Peter Bialobrzeski: Die zweite Heimat

Peter Bialobrzeski: Die zweite Heimat, copyright 2017
Publisher: Hartmann Books, Stuttgart
Design: Andrea Rauschenbusch
Text: Henning Sußebach
Language: English, German
Copyediting: Winfried Stürzl, Tas Skorupa

Finding a place in history

The German language has the right to claim some terms for itself worldwide.
Kindergarten, rucksacks, the Autobahn and the concept of home are all originally German.
The latter is probably the most controversial, at least in Germany.
There is not even a correct translation of the term. Habitat is too biological, home too confined to one’s own city or region, native land perhaps comes closest, but is not negatively charged.
„Country, part of the country or place in which one was born and brought up or in which one feels at home through permanent residence (often as an emotional expression of close attachment to a particular area)“. This is the factually correct definition, but often a certain external demarcation is added, a certain reactionary view, but „Heimat“ is also used when it comes to the preservation of nature.

No country in the world has as much difficulty with the concept of home as Germany, although this is again a very exclusively German one. Of course, other countries also show their inner ties, but much more concretely and less diffusely. It is also clear that this has to do with German history.
Not only in relation to the last 80 years, but already in the centuries before, the concept of „Heimat“ established itself and has gone through many definitions and reinterpretations.
From a factual analysis of the place of birth to the double interpretation during the Nazi era, which pretended to protect the homeland from internal and external enemies, while the people who had to flee looked back with melancholy on a broken Germany. In today’s world, the term is once again experiencing multiphase meanings. Again, it is right-wingers who supposedly want to protect the homeland, while migrants in some cases do not yet feel at home, and still others do not want to know anything about a homeland at all.

But is even a halfway objective description possible? German society has become too diverse for a universal meaning to be established here. An analytical approach would be to question clichés.
Germany as an economic power house that stands for automobile and mechanical engineering worldwide, high-quality products made by people who are punctual, meticulous, but humourless. A society that is clean, precise, reliable, orderly.
These clichés can be broken down, deciphered, caricatured, maybe even exaggerated.
Or document them objectively. At least attempt to convey an authentic image.

The concept of home is always a subjective one. Not group-related, but personal, be it the corner pub, the sports club, the neighbourhood, the city. And of course, the people who live there, the dialect, the characteristics of a region.
The first picture that caught my eye is Berlin, 2011: for me, a typical image of Germany in recent years.

A Trabi, the Beetle of the GDR, standing between a new building and an old façade. Only at second glance do you see that no old building is depicted here, only a film has been applied. The building behind it is probably being renovated and will soon shine in a fake new, old splendour, as if the centuries had not been able to harm the building.
So typical of a country that has never really found itself. Even 30 years after reunification, Germany is still struggling with this, there are still deep rifts, socially, economically, politically between East and West Germany. It wants to position itself as the economic power of Europe, to preserve the old at all costs, even if it only appears to be. It is allowed to be fake. They can’t let go of the past, but don’t really want to venture a new beginning.
It also seems typical from a visual point of view. Nothing that stands out, nothing that necessarily draws the eye, the scenery seems almost boring. At least everything is neat, objective, orderly. A confirmation and deciphering of the German image.

The subject

Peter Bialobrzeski’s pictures don’t fight for attention, Henning Sußebach declares them to be reality in his text, which would not be found in any online medium. Two paragraphs later, however, he himself postulates a turning away from camp thinking, from the black-and-white thinking he himself formulates. Of course, there is no universal truth and thus no universal home.
The BDSM parties in Berlin’s Kitkat Club are true homelands, as are the champagne receptions in Hamburg’s Galerien, where the nouveau riche merchants gather, or the evening rounds of the same people in Frankfurt’s corner pubs. No, there is no disagreement here. What Sußebach, as well as Bialobrzeskis, are trying to express: The majority of Germans are more likely to be found in Bocholt, Bochum and Buxtehude, while in the media a small but noisy group attracts attention. Bialobrzeski is also subjective. Urban views, façades, always seen as an outsider, at a distance, without interaction with the few people he depicts.
He takes on the role of the observer, watching the everyday with fascination and amusement.
His photographs are seldom rural, mostly urban, often enough caught in the supposed banality, then again shots that immediately captivate you, with a striking object in the centre. Be it amusement park rides in the city centre, murals, a woman in a colourful dress waiting for a bus, an American muscle car in front of a half-timbered house or an aeroplane in the middle of a residential area. Partly abstruse, contrary views, without seeming cynical or even sarcastic. On the contrary, they seem as if it were the most normal thing in the world to have a 70-metre aeroplane perched next to your child’s bedroom.

The last picture of the book shows a real Germany in 2015. A bungalow, probably built in the 80s, illuminated by Christmas decorations, old parts of a horse-drawn carriage hang on the wall of the house, warm light provides a sense of security in the living room. Not even a hundred metres away, a refugee camp has been set up. in 2015, Germany took in around one million refugees. One might see this reception as a contradiction. Wealth that has accumulated over years and decades, and within sight people fleeing from Iraq and Syria because they fear for their lives.

It can also have a more positive connotation: as a rich country, Germany is aware of its history and its duty and, in contrast to other countries, accepts large numbers of refugees.
I can hardly imagine a more fitting conclusion to a volume about Germany’s homeland. Because that too is home, taking responsibility, learning from mistakes and deriving further development from them.