More than kitsch: what constitutes home

Home, what is that actually? An exhibition at the Haus der Geschichte in Bonn sets out on a search and finds: Homeland concerns us all.

Embroidered pillow showing a boy looking at an idyllic landscape

The exhibition shows "Home Beyond stereotypes

Homeland is a term that seems to become increasingly vague the more concretely one tries to define it. If asked what my home is, I would probably answer: the Rhineland. That is geographically correct and comes easily to my lips. But I would feel more than that. I would probably think of my family, of my parents’ garden, of convivial dinners. Happy, sad, funny memories would run through my head. And this potpourri of feelings would then somehow be home for me.

But how should one describe that, so properly?? Then, for the sake of simplicity, I prefer to stay with the Rhineland, or Germany, or even Europe, depending on your perspective. An exhibition at the Haus der Geschichte in Bonn has now taken up this theme. "Home. A search" explores the meaning of home, focusing on Germany in the years after 1945 until today.

Homeland is booming

Mud-soiled wine bottles from the Ahr valley, which was hit hard by the flood disaster

After the flood disaster, many winegrowers in the Ahr Valley sold wine bottles that were dirty from the mud but intact

My hometown is on the right bank of the Rhine, pretty much opposite the Ahr Valley, where a devastating flood in July 2021 destroyed the homes and homes of thousands of people. Nature can hardly demonstrate to us more clearly that our habitat is threatened. "The concept of home always becomes important when uncertainty increases, says Christian Peters, project manager of the exhibition. Globalization, digitalization, climate change and the Corona pandemic have led to a boom in the home country.

For the first time in my life, since the floods, I care about what is geographically my home. Lucky – so far, you might say. What always seemed safe to me, other people have lost. For example, in a lignite mine, as the exhibition impressively shows. In the Rhenish coalfield, the Central German coalfield and the Lusatian coalfield, more than 200 towns with a total of over 100.000 inhabitants to make way for the opencast mines in whole or in part. Churches were demolished, cemeteries moved.

Six villages against lignite mining

At Home in Germany

Former inhabitants of these places tell in video recordings how the loss of their homeland feels. How they burst into tears when the excavators approached. The exhibition lives from these personal descriptions and thoughts on the subject of homeland. Off-camera sound recordings and quotes on the walls accompany visitors from room to room. "Those who build a house want to stay, and those who want to stay hope for security", the Jewish architect and former chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Salomon Korn, is quoted as saying.

But what does it mean to live as a Jew in Germany after the Holocaust?? Is there a homeland without security? Synagogues, clubs, schools: Jewish life in Germany is diverse and clearly visible – but also closely guarded and marked by concerns about anti-Semitic acts of violence, as a tweet by author Ronen Steinke projected on the exhibition wall makes clear:

Who belongs to it?

The exhibition addresses the tension between visibility and security that sometimes characterizes the everyday lives of Jews in Germany. "Homeland needs the commitment of all, says project manager Christian Peters. "It is important to think about what a modern concept of homeland can look like that includes people and does not exclude them." And so the exhibition also raises these questions: Who belongs? Who does not? And when does one feel at home?

Leo Sachs kept his prisoner clothing from Auschwitz in a suitcase

Leo Sachs kept his prisoner clothing from Auschwitz in a suitcase. In 1945 he returned to Cologne

In Germany, many people are confronted with these issues, whether they want to or not. More than a quarter of the population has family roots abroad. Germany is a country of immigration. But people with a migration background often experience discrimination and exclusion in everyday life. At worst, they experience racially motivated acts of violence. Like this on 19. February 2020, when an assassination attempt in Hanau killed nine people with an immigrant background.

HU N 454 – Hallmarks of the homeland

One of the victims, 21-year-old Said Nesar Hashemi, found his own personal way to express his attachment to his hometown: For his license plate number, he chose the sequence of numbers 454, the last three digits of the Hanau-Kesselstadt postal code. "The victims were not strangers!", was one of the central commemorative messages. "We live in a time where you can’t just sit back, where too many things are on the move", warns project manager Christan Peters.

Film flap for the film Almanya - Welcome to Germany, which received the German Film Award in 2011

The film "Almanya – Welcome to Germany" received the German Film Award in 2011

How versatile, personal, fragile, joyful and threatening home can be is documented in the exhibition with around 600 exhibits. There is, for example, the bunch of keys of a displaced person from Silesia who did not want to give up hope of returning to her home someday. Or the traditional dirndl dress, made of African fabrics, that the two Munich sisters Marie Darouiche and Rahmee Wetterich designed as a homage to their two homelands. Homeland, that is the message of the exhibition, concerns us all.

The exhibition "Heimat. A search" runs until 25. September 2022 in the House of History in Bonn.

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