abstract about these things, you have to be personal.
(38:41) CC/Q?: But I asked about the values (laughter) . where(?) are these standing for ?
(38.47) ER: ..
(40:0) INT: I think there's a point - that reaches the point where I actually have to refuse to answer the question, because the definition that the "then" happens after the event, if you have a perfect intellectual explanation for something of that kind then it loses its magic, and what I do is to do my best to stay nave, and it's your job as critics and writers and intellectual analysts to find out the symbolism and talk to ..that way . It is an important thing, but it's counterproductive for the artist to know too much about these things. (I think he actually said "about his own" .something , which raised a laugh .but I can't hear it properly ..)
(40:42) CC/Q?: Through the heart of the landscape, through the heart of these films of Heimat .flows the river Rhine, now we can think about the Rhine in two separate ways, we can think about it as central to .... housing ... or we can think of it as a frontier that divides - How should we think about the river Rhine?
(43:04) INT: Yes, in part 4 it ....all our worries with it, everything flows, as it were, the sea is forgetting.. And this is what's so important for Hermann and Clarissa, they try to find something else, they don't want to go back to Heimat as it was before, they want to find a place of stability for their love, they want to realise a kind of romantic ideal, and this precisely leads to the problems that they confront, and what it really does is that it relativises everything, it reminds you that life is short and that dreams won't have a reality for very long....
(43:48) Q: ..subject, which is Russia and Germany, which has been looked at so little, especially.. nothing .... as a subject ....
(44:20) ER: ..
(45:30) INT: Yes well of course even a film of this length . has its limits,unfortunately, and I didn't have time in this context to expand that any further, but in an earlier version of the script Ernst's journey to the Soviet Union, what he was doing there, his adventures there, were all there, and how he found, came across the Russian family for example, but then it would have turned into something else, and there wasn't any money for that. It's a wonderful story and I would have liked to be able to do it.
(45:58) CC: Can I just ask on your behalf if it's a story you'll come back to, if it's an episode that adds immeasurably to our understanding of Ernst.
(46:10) ER: ..
(46:47) INT: Yes, if I could go on with Heimat, it would now be too late to come back to that Russian story of course. Making films is a matter of chance and good fortune, and onealways needs to move on, but we'll come back to that question later.
(47:00) Q (IVAN): Just before asking my question, I'd just like to pay tribute to Mr. Reitz for the happiness that he's brought to me, and the sense of meaning that he's given to my life, through his stories and the films that we've seen. I am exactly the same age as Hermann and I haven't got his talents, but I wish I had. I wanted to ask you a question about the characterisation of Hermann. He seems to want to retreat from the world, in a way to build his love nest in the Gnderrode house and yet he suffers a terrible agonising accident in the form of the animal trap. Was that accident meant to signify in any way a punishment, for his attitude, his selfish attitude, perhaps his introverted attitude, his turning away from the problems of others, was it a kind of hubris, a punishment by the gods, or just was it sheer chance, as it were ?
(49:57) INT: Yes, when we were writing the script we felt that Hermann simply had it too good. In life it can't be that good, something bad always happens in that kind of circumstance, Clarissa leaves, and he gets creative, but that was just a little bit too - it was too little for me, that didn't add up, it was too simple, your love leaves, and then you become creative, no, in that circumstance you fall into a trap. And for that reason, yes, of course that trap is to some extent symbolic. That's what happens in that situation.
(50:31) Q: The house, the love nest, central point of Heimat 3, you come back to it all the time. How did you find such a wonderful place?
(50:40) ER: ...
(52:47) INT: Each of the films in the Heimat trilogy revolves around a house, in Heimat 1 of course it was the parental home, the Simon house, in Heimat 2 it was the Fuchsbau where the students and the young artists lived, and now of course in Heimat 3 it's the house that we've called the Gnderrode house. Now I'll tell you .story about that: When I started to write the script I was sure that I knew the house and that I'd seen it. And when it came to the time for bginning to prepare the shoot, we looked around and I couldn't find the house anywhere. We even hired a helicopter to look for it - nothing. We systematically went along the banks of the Rhine, we found all the other locations but we couldn't find the house, so we decided in the end what we would have to do would be to build it. But of course you can't build new an old house, so what we did was to find a man who moved old houses, and this particular house is a real, a historical house which had been deconstructed in one particular village and was then rebuilt here as a ruin, where it was then built up into a new house in the process of the film.
(55.06) INT: Well, the house has actually in a sense become a legend, because as you'll know in the script, the house is associated with this fictional story relating to the romantic writer Gnderrode who according to the filmscript is supposed to have lived there and had her love story there as well. When the film was finished of course the house was there, finished, and today the locals, everybody calls it the Gnderrode house, and the legend that is there in the film has actually become reality, and three years later with the filming finished, people have actually forgotten that there was no house there at all originally. Originally there was also no planning permission for it, but they've got planning permission for it retrospectively, and it's now going to stay there and people will forget that it's actually a legend from the film.
(55:54) Q: Can I ask you ... the manuscript which is mentioned there, once you've written the script, is that what you actually shoot, or do you allow yourself a certain degree of freedom with the actors when you're shooting?
(56:09) ER: ...
(58:00) INT: Yes, we can't really recognise the original screenplay in the film, as it's been. What I try to do with the actors is to work on their roles and on situations in which they find themselves, and of course while we're filming I also then write new dialogue. But they also then come with their own biography , for example, to give one example, the songs that Clarissa sings are part of her own repertoire, the songs that she was singing in public concerts at . outside the film, so what happens is that her life story is entered into the film. A second example is the Russian family - yes they are certain professional actors who . I got to know from Kazakhstan, but they gave me so much new inspiration talking to them, that the story of Galina and Hartmut for example, developed out of these encounters, new scenes and new ideas come about.
(58:51) Q: And the decision, when you slip from colour to black and white, and back, is that something which you have scripted right at the beginning, or is it something which emerges maybe in the editing process?
(59:04) ER: .
(1:00:56) INT: Yes, it's not quite spontaneous, of course it's a stylistic feature of the whole trilogy that it's black and white and colour, it goes right back to the beginning. When I began on the project I originally wanted to film the whole film in black and white because I love black and white. Black and white of course doesn't simply mean the absence of colour to me, not at all, it has its own aesthetic tradition. As far as I'm concerned, all the best films are in black and white, and my love for cinema is somehow black and white, and I wanted to use black and white for this film, but then I realised that much of the story can only be told in colour. For example, when Paul comes back home after a long time away, you see that the sparks in the workshop, they could only be shown in colour. So in a sense it's been a spontaneous decision to choose black and white or colour where necessary , and that's how it's stayed . There are different systems in each of the films, maybe it changes, but that's the basic principle throughout. But the idea for the film, its basis, is certainly in black and white, so you can see colour in a sense as an additional component. Aand if you're sitting and you watch the film in a relaxed kind of way in the cinema, you actually understand how it functions and the story gains a new depth through those shifts.
(1:02:07) Q: Are those shifts primarily emotional shifts? I mean you choose for example the smithy, the forge, and that is an emotional moment .....
(1:03:31) INT: When I use the word 'spontaneous' to describe these shifts to colour from black and white, then of course I mean that they're based on emotions. What black and white film does interestingly is to bring us closer to the faces of people. The problem with colour is that it has in it too much real information. For example when I look at the face of my lover what does it matter what the colour of the wallpaper is behind that person? I'm going to forget that. But of course in a colour film it captures all those kinds of details, too much detail, and therefore if the narrative is going to be selective one needs these kinds of shifts.
(1:04:04) Q: At the end of Heimat 3 there's an astonishingly long shot of Lulu staring initially out of the window of the house ..... it's very ambiguous , at the one level, she may be .. confronting the future, or confronting what's happened, the past, at another level maybe ............. What should we think about what happens here, ....(unintelligible again)
(1:04:50) ER: ...
(1:06:38) INT: Of course we faced a problem after 54 hours of film, the author(?) has become very afraid of that last scene, since the audience believes this scene is key to everything that has gone beforehand, and my intention is that it should be as open as possible, and inexplicable as possible. There is Lulu on New Year's Day in the year 2000, looking out towards the future, and she cries. She has her son behind her, he's obviously a child prodigy, he manages to learn two pieces of Mozart in one evening. We get a feeling that's not exactly pessimistic, no I think you could say a light sense of melancholy. I don't have any answer there, all interpretations in that sense are possible, we don't really know why that's the important thing. If we did know why, then it would be a key.
(1:07:28) Q: I just wanted to say , for me ,why .. for me she becomes the grandmother ..(inaudible)...
(1:07:52) Q: I have a question about the events that are terrible, terrible perhaps in a societal form , there is the killer of companies, and Hermann has this discussion with this killer of companies on the train, and when later on his nephew Hartmut is faced with this man entering into the life of the family he doesn't say anything, although he initially intends to say something. Why does this happen? Are you saying that he reflected on the path of the German ..system, that he will see terrible things happen, we actually know that certain things are intended and they don't react in a way which would protect either themselves or other people ..... Why did he do that? ... quite shocking.
(1:08:47) ER: .
(1:09:59) INT: Yes , you're right, . Herr Bckler. You're right, .I wanted to narrate and to demonstrate the way in which we don't act or we don't respond to that kind of thing, and it's one of the kinds of mechanisms that I wanted to talk about in this film. The point is that it's based on a personal experience on a train to Frankfurt, I met a man just like this, he told me exactly that story and I wrote down the dialogue immediately from memory, long before the script was actually put together, I had a protocol of it long in advance, so it's a portrait of a real person, in that scene.
(1:10:37) Q: .....you co-wrote . with Thomas Brussig, is that right? And I was wondering how you worked around ....My guess, from what ou ...especially the first three parts, and ......(inaudible)..as a writer ....
(1:11:00) ER: ....
(1:12:27) INT: For me, always when I'm telling a story, authenticity is the central question, and I didn't live in East Germany myself, so I needed a co-author who had that authentic experience, which is how I came to work with Thomas Brussig. As we began - we worked together for a very long time, and the collaboration changed over that period. As I've already told you, we worked for five years on different versions of the script, but his work, providing information about the easterly experience, had been provided very early on, so the relationship changed, that was finished quite early. He became something different, a representative of the younger generation, so what we have here were two generations in dialogue, which was a very positive experience.
CC: ..I think we've time now for one more question here -
(1:13:12)Q (MUNDY): Your film starts with the fall of the Berlin Wall, I'm just very inerested to know, after the film was completed, were there differences in the way the film was received in East and West Germany?
(1:13:27) ER: ....
(1.14.23) INT: Just the special thing about Heimat as a whole is the fact that the audience always sees - every member of the audience seems to have their favourite character, and in this case, in the East, it was of course Gunnar who was the favourite character, and it was only Gunnar whom anyone ever talked about over there. In the West on the other hand it was more the characters from Schabbach, and how things changed there, for example the history of Simon Optik and how that changed, the optical factory, and also particularly popular in the West were Hartmut and Galina, paticularly Galina.
CC: We'll have one more question, you've been dying to ask a question, I'm sorry I missed you ...
(1:14:58) Q: The question and observation . the guy behind me was talking about the end scene and that Lulu becomes downhearted. Can you confirm that for me she was answering for the generation in the sense that he ........ and indeed I hope .it's left open that she becomes then the hero of Heimat4 (laughter).....
(1:16:36) INT: I can let you into a secret that I'm working on a small sequel of Heimat at the present, .. for DVD release in Italy, but who knows perhaps here as well. In my archives I have lots of scenes of course from Heimat 1, 2 and 3, which have never been released or seen before, because of course what you actually get to see in the cinema is by no means everything that was shot. There may be other scenes which get cut at the editing table, and many of these scenes it seems to me are worth releasing, and the connection that's going to bring these things together is now Lulu, this isn't exactly - this isn't the new Heimat 4, however.
(1:17:13) CC: I'd like to remind you that the title is "A Chronicle of Endings AND Beginnings". (laughter, then thanks etc, and applause)....