Martin Roemers: Relics of the Cold War

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MARTIN ROEMERS: Relics of the Cold War WENDE MUSEUM

April 10 – October 23, 2022


WENDE

MUSEUM

INTRODUCTION During an eleven-year period, from 1998 through 2009, Dutch photographer Martin Roemers photographed the structural and topographic remnants of the Cold War in both the East and the West. His research took him to Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Great Britain, Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, where he documented underground tunnels, abandoned army bases, military training areas, rotting tanks, and destroyed monuments. Wars not only have consequences for people but also for architecture and landscape. While conducting “photographic archeological research” on these physical remains of the Cold War, Roemers seeks out stillness in derelict military infrastructure that slowly and steadily has been overtaken by nature. Traveling through former “enemy territory,” Roemers explores these rusting tanks and destroyed monuments with a medium-format camera. On both sides of the Iron Curtain, he finds nuclear shelters, air force bases, shooting ranges, rocket launch pads, border fences, and radar stations, all built with a shared sense of paranoia and hyper-alertness that still remains. Relics of the Cold War is the reflection of a militant society that prepared itself for a global nuclear war that would have ensured its own demise. It is also a consideration of the will toward de-escalation. Martin Roemers (b. 1962) studied at the AKI Academy of Fine Arts in Enschede, Netherlands, and his work has been exhibited internationally in numerous solo and group exhibitions. He has received two World Press Photo Awards, among several other prizes.

Martin Roemers: Relics of the Cold War is organized by Joes Segal and Anna Rose Canzano. The exhibition is generously supported by the Dutch Culture USA program of the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, the Mondriaan Fund, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.


Photo: Esteban Schimpf

Photo: Esteban Schimpf


Photo: Esteban Schimpf

Photo: Esteban Schimpf


West Gallery

Airplane shelter at a United States Air Force base, Alconbury, United Kingdom

Blown-up airplane shelter at a United States Air Force base, Alconbury, United Kingdom


Soviet missile base, Lithuania, Plokščiai. SS-4 missiles with nuclear warheads were targeted at Norway, the United Kingdom, Spain, West Germany, and Turkey.

Soviet Army barracks, Schönwalde, (former East) Germany


Soviet Army barracks, Neuthymen, (former East) Germany

Sports hall at a Soviet Army base, Forst Zinna, (former East) Germany


West German Army supplies depot in an underground nuclear bunker, Lorch, (former West) Germany

Underground nuclear shelter for the West German Government and Chancellor, Marienthal, (former West) Germany


West German Army supplies depot in an underground nuclear bunker, Lorch, (former West) Germany

Underground nuclear shelter for the West German Government and Chancellor, Marienthal, (former West) Germany


Test shooting range at a munitions factory, Zaandam, The Netherlands. The factory produced ammunition for NATO troops.

West German Army supplies depot in an underground nuclear bunker, Lorch, (former West) Germany

Underground communications bunker of the National People’s Army, Wollenberg, (former East) Germany


Soviet Army hospital, Jüterbog, (former East) Germany

Underground Soviet nuclear bunker for the regional government, Līgatne, Latvia


Soviet Army cemetery, Potsdam, (former East) Germany

Headstone portrait at a Soviet Army cemetery, Potsdam, (former East) Germany


Headstone portrait at a Soviet Army cemetery, Potsdam, (former East) Germany

Headstone portrait at a Soviet Army cemetery, Potsdam, (former East) Germany


Soviet Army cemetery, Potsdam, (former East) Germany

Bunker in the Baltic Sea at a Soviet naval base, Liepāja, Latvia

Airplane shelter at a British Royal Air Force base, Laarbruch, (former West) Germany


Colonnade

Watchtower on the border with Germany for observing low-flying Russian aircraft, Schoonebeek, The Netherlands

Soviet silo for missiles with nuclear warheads, Brzeźnica, Poland


Soviet Air Force bombing range, Wittstock, (former East) Germany

Soviet Air Force bombing range, Wittstock, (former East) Germany

Atomic bomb test laboratory, Orford Ness, United Kingdom Here, research was conducted into the influence of vibration, shock, extreme temperatures and g-force on atom bombs.


Garden

MiG plane at a Soviet Air Force base, Grossenhain, (former East) Germany

Soviet shooting range, Altengrabow, (former East) Germany

Soviet shooting range, Altengrabow, (former East) Germany


Soviet Air Force base, Apollo-Soyuz mural, Altes Lager, Niedergörsdorf, (former East) Germany. During the 1975 Apollo–-Soyuz Test Project the American module docked with the Russian capsule in outer space.

Mural of Lenin in a Soviet Air Force Base, Altes Lager, Niedergörsdorf, (former East) Germany


Mural commemorating victory over Nazi Germany, Soviet Air Force base, Altes Lager, Niedergörsdorf, (former East) Germany

Soviet Army barracks, Vogelsang, (former East) Germany


Mural commemorating victory over Nazi Germany, Soviet Air Force base, Altes Lager, Niedergörsdorf, (former East) Germany

Soviet Army barracks, Vogelsang, (former East) Germany


Same Defenses, Same Fears by Martin Roemers

Summer 1983. I’m doing my military service in the Dutch army but I’m on leave at the moment. I’m on holiday with a friend in Germany. We’re walking eastwards through a wood; it should be over there. We see something greyish through the trees. We can’t go any further: there’s a high concrete wall in front of us. There’s nothing else to see. Except for the singing birds it is quiet. We walk along the wall a bit further until we get to a watchtower with a soldier inside who’s looking at us. I take a photo of the man in the tower and he takes one of us. We’ve still got time before I have to be back at the barracks and so we drive to West Berlin, mainly to see the nightlife. We go to East Berlin as well. I buy a postcard on Unter den Linden with marching soldiers from the East German army on it. I address it to my army unit in the Netherlands, writing “My transfer’s almost sorted” on the back. A couple of weeks later, I’m back at the barracks and I get a visit from the Military Intelligence Service. The MI officer asks me about my visit to Berlin. Why were you in East Berlin? Who were you with there? Did you speak to anyone in East Berlin? What were their names and what did you talk about? Finally I sign a declaration and the officer goes away. Autumn 1990. The Berlin Wall has fallen. I’m a photography student at the Academy of Arts. I drive through East Germany in my old car, passing countless Russian barracks buildings as I go. It looks like a totally different world from the outside; I wonder what they look like from the inside. I walk to the front gate and ask for permission to take a few pictures. “Nyet,” they say. Winter 1998. I’ve started the project called Relics of the Cold War and I’m in contact with Ulrike. She works for an organization in Brandenburg that manages the former Russian army sites. Ulrike gives me a pile of official documents with lots of signatures, seals and stamps. I’m allowed to go anywhere. I walk around, absolutely astonished. The local population plundered the buildings the moment the Russians had departed. What remains is the beauty of decay: buildings that are about to collapse, old vehicles, car tires, an airplane and a peeling mural of the glory of the Soviet Union. This is the Disneyland of the Cold War.


Autumn 2002. Kaliningrad. I drive through a sleepy provincial town and see a small, old and dilapidated military building. I grab a camera and tripod and take a few pictures. When I walk around the building, I see two Russian soldiers lying on the ground drinking beer. I decide to go back to my car, but it’s too late. Two guards grab me and take me to a barracks. I’m held there the whole day because I have to wait for an official from the FSB—the former KGB—to come from the capital. Late in the afternoon, a fat FSB officer appears with tea and biscuits. He subjects me to a long and protracted interrogation. I tell him about my series of photographs of the landscapes of the Cold War. He accepts my explanation and writes a report of the interrogation. The final sentence reads “Mr. Roemers has behaved impeccably and courteously the whole day.” I sign it and can leave. Minus my films, though. Spring 2009. I’ve taken the last photograph for this project in Moscow. The question I’d asked myself for this series was “How has this war that was never waged affected the landscape?” I’ve looked for these places for eleven years, in between all my other work. At first, I focused on the Soviet legacy in the old German Democratic Republic, but gradually the project became bigger. Although the Cold War affected several continents, I restricted myself to Eastern and Western Europe. I’ve been astounded by the enormous numbers of bomb shelters, bunkers, airfields, shooting ranges, barracks, missile bases, border barricades and radar stations. They look identical on both sides of the Iron Curtain: the same defense mechanisms built because of the same fears. Autumn 2019. I drive home from Berlin, stopping on the way at the Soviet Army cemetery near Potsdam. I took some photographs here for the Cold War project at the end of the nineties. Uniformed men and women watch me as I stroll past the graves. A lot more graves have photos on them than I remember. The bleached and rusted portraits are flanked by engraved Soviet tanks or aircraft. Then I see a familiar grave: Anastasia Tarakanova (1909–1948). There’d been a hammer and sickle and a red wreath around her photo, but only the contours in the stone are visible now. On her colored enamel portrait, she is wearing a white blouse and earrings; there’s still color in her cheeks. Anastasia Tarakanova is still just as beautiful as when I photographed her twenty years ago.


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