Notes on VPRO documentary

VPRO Documentary 19.12.04 "Over Heimat"

Original video could be watched on the VPRO site at until 2012. It can now be ordered from the archive of Beeld & Geluid.

English notes on the interviews conducted in German by Arnon Grunberg with Edgar Reitz, Salome Kammer and Henry Arnold.

NB: this is NOT a careful translation based on a verbatim transcript! It is a quick, free rendering with gaps and paraphrasing, though Wolfgang has now edited out my worst mistakes. People with good German are invited to comment. Angela.

Edgar Reitz - first part of interview:

Arnon Grunberg: You wrote Heimat 3 with Thomas Brussig. You wanted to write it with someone who had lived in the former DDR - why?

Edgar Reitz: In my film work it is always important to have a completely authentic way of describing people's situations. I use people's own personal experience, their surroundings and the way they lived. I never lived in the DDR. In the 40 years before the wall fell a whole cultural difference has developed in many everyday matters, for example in language, during that time different words appeared for certain things in daily life. For example grilled chicken - in the West it is "Brathuhnchen", in the East it is "Broiler". That is a term that was used only there. Just look closely at how Gunnar and Udo speak - that's real DDR language, those two.

Anton Grunberg: At the end Gunnar was upset because his kids didn't know who Erich Honecker was, when he imitated him. That was a blow for him - can you sympathise with that?

Edgar Reitz: One can sympathise when something that was important, even if it was negatively important, is suddenly no longer understood. I get the feeling my whole life has become unimportant because of that.

[clip of Gunnar imitating Honecker]

Anton Grunberg: Do you feel that there was a yearning for the DDR? Did they want to go back to the two Germanies?

Edgar Reitz: It's quite ambivalent. If you really took people at their word they wouldn't want to go back. Today they have so many opportunites and so many things they didn't have before. That they really don't want the Wall back or to be shut in again. But there was perhaps a feeling of a greater closeness among people, people were not so alone as they are today, they were closer together in their work and their homes, and talked to each other more, and there were many more friendships. Outside it was a totalitarian state that watched people, but not all the people were Stasi, most of them weren't, there was still a private world to withdraw to, this cosy atmosphere in the private world is lost.

[clip of Clarissa in the car driving Gunnar and Udo to the West]

Anton Grunberg: The whole Wende was so long ago, it's almost forgotten.

Edgar Reitz: I find that really dreadful. We are all the children of history, in our reactions and everything we do history goes on living - but we imagine we live only in the present and that history plays no part. It is a loss of consciousness. Film is a wonderful medium, with the help of the art of film I can remember. The images of times in the past that are still important for us - I can present them as physical pictures on the screen and make it possible for my viewers to encounter themselves, and their own history.

Anton Grunberg: And for you film is also a way of remembering?

Edgar Reitz: Yes, because one has to watch one's own experiences. They lie in our memory like a heap of fragments, and, when we consciously remember, we take them and put them together again in memory, and make a second life with them. The camera portrays the time again, it describes it in a way that lasts, and when I make a film I make the past permanent, the fragments can't disappear any longer. The art of film is a victory over time and in some ways a victory over death. Time is always this dying of the present. When one reviews whole biographies, as I am doing, up to the death of some characters, then one can make something immortal of it.

Salome Kammer/Clarissa

[brief clip of Dido, then Salome Kammer testing the acoustics in a church]

Salome Kammer: Church music is really most deeply in my memory, a piece of Heimat. It stirs up in me unbelievably many emotions and childhood experiences. I often played cello for my father in church services, sometimes with rather staunch resistance. It is a lot of fun singing in a space where the voice can unfold and get more and more beautiful, the tone can develop because the acoustic, the echo gives it colour. it's great. In the theatre it is often a very, very dry space where the voice gets no help. In church it's wonderful.

In Die Zweite Heimat I used my voice and got training for it for the first time. In the practice studio I found teachers with whom I often experimented. As an actress with my musical background ... I looked for complicated, exciting and extraordinary pieces and found them... and then went on working on my voice, and at the same time continued to stand up on stage and create a performance with my voice.

[clip of Salome Kammer walking by the house she grew up in]

Doesn't look as if there would be six children living in there, probably less today.

For Die Zweite Heimat the filmscript was finished up to Part 10 before I met Edgar Reitz, and there was to be a cellist called Clarissa. It was a great experience for me, that I had applied when I heard that Edgar Reitz was looking for actors who could play an instrument. I was invited to the first interview and he described the role to me, and it was unbelievably great for me that he had thought of her as a cellist before he knew me.

The Clarissa in Die Zweite Heimat always gave me a problem because she was always hiding in a cocoon and not coming out, always in flight. ... By the end of the filming I was really unhappy with this character. She was so closed in, and she doesn't know where she wants to go or what she wants. She couldn't trust herself to let her feelings flow... that really tormented me.

[clip of Clarissa playing cello in Die Zweite Heimat]

Clarissa's mother was ambitious for her to do something great. The child had the talent but was always being driven by her mother - she couldn't get away from her, there was nothing else she could do, except have a big confrontation with her. This confrontation came at the time of the women's movement in '68. She was carried away with it and left the cello behind. That was a stroke of freedom for Clarissa.

[clip continues]

I was very happy in Heimat 3. Clarissa was supposed to have become cosmopolitan, almost like a diva, commanding the stage... My big wish was always that she should be different from me, so that I could build up a character that wasn't myself... It's good now she has become older. But the conflict with her mother is still going on. Clarissa wants to make a life of her own, but her mother realises that she is being sidelined and there is no longer a role for herself. The mother is hysterically afraid of staying alone in her old age. Clarissa has to take responsibility.

[clip: mother in Heimat 3]

This conflict with the mother is a very difficult thing - it can disrupt the life of a fragile relationship. Her mother is very strong and dominant ... Clarissa can't refuse. The story ends with the conflict still unresolved, but I am glad at least that Clarissa has taken her to live with them in Oberwesel.

[clip continues]

One can make music anytime at home for oneself, but an actor always needs an audience. But there are parallels - an actor is as much an interpreter as a musician, both are intermediaries who bring the composer's or the writer's work to life. Simply being on the stage and developing a presence, and building up the drama with rhythm and timing, it's all very similar to acting.

[clip: a performance by Salome Kammer]

As a singer, I like going to the limits, just as I do as an actress. As an actor one is a lot more shameless. A classical singer quickly starts worrying that the voice may develop some problem... a lot of people say you shouldn't do that or you'll hurt your voice. But if one sings without anxiety, one is so involved that it all goes well and the voice is not destroyed. One must keep collecting new experiences for oneself, things that move me, where I don't have to control myself but can get out of the ninteenth century corset where one has to do everything right

Edgar Reitz - second part of interview

[clip: why does Lulu visit her family?]

Anton Grunberg: Do you think one can become liberated from one's family?

Edgar Reitz: The family is never a model for a conflict-free life. In antiquity all the greatest myths and dramas are family stories... All the most dreadful things in human relations one can think of are played out in the family - fratricide, parricide, incest, all the most dreadful things in the world happen in the family and yet so long as there are people, there are families. The family is the one social bond that we cannot alter ourselves.

Father always remains father, brother always remains brother - one can absolutely never put an end to it. So these dramas are an eternal human challenge. One HAS to solve the problems, one must always find a social solution or a solution with other people. One's own happiness must be reflected in the happiness of other people. There is no happiness alone - that's what family teaches us.

[clip of the Christmas Eve dinner in Anton's house with Galina]

For example I myself am a child from a skilled craftsman's family in the Hunsrück, my parents always had just this one idea that they passed on to their children: Don't do what we did - we did everything wrong. They had lived under Hitler and been through the war and on top of that they had reasons to say: We did everything wrong.

Anton Grunberg: Were you still able to respect parents who said they did everything wrong?

Edgar Reitz: Yes, just because of that we could respect them, but there were other parents who didn't talk like that and we didn't respect them.

Anton Grunberg: The war very quickly disappeared from Germany. Can one say that the celebration in your film "The Happiest People in the World", the whole ground for the celebration is no longer there? ... Can one say it is still there or has it disappeared? Can one say there is a loss of the past that one doesn't know, or does one say that is all over now? Is that what is expressed in your film?

Edgar Reitz: Not always. As I just said, the decade of Heimat 3 is a decade of forgetting, not only in Germany but in Europe. We have set out on a road into a world of the consumer society and business expansion, which we feel has slipped away from us, out of our control, and at the moment we don't know who we are. It's not just forgetting, it's a feeling of losing reality, of no longer having ground under our feet.

Anton Grunberg: To know who one is, does one need a feeling of national identity?

Edgar Reitz: No, but one needs social relationships... One must in some way understand the people one lives with... It has become very difficult in the cities, there are so many cultures living together, we are looking into the eyes of people we don't understand. That also gives a feeling of strangeness, a feeling of loss of reality - when I see so many strange eyes and don't know if they see me as being strange as I see them. We create in each other a feeling of foreignness...

Anton Grunberg: Is that a yearning for the village in the Hunsrück?

Edgar Reitz: Yes, but we all know we can't go there because it is past - perhaps it never was like that. In other times perhaps our longing was for somewhere else, and therefore we have no way of checking whether it ever existed. The village is an intellectual idea, a utopia .

Anton Grunberg: Is it still a utopia for you?

Edgar Reitz: Yes, I think we need utopias... This kind of utopia is concrete, it stands as a yardstick for things we can make real... For example, if I have a utopia, and I build a house or own a place to live in and try to make a bit of it real...

Anton Grunberg: The character of Hermann. He is a nice guy and one can easily identify with him, but he remains a riddle... one doesn't exactly know who he is?

Edgar Reitz: That's because he is an artist, that always makes one a bit of a riddle, he is always having to look for his artistic inspiration... He is always in development, always in search of himself.

Anton Grunberg: But he gives up his art for his love, or is his art suddenly not so important as his love for Clarissa?

Edgar Reitz: That's always the question, does one need a little unhappiness to be creative? Or the other side of the question, does happiness make us uncreative? There is an old idea that a poet needs to be poor and unhappy to produce great work. The love of Hermann and Clarissa is for me a quite central theme, it starts in Die Zweite Heimat. The most important thing is that both partners, the man and the woman both remain a mystery to each other. The particular stimulus for love is that the other, the You, the opposite, in Hermann's eyes Clarissa, is someone who can never be entirely known.

Anton Grunberg: Is that a precondition for the relationship to continue?

Edgar Reitz: Yes, that actually happens, a dreadful thing happens. She has left him and then she comes back and she is ill. She has a severe illness, she had it inside her for a long time and didn't know. He has always seen her as stronger than him, with the freedom to go away. Then suddenly he sees that his beloved wife is sick and needs his help, and then everything is turned upside down and becomes strange to him, and thereby she again becomes strange to him and love can arise again.

Henry Arnold/Hermann

[Clip of Henry Arnold directing a play]

As an actor I express myself through the role, and also through the interpretation that comes from the director's side... and then I give something more, and am now directing myself.

We began filming Die Zweite Heimat in '88, and started again in 2002.

I find the Hermann of Heimat 3 was for me a new invention all over again, it didn't help having played him in Die Zweite Heimat, because he has become a quite different man. It's not just that he's a bit older than I am, but his view of the world, what he formerly expected from himself, his life, and also his music and his art, is so changed that I had to invent him as a new man.

[clip from start of Heimat 3]

I directly experienced the fall of the Wall, I was living in Berlin. I wasn't there while Die Zweite Heimat was being filmed, but I went along in the gaps between shoots. All the Trabis driving around, and all the people from over there - it was a powerful experience. It happened so suddenly and so fast - it was quickly clear that a whole social system was dissolving.

[clip: fall of Wall in background]

Hermann is more of a dreamer, who keeps out of the political realities of those days. We saw what was going on all around, but the character didn't. What really matters to this Hermann is that he has this great need for peace and to arrive somewhere. What he has rather lost is his forward drive to want to go further with his music and composing. I accepted it because it was the storyline, but it was strange to me - I hope I won't be like that when I'm fifty or sixty!

I had to find another way of thinking myself into it, a different tempo, a different way of moving.

[clip: of dream scene]

In the dream scene under the tree in the 6th part of Heimat 3, Hermann is on his way to a funeral. He has a bit of time to spare, and is rather exhausted after giving a concert in Munich the evening before, and having travelled all day. He lies down under the magic tree, the double tree, and goes to sleep. He dreams of his own death, or perhaps not his death, but anyway of a loss, maybe of the loss of the dream that he had had for his life. It is characteristic of Die Zweite Heimat and Heimat 3, and probably Heimat 1, that Reitz is telling the story of a decline or dismantling. Hermann in Die Zweite Heimat started out full of hope and illusion, and after that decade and maybe the end of his youth, he was disillusioned, but with a chance of a new beginning. That's how I interpret the end of Die Zweite Heimat. But at sixty, the chance of a new beginning is biologically rather less.

Filming this scene, I remember there were quite simple things - first the exhaustion, not just from tiredness or the heat... it was actually an oppressive sultry day with a thunderstorm pending just as it was supposed to be in the film

[clip: Rudi speaks to Hermann in dream]

Reitz and I didn't talk much about what to do, we simply did it. The most helpful thing ultimately is the course of the story. All the emotions are mediated by the film. One shouldn't be thinking all the time about what to do. One must just do the concrete things with the right feeling. Acting is very hard to grasp in words - how it works, what share does the script, the author or oneself contribute to the role, because it's all to do with emotion and intuition. The character on the screen is not just the character, or just oneself, but it is entirely within the surface of the projection. Every viewer sees a different film.

On Die Zweite Heimat we were quite a compact group, and in our free time we met and talked about the film, the development of the characters and scenes, and we were all together, that was probably how it feels to the viewer. But this was not the case on Heimat 3, and and the difference was also reflected in the film.

[clip: Hermann has finished composing alone]

There were people who were isolated and didn't really communicate with each other, they had no common ideals. There were isolated islands apart somewhere. There was much more about isolation and lonely people.

Edgar Reitz - third part of interview

Anton Grunberg: One has the feeling that in the reunification of "the happiest people in the world" something has gone seriously wrong... Not just for those characters, but historically, what went wrong?

Edgar Reitz: The mistake was that we thought we could find a German happiness. The country had been partitioned, and awful things had happened, people going up to the Wall and being shot, and there had been a feeling of national unhappiness up to then. Then the Wall fell, and everyone said: Now there is going to be great national happiness, because what we suffered from is over. But then comes the thought: Now let's get hold of it: There are 17 million Germans who wanted a new future, but then we saw one day that there wasn't one - there was nothing flourishing within any one nation in Europe. Take the car industry for example. They made unbelievable amounts of money from the reunification. There were 17 million Germans without a car, and they all bought one. What happened to all that wealth? The production facilities were all moved to China. That's happened everywhere, the way towards globalisation is in the development of things. We have the technology to think and plan and live globally as humans. There is no German answer anymore. That became clear in the '90s.

Anton Grunberg: Are you still an idealist?

Edgar Reitz: Yes, in so far as I believe we can find better ways - to undertake projects - to realise fantasies. Musil once said (and I so much respect it) that we have a sense of reality and a sense of possibility, so that we can see the world as it is and as we know it, but we also have the ability to imagine things being different. And that's really what I called idealism.

Anton Grunberg: So we're back with utopias?

Edgar Reitz: Right, without a utopia nothing happens, every entrepeneur experiences it, anybody who loves somebody else ... when two people get together and think they can create love... but love is not simple. Love is something that does not happen in nature. Love is a product of culture. Anyone who says "I love you" is a utopian...

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