June 22nd, 2005


Home Alone

Although I was awake at five, I didn't manage to rouse myself out of bed until ten. I kept slipping back into dreams. I suspect the brain's had a lot to process, for over the last four days, aside from working on music, my only activity of note has been watching the entirety of Die Zweite Heimat. I went into the video shop on Saturday evening and hired three films: War (a poor, but nonetheless intriguing for its Russian viewpoint, account of kidnapping set in the Chechen conflict), Mamma Roma and the first volume of Heimat. The next day, and the day after, I'd make my way back to the shop to pick up the next set. This time around I didn't seem to be competing with some other local enthusiast over the copies.

I've got a lot that I could say about the series, but I'm not sure I've got the energy yet. Thirteeen episodes, 25 hours and 32 minutes. It's taken it out of me. I'd best go for a long walk. Drop off the DVDs, don't hire anything else, keep walking.

The shop had photocopied parts of the booklet included in the box set and slipped them into the cases. On one of them there was a comment from the director, Edgar Reitz, to the effect that one thing he wanted the film to achieve was to engage the viewer in reflecting upon their own story.

Much of the Second Heimat is located around a place called Fuchsbau ("Foxholes"), a large house located in the Schwabing district of Munich. The owner (for the sake of argument...) is Elisabeth Cerphal and she lives on the top floor with a loden-wearing gentleman called Herr Gattinger. She allows the rest of the house to be used by a group of students more or less as a social club. During her own childhood the house had been a place of artistic discussion and exchange: Feuchtwanger, Brecht, err, Steiner. The house becomes a second home for these students and a place to which they return, even upon its demolition. It's even recreated in a later episode in Berlin where there's an attempt to film some of the house's story during the Nazi period. An attempt which evaporates in all the dreaming and disappointments of '68 and all that. So, where is my Foxholes?

It's not where I lived when I first came to university. It would have to be either Sylvester Walk in Hackney, a house owned by a mother of a schoolfriend where many of us would socialise, or perhaps Neodig's sister's flat in Michael Cliffe House, just by Exmouth Market. But, although I try, neither of these places really work as Foxholes. I didn't come to university in London, the first time around, and find a fascinating group of people I wanted to spend my time with. I felt I already knew them. I was disappointed with college life, for it didn't offer anything I couldn't experience with these friends elsewhere in London. You can try hard as you like, but a squat is never quite a salon. Nevertheless, the lack of a singular Foxholes, this disparate and dissipated series of locations I have instead, is still quite poignant. I can remember when watching the series the first time around how much I wished I'd known a place like it.

Elisabeth Cerphal is the daughter of a Munich publishing family. Another inescapable resonance here is that of Alexander Battenberg. He arrived in my school in the sixth form and his father owned a publishing house in Munich. Later, on an Inter-Rail hoilday with Cornelius, we briefly visited Munich and rang him up. His father answered the phone. Alex wasn't around. I think we pressed on to Salzburg or maybe Florence.

Alex's main notoriety in school was centred around the size of his penis and he gained the nickname of the Deutscher Dangler as well as spawning a variety of wurst-themed jokes. He was fiercely intelligent in the way many of the Heimat characters are. I never encountered his penis in any form, but we did spend a fair amount of time together. He introduced me to Schopenhauer, Hesse, Nietzsche and he wasn't afraid of Wagner either. I'd sit in his study, we'd smoke this extraordinarily potent hashish, talk about art, history, philosophy, music. Intelligent conversation of the European model. He'd been educated in India and had many stories about his time there. Despite, or because of, his intelligence, he wasn't particularly successful in class and his father shipped him off to some cramming school in Oxford. I visited him once and I took acid for the first time. At first, it was everything I wanted: a shaft of sunlight through the window, Tristan und Isolde on the record player, Alex holding a magical bracelet he was given by some holy man in India. A few hours later, when others turned up, the idyll was broken by Pink Floyd being hoisted onto the turntable. Communion becomes confusion.

I saw him a few times after that, but he soon vanished back to Munich. There were rumours about him running some organic farm. There's no electronic sign of him now, but then he is named after a prominent historical figure. Even if I remove the other Alex, he's still not to be found. It would be good to meet him twenty years on, even just so we could fail to recognise each other.

Much of what I've written here lately seems to be concerned with memory. There are those memories attached to places and then the disappearance of those places. Closing down. I never really press myself into examining this too closely here in this journal. It's not that I couldn't make the effort. Rather, it's that I hit save and then go off and begin to consider what I really think. I'm not sure how to escape this accretion of memories or even if I want to. Although the experiences of these Heimat characters aren't my own, I recognise each of them. I often gauge my reaction to a film on how far the experience makes it from the seat. Do I walk out the door and forget it once in daylight? Does its touch linger around me for an hour or so? Am I still looking through these other eyes? Having been living in a dense Heimat experience for the last few days, I'm not sure that I can walk far enough for it to fall away. I am quite exhausted enough already.

You can repeat the experience yourself in a more acceptable low-dose fashion when BBC 4 broadcasts the series again from July 24.