The interview with Reitz below appeared in Die Welt on 4 October 2004

The amateur translation is made by Walter Foerderer.

Romantic is the root of the modern age

Finishing the Heimat trilogy: Talking with Edgar Reitz about time, narration and the family.

by Eckhard Fuhr

DIE WELT: Mr. Reitz, "Heimat 3" is considered to be the conclusion of your life work. How does it feel when the end of such a work has been reached?

EDGAR REITZ : I never looked at it that pathetic otherwise I would never have started with it. To consider the movie as expression of ones whole person would be so enormous and monumental it would leave you speechless and you would not be able to start with. For me it was simply a merging of work and life.

DIE WELT: When have you realized that you would not do anything else as a filmmaker within the foreseeable future?

REITZ : I discovered the theme of "Heimat 3" during the shooting of "Die Zweite Heimat". In 1989 when the Berlin wall fall down, we have been in the middle of the shooting of "Die Zweite Heimat", and suddenly it became clear to me that there must be a third  "Heimat", beginning with the fall of the wall.

DIE WELT: Where there any moments you said to yourself "I should never have touched it"?

REITZ : Yes, it happened from time to time. For instance when I had the feeling the TV-guys did not like my way of narration.

DIE WELT: You have invested around 25 years of your lifetime in this work. It resulted in 55 hours movie. It displays the history of the 20th century. By size alone the Heimat trilogy looks monumental. Do you see yourself as representative artist of our era?

REITZ : Even that is a thought under which I would break down. The only thing what gave me strength to stand it was the ardour for the detail and to the people and the characters. For that you need passion in the moment of creation. At the same time it does not allow me to see the big entirety. In Heimat I am dealing with people who cannot move the big and the entirety. I could never ever portray a character like Hitler or any of this kind of people making world history. I would miss the ability to love.

DIE WELT: But in some details your style of narration reminds to the great bourgois realists of the 19th and 20th century.

REITZ : You are putting a question about classic (timeless style) or modernism. If I had devoted myself during 25 years of production to the actual spirit of the age, the project would have been collapsed. "Heimat" describes coherences withstanding the rhytm of the modernism. However, what we are calling modern lifestyle is my subject again and again, but it is embedded in a much broader stream, in stories overlooking whole biographies. What I am especially interested in is the controversial term "Family". Since the Sixties nothing else in the world was more subject of critical debates than this. However, something remains what we have to call family. Amazingly enough it is the most communicative what exists. There is no place on earth where family stories would not be understood.

DIE WELT: We will come back to that later. First of all I would like to talk with you about time and time experience. A masterpiece creates it's own time and it's own space. It's putting something against the fading of everyday's time, a kind of lastingness. Some critics about the first two parts of "Heimat 3" which have been shown in Venice said, you had subjugated yourself to the modern patterns of time and adapted to the TV aesthetics, thus not found to a calm and epic narration style.

REITZ : In fact, it is about hacked time. By the way, TV is embossing its hack aesthetic to the reality that it is pretending to report about. It was precisely this aspect on which I worked quite long together with my co-author Thomas Brussig. Our cooperation happened because I wanted to incorporate the experiences from the other side (GDR), especially in the description of the first year after the wall came down. Thomas Brussig, who experienced it from the east side, was even more than I convinced that we have to describe a fully hacked time.

DIE WELT: You describe in a very clear and definite air, as if it is a matter of course, the opening of the inner German border even as the opening of a window to the German Romantic period. At the beginning of "Heimat 3" a lot of letters will be written, again and again we have these enchanting views into the Rhine valley, the vineyards, the Loreley. This is something that is suspected to be Kitsch in the highest degree. To the racing start of the story on 9 November 1989 you oppose an artist couple seeking rest in romantic and mythic fields.

REITZ : Romantic is a word abused by advertisement, tourism and erotic dreamers. With the word "Heimat" it is the same by the way. At the same time Romantic is the deepest embodied consciousness in German culture history, which is still vivid. You cannot reduce Romantic to Eichendorff's nature animation (Naturbeseelung). Romantic is the root of the modern age. Romantic brought out the excitement for technical innovations; it is the age of the first railways, of the mobility. All Romantics went on journeys. Another invention of the Romantic is the image of the double, the draft of oneself and the desire to create for yourself a second portrait that you can follow. In the end it is the career's dream. In all career dreams lives a piece of Romantic. The awakening of 1989, the nervous excitement about the journey that started, also the delightment for the beauty of the German Landscape and the feeling we are Germans, all of this is the heritage of the Romantic. It's still working.

DIE WELT: But one cannot reconcile all contradictions related to this term.

REITZ : I do not want to reconcile them just as I do not want to reconcile the term "Heimat" with its contradictions. All these feelings are ambivalent.

DIE WELT: Even the ending of "Heimat 3" is ambivalent. One sees the crying Lulu, Lukas' mother. She will leave Schabbach. But her son, Hermann's grandchild, plays piano. He plays the notes teached by his grandfather. Lukas has the freedom to turn back if he wants to. Did I understand that right?

REITZ : Perhaps, though I did not want to make the ending too definite. It would have been wrong to bring, in a 12-hour movie - and when it's also the final piece of a trilogy of 54 hours length -, an ending scene that would let everybody say, aha, that's the message. Doing so I would have run down all previous plots in a negligent manner.

DIE WELT: Let us talk about Hermann, the male principal character. Is he, in your opinion, more a failed character or is he at the end a lucky human being?

REITZ : The most important for me was not to let him get my alter ego in total. Looking at this character it immediately suggests itself. A young chap escaping from the Hunsrück, making career as an artist in Munich: it is me in the dock. Because of that it was important for me to keep distance to this character again and again. Hermann is not at all an untalented musician. One can even say he has made it as a componist, as conductor, but when he stands in front of his brothers he seems in an odd way colorless.

DIE WELT: Let us come back to the family. Is it unbreakable?

REITZ : In each single case it is unbreakable. But it is a basic human experience. I do not know if it really belongs to culture.

DIE WELT: Perhaps to biology?

REITZ : We do not know it.  Nowhere in the world are more tensions and also hate and quarrelsomeness and even murder fantasies as in families. However, the brother remains the brother. You can tell a friend you are not longer my friend. But when you say to your brother you are no longer my brother, that is nonsense. There is nothing you can do against it.

DIE WELT: You finished the Heimat trilogy with the turn of the Millennium. What do you expect from the 21st century?

REITZ : In terms of narration everything remains open. On 11.9.2001 we just overcame a setback with the production. I thought, with that date "Heimat 4" starts. Actually I cannot find an end with telling stories. However, I do not know if my movies to come should be named "Heimat". But by looking close you will see: each story bears the roots of other stories. It is the same with the life. Karl Valentin used to say: "As long as I live I have to count to go on living".

DIE WELT: So, there will be more movies from Edgar Reitz?

REITZ : As far as I am concerned, yes. But I do not believe anymore that I can decide it by myself.

Article published Mo, 4. October 2004