It was with more mistrust than hate that they confronted one another, spied on one another and listened in on the world of the other. Armed to the teeth with their weaponry, hoarding missiles and nuclear warheads in secret depots while fancifully elaborating upon the minimum amounts of time that a troop of soldiers would have to hold out inside their armoured box until the defenders had built up their front and brought the charging enemy to a halt. It would, of course, be the enemies (who else?) who would advance as aggressors — not those flying their own flag. According to place of residence, self-understanding and propagandistic wind direction, it was ‘the Ruskies’ or ‘American imperialism’ – the eternal adversary.
The latter still continued to manifest itself in the form of the ‘Bonn Ultras’ during the 1970s — a charming term, which has unfortunately gone entirely out of style and which, for members of later generations, might sound more like the hard-core fans of a Rhineland football club. Nonetheless, what was really at stake was class struggle, on the one side, and the defence of Western civilisation, on the other — that is, higher matters for which we were to slaughter one another, if necessary. What sounds like a childish and stupid game of cowboys and Indians was to be universally taken seriously. And it was taken seriously. How much money and how much imagination did it devour? And how many people did it warp and turn evil …
Later, in the first few years after the end of the Cold War between East and West, little Simple Simons like ourselves imagined that we had reached the great peace over night. We saw conflicts like that in Iraq as more of a disturbance than a threat. That was understandable after decades of hatefilled confrontation and permanent preparations for war, which created turmoil in the lives of even the most peaceful people. Still, we were also gullible to believe that the time for the good life had now finally arrived.
Since then we have learned that nothing, really absolutely nothing, is clear — and not even remotely peaceful. Here, intelligence agencies blithely spy on the lives of others who are supposedly our friends. Allies become enemies and enemies become allies where we are once again — in the name of law and order (meaning, alternatively, power and capital or power and religious fundamentalism) — to cast light into the fog enveloping the globe, which however, only becomes more and more thick and impenetrable.
The boundaries of law and decency have long since been transgressed — both by the new Russian czar Putin and the guardians of Western values. The methods of the politicians are borderline, and the world seems even more hopeless after each of their absurd attempts to establish dependability by force of arms and trust through bought friends.
In the face of real scenes from madhouses like the Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq, Robert Schlotter’s sometimes overgrown and healed-over relics of the Cold War along the former inner-German border, but also at other locations in Europe, including Denmark and Norway, seem directly touching. They are complicated idylls which, as in the images from the area of the Brocken in the East German part of the Harz mountains, display a current state that can no longer reflect the decade-long status quo — a status quo that can no longer be conveyed at all to many of our contemporaries, particularly those who are younger.
The Brocken, mythladen mountain of the Germans, was declared a forbidden zone: neither East Germans nor West Germans could reach it during the years when Germany was divided. However, the arbitrariness of a border dividing two systems was not really able to affect the landscape, on the contrary: those who hike through the former restricted area are met by a fascinating naturalness
(and pristineness), in the face of which the division of this country retrospectively appears all the more just as obscene as it really always was.
On the other hand, it is also obscene
when military officials proudly
point out that there is nowhere where
the ecosystem is more intact than in
the military training areas, where value
had been placed on peaceful corners of
the world where the European fire-bellied
toad and other protected species
lead happy lives. That is what a German
military officer proudly assured me in
Franconian Hammelburg in the early
1990s. It is certainly true that the bunnies
which hopped about in the shade
of the Berlin Wall on Potsdamer Platz
during the Cold War also looked droll.
One can only hope that they have been
able to secure an appropriate new place
to live after the end of the German Democratic
It is also possible to hit upon
bizarre, heretical thoughts of this kind
when looking at the photographs that
Schlotter has made of places where the
parties to the Cold War sought to establish
the boundaries for their adversary.
Above all, the photographs make it clear
how important memory work is if the
human in humanity is to receive at least
a chance at a future. Otherwise, that
which is appropriate to humanity will slip into oblivion and disappear beneath the
underbrush of the “Spaßgesellschaft” —
a culture of hedonism, superficiality
and consumerism — which may amuse
itself to death some day in the not-sodistant
Pranksters have written (as I
recently read) ‘Room available’ on the
concrete ruins of a German bunker in
Grenen, the northernmost point of
Denmark. Not far from there, a few
kilometres to the west, the military operates
a modern surveillance station —
who knows where and what it is aimed
at? Nonetheless, here we are able to
see what is gathered and analysed in
secret before finally flowing into mysterious
data clouds. No one will be able
to stop the galloping greed for information,
even if majorities existed to seriously
make this demand.
As it is, we prefer to trot along to the designated refuges for primates; there are regular feedings there and pleasant games. The scars of the Cold War which followed the Second World War remain identifiable at only a few locations, and they are marketed as tourist attractions. At Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, at the historic Checkpoint Charlie — entrepreneurial bit players lurk everywhere, draped in their historically styled uniforms in order to offer their services for photographic mementoes. This is just as borderline as the forgetting so closely related to such pleasures: who wants to be bothered with truths going beyond the historicising horrors?
Of course, we can also see the increasing tendency to amnesia as a blessing. ‘Happy are those who forget what cannot be changed’, is what it says in Johann Strauß’s operetta “The Bat” — a work that has remained highly successful through all the crises and wars of the twentieth century, perhaps precisely because of this message, with which we seem well-equipped to face all end times: that time when
the last battle will have been fought, upon our arrival at the final borderline or, as some say, the Last Judgement.