The discourse of Heimat, meaning homeland or roots, has been a medium of debate on German identity between region and nation for at least a century. Four phases parallel Germany's discontinuous history: Heimat literature as a response to modernization and to regional tensions before the First World War; the inter-war period when Heimat divided into racist ideology, left-wing opposition, and inner resistance to the Third Reich; a post-war dialectic between escapist 1950s Heimat films and right-wing claims to the lost lands in the East to which anti-Heimat theatre and films in the 1960s and 1970s were a response, with the urban Heimat in GDR films adding a socialist twist; regionalism and green politics in the 1980s and German identity beyond Cold War divisions. A key point of reference in current debates on German history, Heimat looks likely to continue in postmodern and multicultural mode.
Elizabeth Boa is Professor of German, University of Nottingham and author of Kafka: Gender, Class, Race in the Letters and Fictions (OUP, 1996)
Rachel Palfreyman is Professor of German, University of Nottingham