Review: Teufelsberg by Marie Sommer


Book Reviews, Photobooks


A little while ago, I read an article about Germany’s postwar reconstruction. I learned that the ruins of what had been the Third Reich had been literally piled up in many cities, to form artificial hills. Given the amount of destruction, many of them are impressive affairs: “In West Germany alone, some 400 million cubic meters (14 billion cubic feet) of rubble was piled up after the war.” (quoted from the article; just as an aside, it was up to German women to clean up the mess after the war, don’t miss this gallery of Trümmerfrauen) Only a few days later, I came across Teufelsberg by Marie Sommer, a book about one such hill in Berlin, called - you guessed it - Teufelsberg (devil’s mountain). (more)

Teufelsberg actually comes as two books - a bigger one (see image) featuring the photography by Marie Sommer, and a smaller one (“Documents”), inserted, with archival photographs and newspaper clippings (approximately) covering the years 1951-71 and showing the construction of the hill. If you’re able to read French this page will give you some insight into the photographer’s ideas and background (if you don’t speak any French, there still are lots of photos from the book to look at).

The Teufelsberg looks like a strange place, especially since it now also features an abandoned US surveillance station atop. Or maybe it just looks strange, because it looks real, like something that could have originated naturally, but it’s not real in the sense that it’s nature growing on top of a gigantic pile of man-made rubble. In a sense, the Teufelsberg is not so dissimilar from the ubiquitous trash hills you can find near major cities - except that those don’t look quite so real, what with the ventilation pipes sticking out.

I’ve always felt that of all the changes we have made to this planet, it’s amazing we love to ignore or overlook the ones that contain all our trash or rubble - those manifestations of our wasteful and/or destructive nature. Iit seems appropriate that a photographer would document the making of a place like the Teufelsberg.

Teufelsberg, photography by Marie Sommer, including archival photography and newspaper clippings, text by Jean-Yves Jouannais, 72 pages, Filigranes Editions, 2010