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A German summer like no other comes to life in new photo book

A man breaks away from a group of homeless people around the central station to chat with the photographer in Gorlitz  (Georg Kussmann/MACK)
A man breaks away from a group of homeless people around the central station to chat with the photographer in Gorlitz (Georg Kussmann/MACK)

The summer of 2015 in Germany is best remembered as the time when the country went above and beyond its European neighbours in responding to the challenge of an extraordinary refugee crisis, accepting more than a million people.

Then-chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to welcome unprecedented numbers fleeing humanitarian crises – mostly in the Middle East – stood out to onlookers not only because it was a remarkably benevolent act, but also because it gave a new face to a nation that has due to its history been discussed and examined more than most.

During this summer, photographer Georg Kussmann set off on a walking tour of Germany, his home country, with the weight of history on his mind.

Early in the morning, a woman walks her dog in the still deserted tourist district of a coastal town in Warnemunde (Georg Kussmann/MACK)
Early in the morning, a woman walks her dog in the still deserted tourist district of a coastal town in Warnemunde (Georg Kussmann/MACK)
A man prays in a park in Munich (Georg Kussmann/MACK)
A man prays in a park in Munich (Georg Kussmann/MACK)

Interested in Germany and the ways it struggles to understand itself, Kussmann slept on the streets as he photographed his way across a land he found to be simmering with the threat of discontent.

The photographs he took on this trip depict everyday scenes of life, work, and leisure carried by a sense of unease. They have been compiled into a photo book, FRG, published by MACK.

A complex of houses near the train station of the small town of Gorlitz, visibly renovated after the German reunification (Georg Kussmann/MACK)
A complex of houses near the train station of the small town of Gorlitz, visibly renovated after the German reunification (Georg Kussmann/MACK)
People cross the street in front of a brutalist building complex in the centre of Mannheim (Georg Kussmann/MACK)
People cross the street in front of a brutalist building complex in the centre of Mannheim (Georg Kussmann/MACK)

Explicit graffiti targeting yuppies dates the pictures to a time when the world was coming to understand the reordering of society brought by the financial crisis of 2008.

Though it carried the title of Europe’s strongest economy, Germany was not immune to these changes and by 2015 was well on the way to seeing its discontent manifested in the election of the reactionary AfD party to sit in the Bundestag.

This new normal is evident throughout the book, reflected in pictures of homeless people grouped by train stations and pleasant suburban scenes amid shuttered businesses.

A boy rides a carousel in the corridor of a tourist hotel in Templin (Georg Kussmann/MACK)
A boy rides a carousel in the corridor of a tourist hotel in Templin (Georg Kussmann/MACK)
A young woman jogs past a building materials supplier near Rostock (Georg Kussmann/MACK)
A young woman jogs past a building materials supplier near Rostock (Georg Kussmann/MACK)

The dramatist Heiner Muller observed that German history lies as if smothered by a rheumatism blanket.

Beneath the blanket there is warmth and stagnation, just enough to give the impression all is well, while the peripheries are freezing.

A young man raises his thumb approvingly in the direction of a graffiti reading ‘Yuppies f*** off’ on the wall of a closed restaurant in Dresden (Georg Kussmann/MACK)
A young man raises his thumb approvingly in the direction of a graffiti reading ‘Yuppies f*** off’ on the wall of a closed restaurant in Dresden (Georg Kussmann/MACK)

Kussmann feels his book was shaped under this blanket and works to describe a place caught between the weight of the past and the demands of the present.

FRG by Georg Kussmann, published by MACK, is available here