These Past Twelve Years: The Ghosts of Paul and Wilfried

Long ago, back in episode one, back when Eduard was still a bachelor, there was a member of the Simon family by the name of Paul. Do you remember him? In those days Wilfried Wiegand was just a goofy boy who kicked over Herr Glasisch’s bicycle. But by the time the year 1939 comes around, the viewers of the Heimat have hardly seen a glimpse of brother Paul, and Wilfried has grown into a surprisingly austere adult whose sense of humor must have gone along with Paul to America. In episode five, the memory of Paul resurfaces when a letter of his arrives at the Simon home. Later on in episode six, Wilfried Wiegand seems to have wiped clean any memory of his childish past. For both of these characters, disappearance or at least a drastic change in appearance plays a significant role in how the other characters respond to them. In the process, the once loyal father and the foolish schoolboy become ghosts who lose touch with their former selves. Is it fair for these characters to abandon their pasts so suddenly, and in the case of Paul, expect to resume just where they have left off? Can either of the two hope to return to their previous lives?

Several scenes stand out particularly when examining the absence and reappearance of the two Germans. In episode five, entitled “Up and Away and Back,” Paul makes his presence known to his disconnected family with a note delayed for over a decade. The little piece of paper initiates much more shock than can be expected from the average letter, not only because he has left his family without a clue as to his well-being all these years but also because he announces his wish to return to Germany. Paul provides no real excuse for his severed connection with his family nor does he apologize for his rash departure. Instead, he writes that he has been trying to send the letter for the last ten years and that he’s thought about all of those that he’s left behind, especially Maria and the children. Is this just talk? Does Paul genuinely care for the Simon family? If so, why did he leave and why has he waited so long to express his worries? Does he consider that his family may have moved on without him? These are surely questions which Maria must consider, having confessed her love to Otto Wohlleben after so many years of waiting. With the dilemma of Paul’s return in mind, Maria remarks of Paul, “He is dead for me because he has no heart.” If he is to return, Maria will likely feel that he is a mere ghost. Is Maria justified in feeling this way and taking on a surrogate spouse?

Though Ernst feels more enraged toward his “Yankee” father living in Detroit, Anton also sees his father as someone whom he barely knows. His father may seem little more than a stranger to him, for even Paul’s German assumes the foreign quality of an American accent as we hear over the phone. Paul’s parents, at least, can be relied upon to take in their lost son, though Matthias’ sight is dwindling so that his son will appear like a blurry phantom of his former self. Either way, the reunion will have to wait, since Paul’s return home is blocked by his obscured Aryan identity. One cannot simply leave German and return just as quickly once twelve years have elapsed.

In episode six, we are presented with a version of Wilfried, who, like Paul, has deviated substantially from his status in the first few episodes. With the war ongoing, Wilfried has only become stricter and more sharpened by ruthlessness. His ghostly alteration materializes suddenly in the scene of the English pilot, whom he dispatches with a pistol shot that mirrors the same lack of emotion found in a McCarthy killing. He then proceeds to lie about the shooting, claiming twice that “I had to shoot him when he tried to escape.” Katharina exhibits resentment to the meaner Wilfried after he reprimands her for feeding French prisoners, whom he claims are “enemies, not people.” Katharina, however, challenges Wilfried’s own identity as a person when she retorts, “A real dirty dog, that’s what you are.” What do you think of Wilfried’s transformation from goofball to cutthroat? Is he really as cruel as he seems?

Are there any other Heimat characters who seem to have forgotten their past selves?

This entry was posted in Heimat, Student Generated. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to These Past Twelve Years: The Ghosts of Paul and Wilfried

  1. Caitlin says:

    I realize that this may be taking it too far. That said, in response to Charlie’s note on Wilfried’s transformation, do you guys think it’s possible that it stands for something greater? He started out as a “goofy” child who was routinely made fun of, but never quite knew how to strike back. If I’m remembering this correctly, young Wilfried kicked over the bicycle at the picnic and looked triumphantly at his victim. Good one. The Nazi Party allows him to feel strong and powerful. Perhaps to a certain degree he represents Germany. The Weimar Repulik left the nation downtrodden and in a way belittled by the rest of Europe. The rise of the Third Reich promises a return of power and glory to Germany and demands respect from everyone. Yes, it may be a stretch, but I see parallels between Wilfried and Germany’s transformation.

  2. Kevin says:

    I am anxious to see what Paul will be like if/when he does make a reappearance in the show (I actually know the answer to this question from secondary sources relating to my paper, but I’ll leave it ambiguous for those of you who don’t). How is he even going to possibly begin to make amends to his family? No matter what he says to his boys, he still left them with a fatherless childhood, and no matter what he says to Maria, he essentially left her a widow. His letter has to have been fueled by guilt for just leaving his family out of the blue all those years ago, but it is interesting that it took this long. I will be very interested to see if a returning Paul manages to reintegrate into his family.

  3. Erin says:

    Early in episode 6, when Paul’s letter travels from the train to Katharina’s house it seems almost to mirror Paul’s arrival home from war in the beginning of the first episode. Parallels are made to almost the exact position the characters were in the first episode, Paul’s father, Matthias, is welding medal, Paul’s cousin is fixing something, the women on the street stop to look up at the man riding the bike with the letter. For a moment, even the music is identical (although there is basically only one sound track that plays through out the entire series anyway). At one point, I was convinced that it was Paul himself returning home. The letter seems to come at the worst possible time, reminding me of drama that would occur only in a soap opera; Maria finally finds love again and almost immediately after Paul reaches out to tell the family he is returning home.

    Thinking outside of the information we know, I think it was necessary for Paul to leave because much like Marco Polo’s long exposure to Chinese culture, Paul’s long exposure to American culture will surely make him a foreigner at his return. Like the telephone wires connecting Schabbach to the outside world, Paul seems to be Schabbach’s other connection to the outside world, the image of outsiders coming into Schabbach has been prevalent throughout the film so far. The French woman on the horse, Eduard meeting Lucy, the American pilot stopping in Schabbachn etc.. Paul’s letter seems a bit foreboding, for although he is doing well in America, he is worried about his family and thus feels the need to return home within a year. Is there information that is more available to Americans that people of a small German town don’t have access to? Why is Paul so worried that he would leave his rather successful job to return to his family he left in the first place. Another question we can consider while watching the next episodes of Heimat is how much does Paul identify America as his home?

Comments are closed.