No Place like Home: Locations of Heimat in German Cinema

No Place like Home: Locations of Heimat in German Cinema

No Place like Home: Locations of Heimat in German Cinema

No Place like Home: Locations of Heimat in German Cinema


This is the first comprehensive account of Germany's most enduring film genre, the Heimatfilm, which has offered idyllic variations on the idea that "there is no place like home" since cinema's early days. Charting the development of this popular genre over the course of a century in a work informed by film studies, cultural history, and social theory, Johannes von Moltke focuses in particular on its heyday in the 1950s, a period that has been little studied. Questions of what it could possibly mean to call the German nation "home" after the catastrophes of World War II are anxiously present in these films, and von Moltke uses them as a lens through which to view contemporary discourses on German national identity.


One would like to dispel the embarrassingly sweet tones that
are associated with the word Heimat and that call forth a rather
disturbing series of concepts. But they are stubborn, keep close
to our heels, demand their effect.



“Repeat after me: there’s no place like home …” Having just learned that she already possesses what she has been looking for, Dorothy clicks together the heels of her ruby slippers and dreamily chants the most famous line from The Wizard of Oz (1939), a film full of memorable sound bites. As the resolution of the film’s dramatic structure, which takes Dorothy away from home, through Oz, and back again, the words “there’s no place like home” contain the ideological message of the film. They condense its central concern with the meaning of home into a neat, iterable formula. Judy Garland’s delivery of these lines, however, might give us pause. While intended to drive home the meaning of the phrase for Dorothy, Garland’s trancelike repetition of the magic words as she drifts out of Oz and into consciousness has an unsettling effect. The more often she mumbles the phrase, the more it turns into a performative device that gets her home but does not tell us anything about home—at least nothing quite as tidy as the famous phrase suggests. For if we pause to consider the meaning of these words in the context of the narrative they ostensibly resolve (let alone in the historical context surrounding the film), Dorothy’s incantation is remarkably ambivalent. What does it mean for Dorothy—or Glinda, or the cinema—to insist that “there’s no place like home”?

At first glance, it seems that Dorothy is telling us that no place can rival the one we call home: this is the place for which she yearns at the end of her adventures in the land of Oz. At the beginning of the film, Dorothy wants nothing more than to leave home and its stifling, black-and-white existence for a place somewhere over the rainbow, “someplace where there isn’t any trouble.” In the end, however, she can imagine nothing more comforting . . .

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