Tag: Berlin

Spatial Awareness

Between the 1970s and early 1990s, British photographer Joe Dilworth regularly peeked behind the iron curtain. His pictures are visual memories from a parallel society – and documents of a deep fascination.

“As a kid, I used to get in trouble for staring at people,” says British photographer Joe Dilworth. In photography, he found a way to channel his curiosity – but without staying completely out of trouble.
In his youth, he had visited Czechoslovakia as part of a scouting exchange with the Pioneer movement – a experience so memorable that he wanted to repeat it. “You weren’t supposed to go… which exerted a huge pull on me,” he says.
After studying Fine Art at Saint Martins and Goldsmiths in London, Joe regularly returned to Eastern Europe, an area that was then still firmly behind the iron curtain.

Berlin, 1989

Budapest, 1986

Budapest, 1989

Joe’s photos from the time document everyday life in the region over several years. He made multiple trips to cities like Budapest, Prague, and East Berlin, where he shot photos on the streets. But his photos are less accurately described by their individual subjects than they are by their overall theme. Taken together, these photos all revolve around space: The open space these cities contain, how people fill it, and how public life takes a hold within it.
“Going there was a way of slipping back into the past,” Joe explains. “When I was growing up, post-war London was an underpopulated city, with lots of ruins and emptiness.” But taking pictures there was more than just an act of remembrance – it was also an investigation of the differences. “The world there was a mirror image to capitalism, everything worked in a completely different way.”
When the Cold War had ended, Joe returned to these places and took more pictures. Thanks to his remarkably consistent style, the more recent photos fit neatly with the older ones. In fact, it often becomes difficult to tell which decade the photos were taken in.

Berlin, 1996

Budapest, 2004

Moscow, 2000

Many photos resulted from the way Joe himself interacted with space: The Rolleiflex camera he continues to use takes pictures from a waist level: It’s a unique angle that gives even his contemporary pictures a certain vintage atmosphere. And shooting from below allows the photographer to get close to his subject: “It’s a submissive gesture,” Joe explains, “and it automatically makes you part of the environment without imposing on others.”
It’s the difference between looking and staring, if you will.

Berlin, 2009

Buadors, 2007

Joe Dilworth is a photographer from London. He studied Fine Art at Saint Martin’s College and Goldsmiths in London. He also spent several years playing as a drummer in several bands, including Stereolab. He now lives in the German capital, where he is one of the co-founders of the photography book store Bildband Berlin. See more of his work on his website and make sure to follow him on Instagram.
Many thanks to Maya Hristova for help on this piece.

Histories Hidden in Trash

What we learned walking across Berlin with a garbologist.

For Eva Becker, trash is a research subject. Germany’s first garbologist researches refuse and what it says about the humans creating it. In late summer, we joined her on one of her trash walks: A stroll through Berlin’s Kreuzberg district to document the trash on the streets.
Trash has a tendency to blend into the human environment. Especially in a city as busy and sometimes gritty as Berlin, you may fail to notice it. Walking with Eva, asking questions and slowly turning over the trash we found on our way was an eye-opening experience: Not only is there much more trash than you might think, it’s also scattered in the most unexpected places. We’ll let Eva explain.
Garbology is the study of modern trash. William Rathje of the University of Arizona started using modern archaeological methods to analyse trash in the 1970s. He realized, that the way we litter tells a lot about the way we live. I stumbled upon his research some years ago and was fascinated by it. I did some research and found out that garbology is virtually non-existent in Germany which motivated me to do it.
Trash is nothing new. As a species, we have always left something behind. In the Olduvai Gorge, one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world, archeologists have found trash in the form of bones or stone splitt-offs.
The interesting thing about garbage is that it serves as a common denominator. We all litter. Every part of the city is dirty. It’s just the amount and type of garbage that varies. A neighbourhood like Kreuzberg or Neukölln is a real treasure trove for somebody like me: Most people don’t really see the garbage that surrounds them because it is so ubiquitous. We filter it out. It’s only when the amount or type of garbage is unusual that we are reminded of it.
There are two ways people in cities deal with garbage when they are on the go: either they hide it or they present it. Sometimes, you come across a piece of garbage that was not just thrown away but carefully arranged or positioned by somebody. You would assume that people would dispose of their waste in the most discreet manner but some expose their garbage so that the trash collectors can more easily spot and collect it. And then there’s human laziness. That’s probably the prime reason for all the trash we find here. Even if there are enough garbage bins around: the incentive is not strong enough to overcome laziness and actually use them. Hiding waste, on the other hand, is mostly driven by shame or disgust. None of us likes garbage, not even our own.
I have a very high tolerance by now. Of course there are things that disgust me like used syringes or human waste. When I go and talk to school classes here in Berlin, I am always amazed at how the kids react to the garbage I bring with me. They will gladly take up a plastic cup or something that was laying on the street but they jump up and scream if there is an ant or spider crawling around. They have lost all connection to nature. Nature has become something unfamiliar and hence disgusting.
I have seen and documented so much garbage, there is relatively little that still amazes or shocks me. The most surprising thing is probably when you see something valuable being thrown out. I once found this very old and beautiful Indian antique. An acquaintance of mine – an Indologist – later told me that it was quite precious and rare.
It’s very hard to tell where garbage begins and where it ends. One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. Are dead bodies garbage? When we die, our bodies no longer fulfill any functions, they become more or less worthless and that’s how many people would define waste: a useless object. But our bodies continue to have a function after we die, they become compost and re-enter the biological cycle. I would define garbage as something that is of no use but stays in the environment in some way or another. A plastic bag in the ocean will disintegrate but its parts will stay in the water for a substantial amount of time. Marine biologists call these little shreds of plastic mermaid tears.
William Rathje analysed the garbage at the Fresh Kills Landfill in NYC and what they found out was astounding. One example: they found large quantities of beef. They were able to trace it back to a specific moment in time because in the layer that had all the beef in it, they also found telephone books. They realized that the beef was thrown out during a time of economic recess. Why would people throw out expensive meat during a time of crisis? They bought it in such large quantities because they assumed it would only become more expensive or cease to be available completely. So people started buying beef in bulk but often had no means of storing it appropriately. They were forced to throw out the beef that had turned bad.
Garbage is often a better indicator of human behavior than human communication. In New York, an ad agency was commissioned to find out about the eating habits of the residents of a certain area. The residents were asked to complete a questionnaire about their diet and eating habits and it was established from the answers, that people in that neighborhood were eating extremely healthy. Yet, when a supermarket in the area started offering healthier food options, nobody bought it. It was only by analyzing the garbage of the area that they found out people were not really all that dedicated to a healthy lifestyle. Waste doesn’t lie, humans do.

Hitler! War! Destruction!

In Berlin, a devilish chapter of history is buried under history itself.

On clear days, you can see it from the city: A run-down radar station, perched on a hill overlooking Berlin. The station has a somewhat sinister look, no doubt because of the many holes dotting its once pristine surface. And if that wasn’t enough, it stands on what is called the Devil’s Mountain.
Teufelsberg – its German name – is located in the western outskirts of the Berlin. It is far away from where most tourists go, and an oddity even in this city full of oddities. Sure, there’s that abandoned radar station, a remnant of the Cold War and a paradise for urban explorers. But the hill is not just a testament to history, it is of history itself: Teufelsberg is man-made, constructed from the rubble of bombed-out Berlin. Following the Second World War, as the city was rebuilding, it dumped more than 75 million cubic meters of debris here. In the 1970s, the rubble was covered and trees were planted, resulting in a gently sloping hill. But below the hill’s grass and wildflowers still lie the ruins of a city that no longer exists.

An entire city, pulverised and compacted.

It’s a fascinating, if depressing thought that an entire city can be reduced to mountains of rocks, splinters and dust. That
there is an earlier iteration of today’s Berlin, which has been pulverized, moved aside, and compacted. And that the city itself was used to conceal its shameful past: Below Teufelsberg, under the grass, the soil, and the countless tons of rubble stand the ruins of a military college built by the Nazis during their reign.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the name has to do with the events of the 20th century. That it was distilled from that stunning list of atrocities (Hitler! War! Destruction! More war! Decay!) and ascribed to Lucifer himself. Perhaps for a lack of better justification. But when the rubbled started growing into the city’s second highest elevation, people simply named it after a nearby lake. The Devil’s lake.

Who says we need the devil?

And this is where the story takes its final turn for the absurd. This hill, born of destruction, and a spot for Cold War espionage, was placed not just over the past but right next to a spot where the devil is said to have appeared: Legend has it that the area was once inhabited by a Slavic tribe, which was infiltrated by the devil, who posed as an idol. The local bishop, the story continues, had the tribe massacred and the devil exorcized. He disappeared into an abyss in the ground that quickly filled with dark water and gave the lake its name.

History is muddy here, rife with rumors and speculation about what exactly happened back then. It’s safe to say that the devil managed to capture public imagination, both back then and now. Just as he was cited for the lake, the devil’s association with the hill makes intrinsic sense. It remains a strange place and stands out atmospherically. Berlin doesn’t have many elevations, making the artificial Teufelsberg the second largest hill in the city and affording an unusual view over the city. The abandoned radar station’s towers poke out from behind the trees, and in summer there is an endless amount of mosquitos swarming up from the lake.
You may not believe in the devil, but if humans can create this place, who says we even need him?

Note: The intro picture shows a symbolic scene from Dresden. The Berlin city archive has a lot of great pictures from the making of the actual Teufelsberg, but unfortunately hasn’t released them for editorial use.