Birth and death.
Beginning and ending.
Flourishing and fading.
What was before? And what will be after?
The socialist project of building the “bright communist future” received justified criticism. But it seems the process of socialist critique via erasure also deprived people of their right to their memory – connected not to the political regime, but to friendship, childhood, and neighborhood. These memories – like the art piece of the metal-designed birch grove made by the artist Rudolf Grunemann – were “lost without a trace” with the demolishing of buildings.
Neuberesinchen, one of the districts in Frankfurt (Oder), seems to be not fully integrated into the city. Having been the fastest growing district until the end of the 1980s, it has decreased from 21,547 people in 1989 to 5,708 in 2015. Initiated by the closing of the microelectronics factory and the rapid rise of unemployment, thousands of empty apartments were left neglected. The German government reacted with the ongoing urban redevelopment strategy, demolishing 5,829 housing units between 2002 and 2017. Currently, it is a place seemingly lacking human presence and full of nature. The new city strategy aims to create a “comfort zone” of lowrise housing there. Together with other cultural initiatives, the Słubfurt project is also on the move to Neuberesinchen.
Through active urban exploration, we spent time there capturing the atmosphere, unveiling people’s feelings and childhood memories. Our leading question was: how have people’s perception and everyday practices changed after the significant transformations to the physical space of Neuberesinchen?
During the first walk in Neuberesinchen district on the second day of the summer school, we noticed something familiar in its’ open space. It seemed like the infrastructure and nature were showing signs of difference from the central part of Frankfurt (Oder). We became curious to investigate those sings through visual observation and to explore spatial emptiness, art-installations, public spaces and, of course, the conflict between order and disorder, and fragmentariness of the “new” order covering over the socialist project. As the examples, in Neuberesinchen you could easily find two bike-roads near each other, upgraded contemporary playgrounds/sports area and neglected public spaces, nicely renovated housing units and slum-like buildings.
Besides, the absence of practice to demolish buildings in shrinking cities or districts in Ukraine stimulated us to explore the documents and publications connected to the city plans of the Neuberesinchen deconstruction. In the following map, you could see how this plan was implemented in Frankfurt (Oder). Commenting on this issue, one woman, who is owning the dance school in this district, said that the buildings were demolished chaotically, as a field that was weed out from unnecessary plants. On the other hand, some people shared rumors about plans to integrate here lowrise housing projects, so in this case, preserving the transport infrastructure is a good decision.
Except for the visual observations and researching documents, we were interested in peoples’ voices, which we have met randomly on the streets or those who accepted the invitation to talk about their experience of life in this district.
“I think there are no special needs because here they have all in the area: for young, for older people, and people have the possibility to go somewhere in Frankfurt. Everything is close, even with public transport. It’s easy… There are no houses anymore, but it’s green, it’s nice. But even the identity from this part of the town is gone. But they are planning for new houses, a small one. I think with this new generated part of the city they can develop some kind of identity.” © Man, 35 years
“We like it here. Close to nature. It’s 10 minutes by tram and we’re in the city center. We don’t want a big city. When I go to Berlin, I feel ill” © Woman in her 60s
“I remember that there were three amazing houses, in Russia, they would sell it like the new ones, but here they were completely demolished in April 2019. They first started to destroy the top floors and then, step by step, very accurately completely demolish the building. If you go there now you will never realize that there were houses before.” © Anna, Master program at Viadrina
“We actually only see people moving out again and again from the block next to ours…If I would have a choice, I’d move out from here, just further away from here. Not to Germany. maybe to Australia.” © Girl, around 20 years old
“The student community is cool, but the empty areas strain a bit. You go by tram to university or library, or to the other dormitory for the party. If only there were not half of the house of my friends, there will be no reason to live there at all… My brother came to me on weekend and said: “Now I’m understanding why you’re saying that you are bored here. You came and it looks like Troyeshchyna” [note – Troyeshchyna is one of the remote districts in Kyiv]. Here is the same sense of space. But the policy of the city is to remove some of the houses and the plan is to have lowrise housing in Frankfurt, to keep things nice.” © Karolina, 27, ex-student of Viadrina
In summary, our younger interviewees feel bored in this district, although the older generation is excited about nature and calmness. Though, everyone noticed a good transport infrastructure that gives a feeling of good integration into Frankfurt (Oder).
Stefan’s childhood in Neuberesinchen
Another sensation of the district we found though the Instagram analysis of the posts signed by #neuberesinchen. Interestingly, it is mostly housing, fragments of architectural forms, art-objects, trams, trees, flowers, grass used to illustrate the philosophical, metaphorical, sometimes nostalgic or ironic observations of the authors. As the examples of such posts:
Left: Spring in Neuberesinchen. 2017
Right: Neuberesinchen 2004 in Frankfurt (Oder). 2017
Left: Very famous and rare elephants – concrete sculpture by Dresden based artist Vinzenz Wanitschke. 2016
Right: The rising sun in birch forest – a rather atypical motif at the former kindergarten in Neuberesinchen – demolished, 2011. 2015
Left: East is everywhere you look. This is Frankfurt Oder, the wrong Frankfurt, the one without the airport. The district, on the final stop of the tram in Neuberesinchen, is already a thing of the past, as the East German city is facing a huge population decline. Neuberesinchen (Frankfurt / Oder, Germany). 2019
Right: Restneuberesinchen. 2019
Created by: Vita Bazan, Viktor Kochkin, Anastasiia Parafeniuk (Research Lab)
Contributors: Andrey Vozyanov, Natalia Otrishchenko, Max Doering, Stefan Henkel, Kirill Repin, Mattias Malk, Werner Benecke, and our interviewees