Helga Paris/ Und alles riecht nach Nachkrieg…

Looking at Helga Paris´ photographs,
I get the strong feeling looking at a world long gone by now,
a world I never had access and never will have access to.
This strong impression of being alien to the world
she portrays is not because I don’t like her photographs.
Actually the world she photographed should be less alien to me,
than for the most of you.



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Helga Paris/
Marienburger Strasse; 1979

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Helga Paris/
From: Berlin Pubs; 1974


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Helga Paris/
From: Transsylvania; 1980

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Helga Paris/
From: Memories of Z; 1994

I was born as a child of Hungarian refugees living in Germany.
Hungarian was my native language. It is not anymore.
The best times of my childhood were the summer days
I regularly spent with my grandparents in Hungary.
After the end of the GDR,
I immediately took off to East Germany,
equipped with a cheap sleeping bag and my camera.
Every morning at four a clock
I woke up jittering because of the cold.
(Later on some friendly squatters adopted me.)

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Helga Paris/
From: Georgia; 1982

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Helga Paris/
From: Georgia; 1982

East Germany was different.
But it didn’t seem alien to me.
For me it was sort of crossbreeding Western Germany with Hungary.
I grew up at the crossing point of to cultures,
so it was like going back to a fictitious home country for me.
For a long period of my life I felt closer to the East, to Eastern Europe,
than to the country I was born in.

People were very friendly in East Germany,
the bakeries old fashioned,
beer was cheap,
and the cooked potatoes in the university’s canteen were inconsumable.
I loved the crumbling historic architecture,
and was amazed by the undisguised ugliness of
the “Plattenbauten”/ concrete tower blocks.

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Helga Paris/ From: Halle; 1986

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Helga Paris/
From: Halle; 1986

But the mood of Helga Paris images keeps me at bay.
Maybe I sense the depression in her images.
I am not talking about Helga Paris as a person.
I am talking about the depressive mood of the country
shown in here images.

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Helga Paris/
From: Berlin Pubs; 1974

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Helga Paris/
From: Dustmen; 1974

Inka Schube, curator at the Sprengel Museum, Hannover,
writes in her informative essay about Helga Paris’s work:

“There is something about Helga Paris’s pictures
which speak of experiences and feelings
that are communicable to a strong degree
because they can be shared.
(…)Her pictures have a psychological quality that permits
identification in an unique way. It is my claim that this can be found
in the respect and esteem for the subject that Helga Paris’s pictures
are capable of expressing.
Perhaps it is the longing to be observed by such a gaze:
a gaze that is capable of seeing through the debris and upheavals
of everyday life to that what Elke Erb so fittingly calls
“cradle honesty”; a gaze in which the individual is capable recognizing himself
through the anonymity of the masses by virtue of his own,
personal longing for human togetherness.”


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Helga Paris/
From: Berlin Youth, Gabi; 1982

It is always an error, when we begin to believe,
on the trail of a story, or in this case,
following the traces of Helga Paris’s images,
it is always an error to imagine
that we might understand the experiences
of our fellow men.
Nothing that we haven’t experienced ourselves,
we will ever grasp in the deepest sense of its meaning.

“A taste of Post-war…”
this is how Inka Schube titled her article about Helga Paris images.
(Well actually this is not true,
her title put in German has quite an other taste and smell.)

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Helga Paris/
From: Women at the Treff-Modelle Clothing Factory, Berlin; 1984

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>Helga Paris/
From: Women at the Treff-Modelle Clothing Factory, Berlin; 1984

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Helga Paris/
From: Women at the Treff-Modelle Clothing Factory, Berlin; 1984

This sentence is the key to the seeming contradictions
in my reaction to Helga Paris work.
It´s not Helga Paris protagonists
who seem to be strangers to me.
It’s this mood; this post war mood,
which keeps me aback.
It’s not that the mood of depression is a stranger to me.
I have got to know it during my childhood through my mother.
It might be I am just repeating a pattern:
I had put a distance between my mother and me,
to protect myself,
as I instinctively do it now with Helga Paris’s images.

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Helga Paris/
Youth Initiation Ceremony, René Köstner

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Helga Paris/
From: The Polish Journey; 1996-1997


My East that was that of those faded,
beautifully shabby shades of color.
This I loved. This I still love.
Here, for moments, I felt at home.


Gerrit Wessendorf
amends my words about Helga Paris work
in an informative and personal way.
I am glad about his post:

“Helga Paris was born in Gollnow (Pommern) in 1938,
a photographer who became known for her everyday
and socially critical photographs in East Germany.
She first studied fashion design
and taught herself basic photography in 1964.
From 1967-1968 she worked in a photo-lab,
after that as a freelance photographer.
In 1978 she had her first exhibition
at the academy of fine arts in Dresden.
In the 80s she documented the structural decay
of the inner city of Halle.
Her exhibition “Houses and Faces. Halle 1983-85”
was cancelled a few days before the opening date in 1986
because her pictures presented the failed residential politics
in a too obvious manner. Her exhibition “Self-portraits 1981-88”
at the New National Gallery in Berlin found a lot of attention in 2003.

The following images from a series titled
“A Taste of Post-war” are just a few I really liked a lot.
They reminded me so much of my family,
my childhood in the late 70s and early 80s,
as well as the memories of my parents and grandparents
collected in our family albums.
I love the realism in these pictures
and how they reflected the melancholic mood
that was so omnipresent in society of that time.
Families that were separated by the wall,
a new generation growing up with the wall and the cold war,
the housing.
These pictures even awake memories of an odor
I smelled whenever I stepped into one of the old
multifamily houses built after the war, not unpleasant,
but very distinctive and familiar,
perhaps a mixture of building materials
and decades of home-cooking,
smoking and living in those houses
with six or more families.”