Word of the Week: Heimat

May 27, 2011

Limburg, Deutschland Enlarge image (© picture-alliance) Over the course of the year, Germany.info and The Week in Germany will highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.


Heimat is a loaded word in the German language. Translating it simply as "home" does not fully do it justice. The powerful emotional ties it evokes in many German citizens when speaking about their hometowns or home regions would best be described as "a sense of belonging".

Heimat also, alas, has some cheesy connotations in the German language. Some films popular in the first half of the 20th century known as Heimatfilme are viewed as cinematic versions of pulp fiction by serious film critics. These flicks sought to hark back to kinder, simpler times allegedly free of political, economic or social strife. Featuring bold boys and buxom milkmaids usually found frolicking in bucolic, pastoral settings, they were produced - not unlike today's more fantastical summer blockbuster movies - to help people forget about the ravages of war, uncertain economic times and other disasters. (An exception to the saccharine variety of Heimat films is the critically acclaimed, award-winning German TV miniseries called Heimat, which is well worth watching.)

Naturpark Schönbuch Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/ dpa)

Today, however, with a recently reported revival in interest among many young Germans, for instance, in traditional dress (Trachten) and customs (Bräuche), Heimat can certainly hold its own in the cannon of cherished German words. Despite occasional abuse or oversue, its true meaning for German speakers could not be tarnished by dictators, filmmakers or anyone else for that matter.

At the end of the day, the sound of the word Heimat still makes most Germans go all misty eyed, staring off into the distance as they fondly recall their own personal sense of Heimat, the same way English speakers would fondly think of what "home" really means to them.

As Dorothy said when she clicked her heels in The Wizard of Oz, "there's no place like home ... ".

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