On Experimenting With Two Homelands – An Interview with the Korean-born Filmmaker Sung-Hyung Cho
In your film you show a rather bizarre place – a German village in South Korea. It looks like something you might find in a model-makers’ catalogue. What is it all about?
The German village is located on an island in South Korea and is really quite a remote place. There are only about 30 houses with red-tiled roofs and front gardens. There used to be garden dwarves, too, but they all had to go as the tourists kept taking them as souvenirs. The village is home to Koreans who emigrated to Germany – to their German partners. This means that the Koreans actually emigrated twice – the first time to Germany back in the 1960s and 1970s and then, a second time, 30 or 40 years later back to their old homeland.
How did the German village come about?
It was originally the idea of one of the local politicians on the island. As was the case all over the world, and still is, the rural population was shrinking and the politician wanted to do something about it. He hit upon the idea that a German village could be a major tourist attraction. Now they also have an American village and there is a Japanese village is in the pipeline. The trend is moving more and more towards a theme park.
The Koreans lost their traditions
In your film you accompany three Korean women and their German husbands. They have a hard time dealing with the onslaught of all the tourists. Ludwig Strauss-Kim is called a “Long-nosed Granddad” and his wife, Woo-Za, even goes so far as to call the police. What makes this German village so appealing to Koreans?
Germany and Europe underwent an industrialisation process that lasted 300 years, Korea had to manage it in 50 years. The Koreans lost their traditions – traditions that were moreover killed off during the colonial period. Instead of having their own Korean-style architecture their big cities are full of mostly high-rise blocks. This is why Koreans find a detached house with a garden particularly exotic. At the same time it has a kind of idyllic allure for them as they long to live on the ground and not on the 30th floor of some skyscraper. Furthermore there is also the yearning for faraway places.
“Endstation der Sehnsüchte“ (Home From Home )is the name of your film and it is all about yearning – what is actually being yearned for?
It is the yearning for a better life, affluence and of course the yearning for love. One of the female protagonists came to Germany to be with the first love of her life. Thirty years later however there is still the yearning for her old homeland, her old feelings of security that stem from her family and the language.
The German title “Endstation” means “end of the line” – is this meant in the sense of fulfilment or more in the sense of a “dead-end road”, the sad finale of a disillusionment?
Both are meant. These Korean women have returned home, but not just anywhere in their homeland, but to a German village. For me this means that they do not want to do without their new homeland – Germany. The idea of living in a “double” homeland is particularly fascinating to me. If we look at the way they did it in the film, then it is clear that it can only lead to a mere shell. From that point of view I think we can in fact call it a “dead-end road”.
Who am I?
“Losing our homeland is the tragedy of our lives,” says Chun-Ja Engelfried in the film. What does the idea of homeland mean to you?
When I lived in South Korea I never thought about homeland, but since I moved to Germany I have begun to start thinking about it in a particularly intense way. I find it very dangerous, if homeland is viewed first and foremost in a kind of retrogressive, nostalgic haze. You have to develop your feeling for your homeland in the here and now. I now have to see Germany as my new homeland and try to make it my homeland. If you are lazy, you’ll never manage to do this. You will just be plagued by homesickness and this will lead to you idealising the old homeland – a “wonderland” where everything is better. A homeland is not something that remains constant, but something that has to be constantly reassessed and overcome. The question of homeland is of course also a question of identity – who am I? What brought you to Germany? My mother worked as a nurse in Germany. I caught the “yearning-for-the-West” bug in a big way and, in particular, for Germany – the land of poets and philosophers. I had grown up with German literature as many German books had been translated into Korean. I read Goethe, Heine, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, but all in the Korean translation. Furthermore many Koreans feel a great bond with Germany as both countries were divided – two countries sharing the same fate.
Has your film changed the way you see Germany and Korea?
One thing I learned is that I will never find the old idea of homeland that I have in my head, just like the women in the film. And that I will always be torn one way or the other. There will always be two homelands inside me – a “double” yearning for homeland.
The German husbands in the film, Ludwig, Arnim and Willi, can hardly speak a word of Korean. Is it possible to feel at home in a country whose language you do not speak?
I don’t think so. Language is the key to any culture. If you cannot speak the language, you cannot understand the culture. What is more you cannot integrate into society. I have been in Germany now for 20 years, but the feeling of being alien will be with me until my dying day – solely because of the language.
Do you feel that your protagonists made the right decision by moving into the German village?
I very much respect their decision, above all the aging German husbands. I really find it awesome that these men, who are well over 70, were prepared to move to the other side of the world! Yet I still feel they did not make the right decision. Korean society is too hectic, the cities are all ultra-modern, all full of high-tech. For older people this can be quite disconcerting. From a more pragmatic point of view, too – in Korea the retirement schemes and health insurance plans are not as good as in Germany. On top of all that the village lies on a steep slope. Even I sometimes got out of breath there.
conducted the interview. She works as a free-lance journalist, above all for the Westdeutscher Rundfunk radio/TV station in Cologne.
Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V.,
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firstname.lastname@example.org May 2009