TRABANTEN - Beyond Concrete and Sun
„Gropiusstadt“ - skyscrapers for 45.000 people, green lawn and shopping malls. From far away it all appeared new and very cared of. However, if you have been inside, everywhere it smelt like piss and shit.That came from the many dogs and children, who lived there. The most it stunk in the hallway.“
This is how writer Christiane F. described the place where she grew up on the first pages of her book Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo which acquired cult status in Europe immediately and raised wide awareness of heroin addiction and the wider problems that are connected with the urban satellite cities which are called as well Trabanten-Städte.
55 years ago in 1962 the mayor of West-Berlin and later german chancellor Willy Brandt did lay the foundation for a huge living area project called Gropiusstadt. First plans had been developed already back in the fifties, when urban planners wanted to core the narrowly constructed old quarters of Neukölln and to bring „light, air and sun“ to the war plagued people. World famous Bauhaus founder and name sake Walter Gropius designed and planned it with the aim to connect the „numerous elements of usual urban life“.
With the construction of the Berlin Wall the place for new buildings in West Berlin became suddenly even more rare. Much more and much higher buildings were needed. Instead of planned 14.500 apartments almost 20.000 have been constructed. The satellite city became rather a concrete desert with just little variety than an urban utopia.
Neukölln is one of Berlin's districts with the highest percentage of welfare recipients. As part of it Gropiusstadt is in particular a socially sensitive area as it has a very high rate of immigrants, old people and unemployed. Ninety percent of the apartments have been rented out under social criteria.
It became one of the most debated construction icons of the modern era not just in Germany. The concrete utopia Gropiusstadt was now perceived as some kind of a social pile of trash. With more growing social problems due two Germanys reunification Gropiusstadt was increasingly coming under the public gaze as a role model for social hotspots und manifested the status of a deprived urban area with cultural conflicts and high potential to violence.
Nowadays Berlin’s housing problems boil over again. What's lacking in most parts of the city are affordable rental homes. The housing crisis is one of the most critical debated issues in Germanys capital. Especially in context of a large gentrification process that forces most people with low income like students and young families to move out of the city centre towards the peripheries. Some people thinking positively believe in a new renaissance of the planned satellite cities. Claiming that there might be a brighter future for the inhabitants just as it used to be planned by Walter Gropius.
My work Trabanten deals with general questions about outer perception versus inner reality of the satellite cities. I would describe my photographic approach as poetic documentary. With my pictures I try to look beyond the brutal concrete facades and to focus on the inhabitants I met out there in this very special visual surrounding. Is there beauty and how can it be discovered? What is it that makes a place - despite of its bad reputation - alive and enjoyable? What I have found is delicate traces of beauty and humanity beyond the concrete facades.