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Kategorien/Categories:    ›Heimat‹  ›Kultur/Culture‹  ›EN‹   –  31.01.2011

"What the f... is Heimat?"

That’s the title artist Stefan Strumbel gave his series of ultra-modern cuckoo clocks. The Black Forest artist with roots in street art provokes viewers to rethink conventional concepts of Heimat and all its associated symbolism. But what exactly is Heimat?

cuckoo clockFirst, I don’t believe there is an ultimate answer to that question. Heck, there isn’t even a proper translation for it. The usual suspects, home or homeland, come close, but don’t seem to capture the whole meaning. (Although the Department of Homeland Security, mostly referred to in German as the “Heimatschutzministerium”, always struck me as something straight from the 1930s, when Heimat played a pretty ugly role in politics…).

Heimat seems to be a very individual concept – perhaps, because everyone basically has a different idea of what Heimat means to them. It is generally associated with a sense of place and cultural identity. That sense is most strongly developed in the formative early childhood years: it has to do with the landscape, the language, the food and the traditions influencing us as we grow up. In that sense, Heimat refers to a person’s origin and roots.

It also has to with where we feel at home and comfortable. And for most - man being a creature of habit - comfort comes when we are surrounded by the things and people we know and treasure. If you grew up with the breathtaking mountain vistas of the Rockies you won’t necessarily wither away in, say, Kansas or New York City. But you may discover that you heart only ever truly soars when you’re back in those mountains, back in the landscape and culture that helped to shape your understanding of the world.

Is it, then, really a synonym for patriotism (another one of those words with unfortunate connotations), or just “love of the food one ate as a child’?

What about those global nomads, who constantly wander between countries and cultures, apparently feeling “at home” almost anywhere? Could a person have more than one place he or she thinks of as Heimat? An interesting indicator is the fact that Heimat is one of those words that doesn’t seem to have a plural form; at least I’ve never heard it used. So is it true when they say: home is where the heart is? Can Heimat be anywhere?

Go ask anyone about it and you’ll likely encounter some pretty interesting answers.


cuckoo clock


Photos: Stefan Strumbel

Stefan Strumbel is an artist from the Black Forest region, who plays with the (often considered outdated) traditional symbolism usually associated with that area.