This book is a different kind of travelogue. While reading, the viewer travels through time and stays in the same place, Berka a small village in Thuringia, Germany. The village was photographed by three photographers of one family over 70 years – between 1950 and 2022. This unusal project – the result of several coincidences – tells us a lot about the country, the village, its people and how things have developed so far…
Coincidence: The master miller of Berka, Ludwig Schirmer, is an enthusiastic amateur photographer who, after the Second World War, in addition to his work as a miller, still finds time to capture life in the village and in the fields in pictures that are reminiscent of other great German photographers of his time.
Coincidence: In 1950, the Schirmer family has a daughter, Ute, who spends her childhood in Berka.
Coincidence: Ute marries Werner in 1973, whom she meets at grammar school in Oranienburg. Both later study at the HGB Leipzig and Werner graduates in 1977/78 with a diploma on Ute’s home village, Berka.
Coincidence: In 1997, Werner is commissioned by STERN to photograph the „flourishing Landscapes” promised by Helmut Kohl and in 1998 he returned to Berka to photograph again.
In 2001, Ludwig Schirmer dies. He had become one of the GDR’s best-known advertising photographers in the 1960. In his estate a few prints and many negatives of his Berka pictures turn up. Ute Mahler and Werner Mahler make first prints in their darkroom and realize the artistic and documentary quality of these pictures.
2021/2022, no further coincidence: Ute Mahler repeatedly travels to Berka and takes portraits of the young people in the village who were not even born when Werner Mahler last photographed there. They are the great-granddaughters or great-great-granddaughters of the people Ludwig Schirmer knew and portrayed in the 1950s.
2022/2023, the long-term project, photographed entirely in analog and black and white, has been completed and the idea for the book, which has been maturing for several years, is beginning to take shape. The writer Jenny Erpenbeck, the journalist and friend Anja Maier, the sociologist Steffen Mau (Humboldt University Berlin) and the American photo historian Gary Van Zante (MIT, Boston) describe the place, the time, the people, the photographers and the photographs. Graphic designer Florian Lamm uses subtle design ideas to develop a complex layout that shapes images and texts into a dense grand narrative reminiscent of great literary, photographic and cinematic role models and now in 2024, curious viewers, readers and reviewers can discover the many references by coincidence (or not)!