We Will Soon Forget: Exploring The DDR Times
We Will Soon Forget is a photography project by Italians Stefano Corso and Dario Jacopo Laganà. They spent 2014 driving around eastern Germany examining and exploring the remaining evidence of the Red Army’s occupation of the country. The result is the exhibition We Will Soon Forget, opened yesterday in Berlin at the Meinblau Projektraum in Mitte, having previously toured Rostock, Halle and Marienborn.
The Soviet Army were in East Germany from 1945 until 1994 when the Soviet Bloc collapsed. September 2014 marked 20 years since the last Soviet officials withdrew from the region and We Will Soon Forget documents the realities of areas under the control of the Red Army in the DDR. The project looks at the way spaces have been adapted following the Soviet withdrawal – and how their connection to this part of Germany’s past is disappearing. Some spaces have been adopted and refurbished, other have simply been left to rot and some have been deliberately demolished. Corso and Laguna have also published a book to go alongside the exhibition that preserves this unique point in time in German history.
The project, developed by ZED Fotografie e.V and supported by the Bundesstiftung Aufarbeitung and the Italienisches Kulturinstitut Berlin, has been a two year undertaking which has seen the pair trawl across more than 8,00km of the former East Germany, archiving more than 10,000 photographs from 300 locations and mapping the historical East Germany against the contemporary reality. The results are a fascinating look into East Germany’s past.
A superficial reading of the exhibition offers parallels with ruin photography in places like Detroit, but a more careful reading offers visitors a chance to see a largely hidden part of Germany’s recent past. One of the stranger parts of this chapter of German history is that the buildings and places that housed, fed, watered and entertained the Red Army in their decades long residence in East Germany, has largely been ignored, as united Germany marched towards reassuming its place at Europe’s biggest power, this part of the country’s history simply disappeared from view. Strangely, there have been some buildings and places that have been salvaged from this time, repurposed or renovated and put back to use, but as the exhibition makes clear, there is little rhyme or reason behind which building survived and which were abandoned.
The exhibition looks at places, but the places it examines are immensely personal spaces: barracks, hospitals, gyms, schools and alike. As such, the spectre of the people they once contained looms large. Indeed, as the introduction by historian Silke Satjukow makes clear, one of the key questions that confronted those living through the occupation was how the Red Army and the East Germans managed each other and how ostensibly distinct lives crossed over. As such, there is a depth of survey that outpaces the typical abandoned building photography that has enjoyed so much popularity lately, offering instead a serious historical perspective and a unique artistic aesthetic.
The exhibition will run for three weeks until the 20th September and will be part of Berlin Art Week.
Sarah Coughlan is the managing editor of Berlin Logs. You can find her at: www.bulletproofed.org where she hides her academic proofreading business.