11 February 1998
The Internet is the Place for Interactive Storytellers The website for the film series Heimat is to be developed into a multimedia story workshop

By Günter Becker
TV is only really beautiful on the Internet. Recently, the two media have become so closely linked that the Internet sites of popular TV series have developed lives of their own. 'Hot' pictures encouraged Sat1 Online visitors to visit the web pages and go behind the scenes of the 'Königs von St.Pauli' (www.sat1.de). Even the Lindenstraße site reveals what happens in next week's episodes in Germany's most famous street. The Sixties are long gone, when the satirist Wolfgang Neuss shocked the entire TV-nation and received murder threats because he subversively revealed the ending of a well-known crime series. Today, in an age of overflowing channels, only occasionally do you find yourself sitting around a common electronic campfire. It is more usual to find yourself on the series' website, in a chatroom for 'Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten' or in an X-Files forum.

Therefore it should not really surprise anyone to discover that one of the most spectacular productions of recent German TV history, Edgar Reitz's film Heimat, also has an online fan community. Even Reitz himself was surprised though, when he realised that 'a Heimat community had formed on the Internet, sharing its enthusiasm for my epic film and trying to get in touch with others, telling stories, exchanging pictures and memories.'

The Heimat epic, a trilogy, attracted millions to their TV sets on the broadcast of its first instalment (Heimat, 1984) and its sequel (Die Zweite Heimat 1992) and immediately became one of the German film industry's most successful exports. A final, third series is planned for the turn of the millennium (Heimat 2000), which will have as its backdrop German history from reunification until the end of the millennium. Because this series has emerged from personal memories, reports and elaborations of family stories and because the Internet is ideal for interactive story-telling, Heimat fans and amateur historians are being drawn to TV through the website www.heimat.net.

Reitz has taken on board the Berlin multimedia agency MediaCube as technical partners. This company from the Hackeschen Höfen [small artistic community in Berlin] has brought several films and TV programmes onto the net. They have set up a MediaWeb server for the region's communications branch, are setting up the Internet connection for the Berlinale for the second time running and have been involved in broadcasting great events like the Kasseler documenta on WebTV.

In the eyes of its makers, the Heimat series and the Net seemed like they were made for each other, 'because only through this medium is it possible to unite all the multimedia elements, whether texts, images, sounds, moving images or animations', says MediaCube employee Harry Baer. According to the producers' wishes, heimat.net will also become a gigantic text, image and sound archive for the series, at the same time being developed into an online people's museum of German history.

At the project launch, there is no shortage of superlatives. You can read of an 'all-encompassing website for the history of the twentieth century', an 'archive for humanity' and one of the 'central hubs in the global communications network'. These are large claims that have to be acted upon before the third part of the Heimat trilogy is broadcast in the year 2000.

In the future, heimat.net will establish three main areas as meeting points for fans and for people interested in history: a 'Heimat timeline' will attempt to present an overview of the historical events of the twentieth century using the film series as its backdrop. A 'Heimat file' could provide information on the characters of the series in the form of a biographical archive. And in the 'Heimat interactive' area viewers will be given the opportunity to add their own documentary material to the films' digital source material - this will become a virtual story workshop on the Net. Harry Baer is convinced that this mammoth project will also be of interest to the great German sound and picture archives, like the German Radio Archive, the State Picture Archive, the Murnau Institute and the Film museums in Frankfurt am Main and Potsdam. 'Preliminary discussions have already taken place, all the institutes we approached reacted positively', he concludes.