KRAFTWERK JUGEND / Powerplant Youth
Over the period of one and a half years I accompanied teenagers in the town of Lübbenau, which is located in the southeast corner of the german state of Brandenburg. An important industrial region during GDR times, the area is gripped today by recession, unemployment, and population decline. A process that manifests itself in the urban landscape of many towns in East Germany and in the social relationships there. With its powerplant „VEB BKW Jugend“ it has been an important industrial facility of the former GDR untill the big change in 1989. The day I began my work, the powerplant that once gave work for about 10.000 people was finally blasted into dust by a controlled demolition.
However I was not just interested in the pure documentation of urban decline. Much more my intention was to figure out, how do young people grow up in a place whose population is constantly declining as it ages? So I tried to document the effects of this disintegration in the lives of Lübbenau teenagers whose personal evolution often runs counter—and sometimes in direct opposition—to the developments in the place where they live.
The protagonists in „Kraftwerk Jugend“ not only share a similar background; they are also around the same age but, all born after 1989 and thus into a reunified Germany. Only their parents’ stories and the architectural relics of the East German (GDR) period, which can still be found in public plazas throughout the Brandenburg town, bear direct witness to the "first socialist state on German soil."
Among the color photographs that make up the series Powerplant Youth, portrait photographs of Lübbenau’s teen generation predominate. In them, I wanted to show how young people take possession of their town by day and by night, congregating in neglected and abandoned industrial wastelands, at the skate park, at bus stops, and in the green spaces and playgrounds surrounding the socialist-era prefab apartment complexes. How they spend their free time out in public, alone or in groups—some of them seem to be waiting for something, others have been captured in the middle of an indecipherable movement.
In my pictures the young protagonists are acting in front of a ruined stage. It is a product of an ongoing process of history. But the presence of the adolescents changes the way it appears. In all it's tragic lack of future some sanguinity comes to the fore. A quotation from Schiller's "Wilhelm Tell" became very dear to me while working with the kids: "Das alte stürzt und neues Leben blüht aus den Ruinen."
The kaleidoscope of ms series „Kraftwerk Jugend“ revolves around the volatile state of flux between adolescence and adulthood, a frequently addressed theme in art. I hope my images are pervaded by a universal sense of reflection and new beginnings—one that is even palpable in the shrinking towns of East Germany.