Mittwoch, 26. November 2008

First trip: Bayrischer Wald

Iron Curtain installation as part of a future holiday resort in Finsterau, Germany

When you start a new project, it is probably a good idea to get help from a friend and encouragement from a colleague, who has worked on a similar idea. I found both in Passau (Germany), just a few kilometers south of the former Iron Curtain between Germany and the Czech Republic. My wife Brigitte and our Labrador dog Betula set off by car to meet Doris and Walter. They run the famous Scharfrichterhaus in the old town centre. It is a cultural centre, especially known for their extensive programming of political cabaret and an excellent restaurant. They put us up in style in the old tower of a fortress, overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Inn from the tiny windows. From here I made an appointment with cabaret artist, writer and photographer Rudi Klaffenböck. He is a precursor to my photo project, because he walked the Austrian borders of the former Iron Curtain some 15 years ago. He published the beautiful book "Grenz-gehen" about this hike (Verlag Karl Stutz 1998) and produced a performance using his text, projected pictures and selected objects from his trip. In his storage, he still has these objects. One is a rusted and very torn metal sheet in the vague shape of a man, whom Czech border guards used to shoot at. He found them full of bullet holes in an abandoned barrack and took them with him. I decided to take his portrait with him holding one of these figures. Having this objet trouve from my future travel destination and a fellow artist, who worked so successfully on the same topic seemed to me the perfect start and a good omen for the project.

The Passau based artist Rudolf Klaffenböck

Doris and Walter welcomed us so kindly and on the next day they took us to the former Iron Curtain, now the German - Czech border. We visited the now extinct but former village of Leopoldsreut. Only the school house and a little church are left. But this was the perfect start, because Walter was born in this village and lived here during his early childhood days. He showed us an open space in the dense forest, where you could still see some floor stones in the meadow which once was the doorsill of the inn owned by his family. Typically for the border region, this little village had been founded and supported to protect a regionally important trading route but then lost its importance with the change in our traffic patterns and totally collapsed being at the dead end of a route after the Iron Curtain was built. The village did not recover after the fall of the Iron Curtain and is now only a hikers' and bikers' destination.

Walter Landshuter in front of the former schoolhouse of Leopoldsreut, Germany

Sonntag, 23. November 2008

The Beginning: Questions

Living in Austria before 1989 meant that a part of the northern border all the eastern border and part of the southern border were formed by the so-called Iron Curtain. This was for the most part a very substantial system of fences, watch towers and guards, but it was also a dividing line between the "Weltanschauungen". From Salzburg the farthest distance to this border was 400 kilometres - everything else was closer. This meant for me that I was always very aware of this dividing line in our post Cold War world. The fall of the Iron Curtain was as much of a surprise to me as it was for everybody else. But now, almost 20 years later, this once unconquerable border is barely on my mind and I cross it without even reducing the speed of my car.

This seemed to me the perfect time to find out the present situation at this former border. What is left of the fortifications and fences. What is left in the minds of people who still live there. Why did others deliberately go there to take advantage of opportunities. Is the border still visible in the land or in the behaviour of the inhabitants. What kind of new projects were created to overcome the former divide and how does the new generation cope with the burden of the past. And above all - what will I be able to capture and communicate in photographs.