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Girl at the »Deulowitzer See«, Guben 2002



Exhibition Project, 2001–2002


»Another name which conveyed nothing to me was Guben. Or, for that matter, Gubin. This German/Polish once-industrial town has suffered the full political consequences of its geographical location over the last century, most recently on the frontier between rich and poor Europe after East Germany was sucked into the West.
There is not much information here about Guben/Gubin - a former textile town in which the historic centre was completely destroyed and the last hat factory closed in 2000 - but it includes a hint that its decline has provided a breeding ground for racism: an Algerian was notoriously murdered there by right-wing extremists.
The mere fact that Lorenz Kienzle has photographed the town and its inhabitants in black and white (almost unique in this colour dominated festival ) gives it the feel of a queasy dream from the past. I thought it was one of the most haunting themes of the many explored by photographers in Exposure.«

Terry Grimley, Birmingham Post, about the 2004 EXPOSURE, Hereford Photography Festival, England

About the project

At the beginning of the last century Guben was a rich town, with the river »Neiße« flowing through its midst from south to north. In its industrialized »suburb« west of the river, textiles and hats were produced in a number of factories. The development of the textile industry in Guben goes back to the year 1817 and the pioneering work of William Cockerill, the son of a famous British industrialist, who married the daughter of the Prussian Finance Minister van Claasen, and with Prussian money brought the new spinning technology from England to Guben. When William Cockerill died in 1862, he was buried in Guben cemetery east of the River Neiße, all traces of which were destroyed at the end of World War II. East of the river were the old town centre and the hills overlooking the river, which were famous for their orchards and vineyards. Here, many of the factory owners built splendid houses with architects such as Mies van der Rohe.

In World War II the town became a battlefield and was almost completely destroyed. In the aftermath it was divided into the polish town of Gubin and the German town of Guben. Germans living to the east of the river had to leave their homes and move to the west. People displaced from eastern Poland, which had become part of the Ukraine and White Russia, had also to leave their homes, and they moved into the now empty houses in Gubin and the surrounding countryside. The two towns grew apart, with the »Neiße« having now become the officially proclaimed »border of peace«. The border was closed completely in 1982, however, as an East German reaction to the Polish »Solidarnosc« movement. With the reunification of Germany the border was reopened, becoming the heavily guarded »frontier« between the »rich« European Community and »poor« Eastern Europe.

Today the integration of Poland into the EC and the resulting open border within the »double city« gives rise to hopes that the city might again grow together. But people have been living far too long in parallel worlds, retaining old prejudices, although Guben and Gubin today face similar problems. Most of the factories have been closed down, which has led to a very high unemployment rate in the city as a whole. Thousands of inhabitants have left Guben and Gubin in recent years, due to the lack of prospects for the future. Some say it has become a forgotten town. Guben's last hat factory was the subject of my photographic work in Guben until it ended its production of hats at the beginning of the year 2000.

However, I continued to visit the town, meeting the now unemployed hat makers and crossing the border to look at the »other« side; trying to create my own picture of what had once been a blossoming town - the »pearl of the Lausitz«. In 2001, some of these photographs were exhibited on huge billboards on the streets of Guben and Gubin. In order to see them all, people had to walk all over the town, discovering much more than just my photographs.