Kenyan-German Explains: What is “Heimat”?

Nora Mbagathi

A new book by Helene Weinold-Leipold, “Brot – So schmeckt Heimat: Die besten Brotback-Rezepte“, brought along a hot topic this week in most German radio shows, “What is heimat?“.

Well, according to the Wikipedia: Heimat is a German word with no English equivalent; it denotes the relationship of a human being toward a certain spatial social unit. The term forms a contrast to social alienation and usually carries positive connotations.

But what does that really mean in real life? Das Erste decided to ask a Kenyan-German lady to share her experience and her interaction with, “Heimat”.

Heimat ist situationsbedingt für mich. Es kommt immer darauf an, wonach ich mich sehne.
(Heimat depends on the situation for me. It depends on what I long for)

Nora Mbagathi, 27 year old, born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya until she was 8 years old before moving to Berlin, Germany where she lived until she was 19 years old. Her father is Kenyan and her mother is German. At 19 she moved to Cairo, Egypt where she had planned to visit for only a year but stayed longer. She now studies law in Washington DC in the US.

Familie ist für mich sehr Heimat. Ich glaube an allen Orten, an denen ich bin, sind eher die Leute Heimat.” (Family is Heimat. I believe wherever I am, the people are the Heimat)

Nora visits Kenya once every year to spend time with her family. Her father and her siblings: Malaika and Isa, live there.

During her stay in Cairo, she got to meet many people with whom she went to Uni with. Most of whom still live there and she tries to visit them at least once every year. Making Cairo, yet another Heimat.

“Deutschland und Kenia ist die Heimat, die mir gegeben wurde, Kairo ist die Heimat, die ich mir ausgesucht habe. Das war harte Arbeit, es war, das war schwierig, aber das war es auch wert. Man verlässt immer Leute, man vermisst immer Leute, aber man kommt immer wieder zurück, man sieht immer Leute, es ist ein bitter-süßes Gefühl, aber das Süße überwiegt.”

(Germany and Kenya are the Heimats I was given. Cairo is the heimat I chose for myself. It was hardwork, it was hard, but it was worth it. You leave people, you miss then but you always come back and when you see them, it’s a bitter-sweet feeling but the sweet always overrides the bitter)

However, her friends at Uni in Washington say, “Nora is undoubtedly German, but she’s also undoubtedly Kenyan. She’s international. All this places she’s lived in have influenced who she’s become

Ich glaube, ich könnte keine eine Heimat sagen. Ich glaube Heimat ist da, wo die Leute sind, bei denen ich mich zu Hause fühle. Und nachdem die überall verstreut sind, wird meine Heimat auch immer überall verstreut sein.

(I can’t choose one Heimat. I believe Heimat is where people I feel at home with, are. And because they are scattered all over, my Heimat is also scattered)

You can watch the short documentary at Das Erste Mediathek

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