“Paul in den USA”
“Interview mit Paul Simon, 13. Dezember 1970”
In fall 2013, eleven students in GER 213 at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN engaged with the concept of “Heimat,” one of those mysterious German words that defy translation, roughly corresponding to “home,” but with an extensive range of connotations linked to certain historical periods. We discussed, for example, references to land or nation, the local and provincial in contrast to the city, the infamous Nazi rewriting of the term as “blood and soil,” and that unique place – if it ever even existed – that seems to have disintegrated before our eyes, now relegated to (unreliable) memories. Over the semester we watched all eleven episodes of Edgar Reitz’s “Heimat – A Chronicle of Germany” (“Heimat. Eine deutsche Chronik,” 1984), Carl Froelich’s “Heimat” (1938), a number of 1950s films known as “Heimatfilme,” part of Chomsky’s “Holocaust” (1978), and some newer films with “Heimat” as an open or hidden agenda. Students had already taken the equivalent of more than four semesters of college German; the course was conducted in German, except for discussions of essays in English. Students posted their writing (including eleven essays) on this public course blog.
One course project was to make a short video (under five minutes), inspired by the first seven episodes of “Heimat” (1919-1944) screened by fall break. In these episodes, students had seen Paul Simon suddenly leave the fictional town of Schabbach in the Hunsrück area of southwestern Germany, where he lived with his wife Maria and their two sons. Prompts for possible topics included filling in gaps between episodes or interviewing one of the characters. Students were not asked to memorize any text, but their films were expected to interact and comment on the content and themes in episodes 1-7. To lower potential anxiety about becoming filmmakers in German, the course account for posting videos in YouTube was designated as private.
Three groups of students agreed to share their films on new public sites: “Paul in den USA” (second prize for best video), “Tagesschau Schabbachs,” and “Interview mit Paul Simon, 13. Dezember 1970.” Many thanks to these students!