Here is the transcript of series 1, episode 8: Home.
LG = Luke Green
SH = Sarah Heinz
LG: For many people who have moved to a new country, this new country is their new home. For others, their home will always be their country of origin. For others still, their home is not their country, but where their family lives, or the town where they were born, or the house where they grew up. There is no one definition for home, and if we look at German, there is no one single translation for home, either. Heimat, Zuhause, Daheim – all of these mean home, but do they really mean the same thing? That’s what this final episode of this series is about. So for the last time this series, let’s crack on with the show.
This is Yellow of the Egg. The podcast where we pack up the German language, jump into the car, and drive into the sunset. I’m Luke Green and this is episode 8, Home.
SH: Home is a multi-level concept, I would say, in any language, although, you know, some people have claimed that in some languages it’s more complex than in others, but I think that what all these notions of home basically share in all of these languages is that it has to do with a space, a feeling, with a sense of identity and self, and of community.
LG: Sarah Heinz is a professor for English and Anglophone literatures at the University of Vienna. Among her many research interests, she has published and taught courses about transnational discourses of home and homeland. She recognises that, although there appears to be some general agreement as to what home is, there are many different definitions, especially concerning the scale of home.
SH: It’s extremely varied in terms of its levels, you know, the globe can be assessed as home. A nation can be home. A city can be home. A house can be a home. But also my body, or even my mind can be a home. So it’s basically multiple levels, but also concentric circles, I would say.
LG: Considering the vast number of different kinds of home and ideas of home that exist, you would expect there to be multiple ways of referring to them. In English, all of these different levels and notions can be captured by the single word home. In German, we don’t have just one term for it. So what are these different German words for home?
SH: I would say it’s Heim, Daheim, but also Zuhause, and it can also be Heimat. Those would be, I think, the most common translations. Which in themselves are already extremely varied in their meaning in the German language. But it can also be a house. But in that sense, I would say house does not really mean- A house can be a home, but the German word Haus doesn’t mean home. Because the English language also has house. Houses obviously are for many people homes, but the translation wouldn’t be Haus.
LG: These different words all mean very similar things. Heim, Daheim, Zuhause, Heimat. They are all equivalents of the word home, after all. But they do have rather different connotations. For example, in terms of emotional attachment.
SH: Well, Heim has this typical connotation of cosiness, warmth, security, I would say. Heim also being the home of a family, connected with family life. So a space where you probably grew up. And therefore, also very close to Heimat. Therefore, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s Heim and Heimat. If you say in German that Ich gehe heim, or Da bin ich daheim, it’s usually a very positive attachment to a place but also to the people in this place. Which is different from nach Hause, I would say. Nach Hause can be “you’re going to the place where you are currently living”. It’s very interesting that many people actually call the place that they have moved into, a flat, for example, they have moved to a different city and, you know, they have rented a flat, and this means nach Hause, they- Ich gehe nach Hause. But if they go home, so ich gehe heim, ich fahre heim, mostly means back to their home place in the sense of they’re visiting their parents. So a sense of origins and belonging and community, and a place that is strongly connected to how you became the person you are now. So there is a very strong distinction between, I would say, Zuhause, which can also be emotional, but Heim, ich gehe heim, is, I would say, more intensely emotionalised for most people.
LG: Of course, these distinctions are not clear-cut, and you are likely to hear people referring to their family home as their Zuhause too. But it’s interesting that the more emotionalised of the two contains the word Heim, the cognate for home, whereas the slightly less emotionalised one, Zuhause, instead contains Haus, which corresponds to the English word house and simply refers to a building. That is surely no coincidence. But while Heim tends to be the term that evokes more intimate and personal emotions in verbal phrases like ich gehe heim, or ich bin daheim, things look a bit different when you start using Heim as a noun.
SH: Well, specifically in the German context, Heim is mostly an institution. That’s very weird. Because if you look at the connotations of Daheim, and ich gehe heim, oder ich fahre heim, that is mostly very positive, connected to parents and places of origin. Whereas ein Heim, or das Heim, is mostly an institution, for example, for orphans. Weisenheim.
LG: That’s an orphanage.
SH: Or Heim für schwer erziehbare Jugendliche.
LG: Which is a kind of institution for difficult or troubled teenagers, literally a “home for difficult to educate adolescents”.
SH: It shows you how much these institutionalised contexts for orphans, prison-like contexts, hospital-like contexts, try to cash in on the sense of a homely space in which people are safe. Although, and this is specifically for Altenheim…
LG: An elderly home.
SH: …for most people, being moved to these contexts, it’s their worst nightmare. So most elderly people have this intense fear of being moved from their Zuhause, from their home, from their own homely space, into an Altenheim, so an elderly people’s home, because that’s totally not home. So you see how these, specifically these state institutions try to use the positive emotional connotations of the home concept to basically draw a positive image of state institutions taking care of orphans, elderly people, the mentally ill, etc. So, in that sense, as a noun I would say, it has definitely a negative connotation. But the fact that this notion is being used for these state institutions shows you how intense state institutions are interested in painting this in a very positive light.
LG: We have a similar situation in English, of course, where we use the word home to also refer to institutions which for many are less than pleasant and about as far away from ‘home’ as they could imagine.
SH: Yes, and specifically these places are turning into everything that your real personal home was not. Also in terms of the practices that you were used to in your own homely space, in your own home space. For example, how you prepare food, when you go to bed, how you can meet other people, and all these being restricted or even forbidden in the new context of the home, for example, the home of the elderly, where you very often can’t bring most of your furniture. Where you have visiting hours. Where you have restrictions. Where you are not cooking your own meals and you might not even like the food. And everyone who has been hospitalised for even a few days knows the sense of “ugh, I wanna go home!” So it’s- All the practices that turn a house into a home are basically lacking in these institutions that call themselves Heim.
LG: This is made all the more obvious by the way Heim is used grammatically in this context. You refer to these places as ein Heim.
SH: Yeah, I think this indefinite article, you’re being put into a home. It’s not yours, it’s not the, it’s just a home. That is not even a home.
LG: So Heim as a word for home can be very intensely emotionalised, but at the same time, can mean the very opposite of what we understand to be home. So what about the clearly very closely related word, Heimat?
SH: Well, as coming from Germany, and I’m not Austrian, so I wouldn’t actually venture into the emotional context of Austrian German Heimat, because I’m not sure about this, but in German German, it’s definitely the case that Heimat comes with huge baggage. I mean, the whole archive of representation, to use Stuart Hall’s notion, the whole archive of representation that comes with Heimat is connected to the worst forms of nationalism. Which basically use all the positive attachments to an individual house as home and community as home to justify all types of nationalist politics, of exclusion, genocide, the holocaust, the removal of whole populations from their homelands.
LG: Heimat simply means home, just like Daheim, Zuhause, and so on. But it has a particular sense of tradition, of origins and belonging, which has made it very attractive to political movements historically. It’s been used to make a whole country feel like an intimate family home, a place that you would want to defend fiercely.
SH: This is because Heimat is a notion that cashes in on people’s individual experiences with their home space. That doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to a national context. But it explains, without actually explaining, why you should feel attached to millions of people that you have never seen. It creates the sense of being able to go to war for something as abstract as a nation. I mean, who would, in their right mind, for such an abstract unity as Austria or Germany, which, if we look at it, doesn’t mean anything. Who would have themselves shot for this? But if you dress it up as Heimat, this means you’re doing this because this is your family. Of course, you don’t want your kids to be shot, so you go out and let yourself be shot. So this sense of the abstraction of ‘nation’ is being taken away by dressing it up at Heimat. Because we all know what home is. We might not really have a sense of feeling what the nation is. Because most of the people that we are affiliated with via the nation, we will never see them. But knowing that all of these are, for example in my case, all of these are Germans, and presenting Germany as Heimat, makes me relate to all these anonymous people in this vague entity of ‘nation’ as if we lived in the same house, like I live with my family. So, it basically elides the explanation of why we should feel any attachment to this vague blur of national identity. And it makes people do the strangest things.
LG: You can see how emotionalising and political a concept Heimat is by the way it’s used with other words in other areas of life, too.
SH: Because the compounds in which you find Heimat – Heimatfilm. You know, these hugely sentimental movies about the Alps and, you know, white men climbing mountains and proving their manly whiteness. As you find in typical German Heimatfilm of the 1950s. And there you can already see the issue of translatability. Home movie means something entirely different. A home movie is definitely not a Heimatfilm. So- Heimatfilm, Heimatliebe, Heimattreue. All of these are very strongly politicised concepts.
LG: This notion of Heimat seems to be especially loved by populist, right-leaning and right-wing political parties. The word has become a staple in the political campaigns of parties such as the FPÖ, the Freiheitliche Partei Österreich, the Austrian Freedom Party, who have used slogans such as Sichere Grenzen, sichere Heimat, so ‘secure borders, secure home’. But increasingly, over time, the word Heimat is starting to lose its decidedly right-wing, Nationalist associations. Or at least it’s being diluted. It’s not just the right-leaning parties that use this word anymore. For instance, not too long ago, the SPÖ, the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreich, the Austrian Social Democratic Party, had a poster with just the word Heimat in big capital letters, and written underneath: Wien ist, was wir daraus machen, ‘Vienna is what we make of it’, which doesn’t even directly seem to have much to do with Heimat at first glance. In one of their campaign billboards, the Austrian Green party played on the part of Austrian National Anthem that contains Heimat. And in the 2016 Austrian presidential elections, it was not only the right-wing FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer who used Heimat in his campaign. His opponent, the former leader of the Green party, Alexander Van der Bellen, also used Heimat repeatedly in his campaigns, with slogans such as Heimat braucht Zusammenhalt, ‘Home needs solidarity’. If the word Heimat has historically had such nationalist connotations, why has it become more popular with all parties?
SH: Well, I think the main impulse to use it for both conservatives and liberals is to very shortly explain how you are supposed to relate to both political parties and your national community. And Heimat is the shortest way towards that. Because you don’t even have to explain. There’s no need to explain to people how they should feel about the home space because we all do this every single day. And I think the fact that also left-leaning, liberal parties are tending to do this is because political issues, or specific political issues tend to become less a topic in all types of electoral campaigns, increasingly. And with the Wien-Wahl…
LG: The Vienna elections, which took place in October 2020,
SH: …you could see that many of the billboards et cetera that the different parties used were not really interested in dealing with specific issues, but rather with a sense of where do we belong, where should we as a community go. So I think this tendency for all, you know, across the political spectrum to use Heimat as a sense of attaching, or at least, trying to attach voters to their party doesn’t really use this nationalistic notion that you would expect from a right-wing party. But this sense of emotional attachment that everybody has. Which is why I think it has become increasingly accepted for all, you know, politicians to at least refer to Heimat as a concept. And there are very few parties, even the Greens with their sense of “we have to conserve, you know, the natural environment of our Heimat”. Even with parties that you wouldn’t expect would use this word have tended to reappropriate it in recent years.
LG: Where it was once used as an unmistakably nationalist term, Heimat is starting to become more and more positive again. Some still believe this word is a no-go, some even going as far as to say it’s a taboo term and should be banned. But the meanings, use and connotations of words change all the time, and Heimat is no different.
SH: It’s interesting that, you know, thirty, forty years ago, you would have known, right from the start, before you would have even seen a placard or something, who would be using this term. And these days, everyone can, because it has- it has taken on more positive connotations, more connected to the emotional value of home, Zuhause, Daheim, and has been disattached, or detached from a straightforward nationalist fascist context. Which, I mean, I don’t want to evaluate this, it’s not undangerous, but it’s also very understandable. Because it’s the easiest way to make an emotional claim on your voters without having to explain anything. It’s the closest way to people’s hearts, in a way, you could say.
LG: Even so, there is so much baggage that comes with Heimat, both historically and in the present day, as an extremely political term. To many, it is a word that has lost its status as a usable word in everyday speech, because it has become so politicised. But does that mean it is not used at all outside of political contexts?
SH: I think when it comes to regional affiliations, people would actually use it. For example, if you say that your parents are still residing in Franconia, for example, which is a region in Germany, you could basically hear people saying Das ist meine Heimat, ‘That’s my home region’. Because when it comes to regional foods, traditions, dialects – which is a huge aspect of this – has a less problematic baggage than when speaking about Heimat in the national context, I would say. So people- I do think that people are actually using it, saying Das ist meine Heimat. But in this context of individual affiliations, people would also use the term Zuhause, I think. Das ist wo ich mich zu Hause fühle, da bin ich zu Hause. Whereas Heimat is always, at least a bit implies this, you know, national context, of a larger national community, of people with the same passport, the same language, not the same dialect, but the same language, and the same ethnic traditions, et cetera.
LG: We see it time and again that different words for home are used to evoke emotions and connections that might not otherwise exist. You can call institutions a Heim, even though they are often all but homely. You can refer to a whole nation as a Heimat, even though you have never even met the vast majority of the other people living in that country. Heim, Daheim, Heimat – these are all used to try to make something feel like home that otherwise likely wouldn’t. At the same time, there are situations and contexts where these words for home are avoided, even though it would arguably make sense to use them. These situations are usually where the home no longer has these positive connotations.
SH: Home is usually a place that you can use to escape from the world. But if home is a place that you can’t escape from due to violence, or, you know, having to- having to keep issues and a sense of identity from the people in your most intimate surroundings. Also when it comes to sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious orientation, et cetera. I mean, imagine the most intimate and positive space turning into your personal hell.
LG: Especially in the context of violence in the home, you are unlikely to find many terms, if any, that include the words for home that we’ve heard so far. Just as in English we don’t tend to say home violence but rather domestic violence, the German equivalent word would be häusliche Gewalt, so violence of the household, not of the home.
SH: So, although usually house and home are conflated into one, because most people also associate home with a building, a real space, in that case of domestic violence, this is again detached, saying it’s not Heimgewalt or Zuhausegewalt,it’s häusliche Gewalt. Which connects this as if it was a random building in which violence happened, instead of, you know, for example, connecting the notion of family, Familiengewalt, or elterliche Übergriffe, I mean, you could imagine any other sort of notion. This, again, because it’s something negative, it’s been detached from the home concept. But because it mostly happens in the home, it’s called häusliche Gewalt. I think it’s very telling that we tend to use home as a positive context wherever we can, and political discourses specifically do this. And it’s used as a euphemism in contexts that we want to disconnect from homely homes, it’s not used. It seems to be a strategic use of language, definitely.
LG: German and English are similar in this respect. But there is one example where German and English differ. Consider the state of not having somewhere to live. In English we would say that someone is homeless. But in German, this concept is described without using any of these words for home.
SH: Yeah, in German it’s obdachlos, or Obdachlosigkeit. Which basically refers to the fact that a person doesn’t have a house, a physical building to go to. Obdach – it’s basically a very oldy-woldy term for a dwelling, for a dwelling that you- where you can be safe. An Obdach is much more neutral than home. So Obdach basically means a physical structure where you are safe from weather, for example, and where you have- where you can cover your basic needs. Of sleep, of food, of community, and generally of safety. So, I would say that the German notion of obdachlos is at least a bit more neutral than homeless. Because homeless has this existential ring to it. Whereas obdachlos is basically the description that someone doesn’t have an address and a place to go to sleep. Which would be much closer to a term used in the US. Because people very often do not say they are homeless, but they are out on the streets. You know, this sense of on the street as, you know, versus being in a building. And that’s much closer to obdachlos, I would say. Although, of course, I mean, even the German term Obdachlosigkeit is of course connected to all these existential connotations of a lack in having a home, lacking a home, a home space. But it’s- the term itself seems much more neutral, and it seems more descriptive of the fact that people are out on the streets.
LG: Although there doesn’t need to be an explicit reference to home in order for a word or a concept to evoke feelings and emotions connected to home or a lack of home, there are many German words that do include it. For instance, the German equivalent for the adjective homely, as in to describe a setting or a feeling, is heimelig.
SH: Which is, in a way, connected to words such as cosy, kuschelig, anything connected to warmth, comfort, and a sense of wellbeing. And this idea of the ‘homely home’ is definitely an ideal that is attached to ideals of home and homemaking practices across language contexts, I think, that the ideal home is the homely home. And I think this ideal of the homely home becomes very obvious looking at the culturally-specific ideals of how a house is supposed to look like that provides the space for the homely home, das Heimelige. Where everybody has enough space, where everybody has enough privacy, where everybody has a place to have alone time, but which is also a setting for communal relations. Where you have space enough to invite people, where you can have, you know, parties and festivals, like Christmas specifically. I would say, you know, Christmas is a very good example when it comes to this ideal of the homely home. This atmosphere of heimelig. It was really- Das war wirklich heimelig. Anheimelnd, also as an adjective where people feel comfortable, relaxed, and also open to talk about things that they wouldn’t probably talk about to other people.
LG: If you think about home as a space of trust and, as Sarah says, where people feel they can open up and talk to people about things that would otherwise be a secret, it’s not surprising that the German word for secret, Geheimnis, also contains Heim itself.
SH: Because a Geheimnis is something that you wouldn’t share with anybody. Only with a very, very few people who are very close to your heart. So, in a way, it is connected to your most intimate sense of self. Which is what home is, as a concept. Home is identity, home is the self. And you’re at home, or you can be at home, only in places or spaces, or with people that you feel are connected to yourself, in any way possible. Not only spatially, not only nationally, but in all senses. But it has something to do with you, with who you are. And a Geheimnis, a secret, is something that you keep. And you keep secrets. Or you tell your secrets to people. And sharing a secret can be, like all acts of sharing, an intense way of creating relationships. Telling someone “I have never told this to anyone, but I will tell this to you” creates this sense of intense intimacy, which is typical of home.
LG: Similarly, we have the word heimlich.
SH: Heimlich is obviously connected to something being secret. Or to having to be a secret, where you are doing something in secrecy.
LG: And then we get the very interesting word, unheimlich.
SH: Which is rather more scary and uncanny, as the English translation would be.
LG: If you imagine heimlich to be secret and hidden, imagine unheimlich to be where these things that are meant to be secret and hidden, even suppressed, are revealed.
SH: You know, this sense of home being not only a setting for the most positive experiences, but also a kind of the return of the- a space of the return of the oppressed, which is where the most homely place can become the most unhomely place, the Heim – Heimlich – unheimlich. With, you know, hauntings, ghosts, et cetera. And you can see this in Gothic literature, obviously, that the most scary spaces can be home spaces, where it’s not heimelig but it’s unheimlich, and where the things that are meant to be secret come to the surface and haunt the house. You know, haunted houses with these unheimlich spectres and nightmares. All of these usually appearing in the most homely space you can imagine. You know, when you sleep, for example, in a safe space, your bed, et cetera. And then, you know, this nightmare comes to haunt you. And I think this puts- this actually, you know, this notion of heimelig, heimlich and unheimlich puts into a nutshell the ambivalences already inherent in a seemingly predominantly positive notion that is home.
LG: It is clear that there are some vast differences in the way home is expressed in English and German. The various German words for home are used not only to evoke feelings typically connected to home spaces in contexts such as the nation, but can also be found in words describing things like the uncannyand secrets, which are not as explicitly connected to home in English. On the other hand, concepts such as homelessness do not have this direct connection in German and don’t even contain the word home at all. The way home is treated in the two languages clearly differs greatly. Does all of this mean that people think of home differently depending on what language they speak?
SH: No, I don’t think so. You know, arguments have been made that, for example, the German term Heimat is untranslatable, but I disagree. I would say that the emotional baggage that comes with home, Heimat, homeland, it may be different in tiny nuances, but overall, this sense of emotionality, of attachment, of being connected to self and identity is the same for both English and German, definitely. And you can see this in how home is being used in political discourses, both in Britain, in the US, in Austria and Germany, you can see it in people connecting home to their self, to origins across these cultural contexts and linguistic contexts. And I have also- I have taught seminars and workshops on home in several different language contexts, and what everybody comes up with is basically, you know, home is where I can be myself, home is where I come from, home is where I belong, home is where I am safe. So it seems to be, you know, all across the board, both in English and German, it seems to have the same emotional- not only the same emotional baggage, I would say, but the same connotations and added value.
LG: Thank you so much to Sarah Heinz for joining me for this episode. You can find more information about her and her research by visiting the Yellow of the Egg website, that’s yellowoftheegg.com. She’s published on a range of topics within English and Anglophone Literatures, including on the subject of home and homeland. So definitely check out the website to find out more.
This was the final episode of series 1. Thank you once again to all of my guests this series, it really has been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a lot from doing this. And I want to thank you all for listening and for your continued support. Yellow of the Egg will be taking a little break now, but work has already started on series 2, so be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already, and follow me on Instagram @YOTEPodcast, Y-O-T-E-Podcast, to be among the first to know when series 2 is out. As always, if you want to get in touch, firstname.lastname@example.org.
So with all that being said, thank you so much for listening, and I’ll see you all soon for series 2. Machts es gut, servus aus Wien.