What is Heimat anyway?

Pictured: artwork of a boy near Bellevue di Monaco. A bicycle is leaning against it.
By Lisa Valleroy-Djang
München--jeden Tag verlaufen, niemals verloren. Munich--every day lost (Eva can confirm my inability to orient myself in space), but never irretrievably lost. That is the Munich that I love and know. But I came to Germany of my own free will, with the knowledge that if I didn't like it (or if Meagan kicked me out of the hotel room for snoring too loud) I could always go back home. For so many, this is not an option.

"Heimat"--an old German word that doesn't exactly have an English equivalent. It offers a positive sense of home, where there is intimacy and comfort. Although the Nazis appropriated this term in order to spur xenophobia, I think the meaning of "Heimat" can overcome fascist propaganda.  The feeling of Heimat comes from community, not from nationalism.

The NGO I was so lucky to spend time with, Bellevue di Monaco, may not be home, but there is something in the sensibility and dedication of the people who work and volunteer there that make Bellevue di Monaco arguably the most home-like organization that I've ever encountered. 
Bellevue di Monaco's kitchen felt like the heart of it's operation. Every noon everyone would gather for lunch and take the time to eat with one another--
discussing serious matters, but also sharing in moments of laughter

Me, Moritz, and Eva outside of the main building

Bellevue di Monaco is many things, but its mission resides at the intersection of art and activism. In spite of the ongoing renovations, it continues to offer itself as a space to find advice, conviviality, and creativity. Poetry slams, sewing lessons, German lessons, asylum advice--there is always something going on. The kitchen plays an integral role of Bellevue di Monaco's work: cooking allows people, no matter their background, to come together and enjoy each other's company. While tasting a sauce or trying to find the right pan lid, social distances evaporate alongside the steam of a nearby kettle. This sense of community, where mutual respect and caring exist, is what I would call Heimat at Bellevue di Monaco.


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