Having grown up in Germany, I always wanted to get away, move to the UK and have a fresh start, which is exactly what I got when I moved from the village I lived in my entire life to Bristol to start university. However, I soon realised how different my upbringing, culture and life was to the life in Bristol I had thrown myself into. All of the sudden I was being introduced as “The German Girl” and talents that people had previously identified me by like my artistic abilities and knowledge of the English language, where nothing special now that I was at an art campus in England.
All of the sudden, I had to redefine my identity, especially in connection to my nationality and Germany’s history. Having always used my art as a tool to explore and understand my own feelings and situation, my photographic work started to evolve around these questions of identity, belonging and displacement.
Vaterland (German for fatherland), my current and ongoing project, is a sort of escalation of all of these questions. It retraces my grandfather’s childhood during WWII. Being born in Germany in 1932, Friedhelm experienced the war as a child. Similar to the English government, but in a much bigger scale, the German regime organised for all of the children, that were living in cities, to be sent to the country side, either into host families or travelling with their schools. This caused Friedhelm to live in seven different locations in a short amount of time and travel to even more – all without his family. He was military trained, nearly died two times and lost his father to a deathly injection from the Nazis. Through my grandfather’s story and this project, I am learning more and more about my family and its history, the reality of a childhood during a war, and the national trauma of the German population that is still present in its society today. Using a mixture of portraiture, landscapes and still lives I am not only documenting my grandfather’s past and memories, but also our relationship and my own reflection on my German identity.
The images I have submitted were all taken in my grandfather’s hometown and current residence, but I have just come back from a trip to the other five out of the seven locations he lived, to which I travelled with the now 85-year-old Friedhelm and cannot wait to share more images from this experience.