HAMBURG, Germany — After “kindergarten” and “schadenfreude,” it’s time for another German word to enter the Anglosphere: “Heimat.” German-to-English dictionaries will translate Heimat (pronounced HI-mat) as home, native land or homeland, but none of those words capture the true meaning of the term.

Heimat describes not just a geographical place, but a state of belonging. It’s the opposite of feeling alien; for most Germans, it is mixed with the smell of Christmas cookies from Mama’s kitchen. Heimat is about the landscape that left its mark on you, the culture that informed you and the people that inspired you when you were growing up.

To many, it is the mildest form of patriotism, and it long preoccupied German romantic writers like Novalis, Hölderlin and Eichendorff. Later, the Nazis co-opted the love for Heimat into a murderous hatred of those they decided did not belong. After World War II, Heimat was repurposed as an amnesia-inducing blanket that covered the horrors and guilt with kitschy, romantic Alpine movies.

Now Heimat is back in a new guise, at the core of a major conflict that shapes the post-Communist world: identity versus diversity. Pundits and politicians debate its importance; one party of Berlin’s (still to be confirmed) grand coalition has decided Germany even needs a Heimat ministry. Horst Seehofer, the prime minister of Bavaria — a state that, with its dirndls and mountain retreats, is the home of Heimat, if you will — has been put in charge of a new “superministry” covering the interior, infrastructure and Heimat. The move was ridiculed immediately by members of the young, urban Twitterati. Will we all be forced to wear lederhosen, they sniped, and have our weekly portion of sauerkraut?

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