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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Heimat is a German word that denotes the relationship of a human being toward a certain spatial social unit. The term forms a contrast to social alienation and usually carries positive connotations. It is often expressed with such terms as “home” or “homeland”, but it has been alleged that the word has no English equivalent.


The meaning of Heimat

Heimat is a German concept. People are bound to their Heimat by their birth and their childhood, their language, their earliest experiences or acquired affinity. For instance, Swiss citizens have their Heimatort (the municipality where the person or their ancestors became citizens) on their identification. Heimat as a trinity of descendance, community, and tradition—or even the examination of it—highly affects a person’s identity.

Heimat found strength as an instrument of self-assurance and orientation in an increasingly alienating world as Germany's, Austria's, and Switzerland's population from the days of the Industrial Revolution made a massive exodus from rural areas into more urbanised communities around the countries' major cities (Landflucht). Heimat was a reaction to the onset of modernity, loss of individuality and intimate community. Heimat began as an integral aspect of German, Austrian, and Swiss identity that was patriotic without being nationalistic. Regional identity (along with regional dialect) is an important foundation for a person's Heimat.

The state shall edge away where we love our Heimat—Kurt Tucholsky, 1929

Nazi conception of Heimat

The specific aspects of Heimat—love and attachment to homeland—left the idea vulnerable to easy assimilation into the fascist "blood and soil" literature of the National Socialists since it is relatively easy to add to the positive feelings for the Heimat a rejection of anything foreign, that is not necessarily there in the first place. It was conceived by the Nazis that the Volk community is deeply rooted in the land of their Heimat through their practice of agriculture and their ancestral lineage going back hundreds and thousands of years. The Third Reich was regarded at the deepest level as the sacred Heimat of the unified Volk community—the national slogan was One Reich, One Volk, One Führer. Those who were taken to Nazi concentration camps were those who were officially declared by the SS to be "enemies of the volk community" and thus a threat to the integrity and security of the heimat.

Heimat in film media

The contemporary conception of Heimat is most readily seen in the Heimatfilm from the Heimat period c.1946–1965, in which filmmakers placed a profound emphasis on nature and the provincial homeliness of Germany. Forests, mountains, landscapes, and rural areas portrayed Germany in a homely light with which the German people readily identified.

In 1984, Edgar Reitz released his film Heimat. This epic production provided an in-depth illustration of Heimat on a variety of levels, most poignantly highlighting the provincial sense of belonging and the conflict that exists between urban and rural life.


Many, such as historian Alon Confino, in his book Germany as a Culture of Remembrance: Promises and Limits of Writing History, see the post-war concept of Heimat as having emerged as a reaction to Germany's self-imposed position on the world stage, a symptom of the forced introversion following the world wars, and an attempt at individual distancing from responsibility for Nazi Germany's actions.

In the wake of World War II, Germans are still rarely seen demonstrating a specific pride in their 'Germanness'. With the emergence of a renewed sense of Heimat, Germans show pride in their regional origins as Berliners, Bavarians, Prussians, or Swabians.


The so-called "Heimatschutzarchitektur" or Heimatschutzstil is an architectural style that was first described in 1904 and was practised until the late 1960s. Its goal was to embed buildings into their regional cultural environment by referencing local design features, such as materials, proportions and shapes. Unlike the historism found in the 19th century, Heimatschutz did not embrace ornate and decorative elements and tried to reinterpret traditional techniques and regional design languages in a clean and modern way. The German association for Heimatschutz, the Deutsche Bund für Heimatschutz, was founded in Dresden in 1904 with a focus on built heritage conservation and the furtherance of traditional crafts and techniques.

Support in international law

In international law the "right to one's homeland" (German: Recht auf die Heimat; French: droit au foyer; Italian: diritto alla Patria; Spanish: derecho a la patria) is a concept that has been gaining acceptance as a fundamental human right and a precondition to the exercise of the right to self-determination. In 1931 at the Académie de Droit International in The Hague (Hague Academy of International Law), Robert Redslob spoke of the right to the homeland in connection with the right to self-determination in Le principe des nationalités.

Georges Scelle in Belgium, Felix Ermacora in Austria, Alfred de Zayas in the United States, and Christian Thomuschat and Dieter Blumenwitz in Germany are amongst those who have written extensively on the subject.

The first United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Jose Ayala Lasso of Ecuador affirmed this right, which is reflected in the 13-point Declaration appended to the Final Report on "Human Rights and Population Transfers".

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Heimat" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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