How do you capture a neighbourhood in the throes of transformation? How do you negotiate the complex tensions between old and new that lie at the heart of regeneration? These are some of the quandaries that prompted Gretje Treiber to begin Hamburg Barmbek Nord: Attempts at an Encounter, an intimate requiem for the disappearing features of her local community.
Originally a small collection of farms, Barmbek-Nord was transformed into a working-class district shaped by industry in the early 1900s. The area became an expanding residential hub with many new blocks of flats designed with a striking red brick and equipped with green spaces and sports facilities, built during the 1920s, only to be destroyed during the Second World War and rebuilt 15 years later. Since 1980, few urban changes have taken place, leaving the neighbourhood “almost forgotten” by the rest of the city, according to Treiber.
Yet with Hamburg’s population on the rise and soaring rents in the centre, the locality has recently been spotlighted by the property market and is undergoing redevelopment as part of a wave of housing construction. With scores of expensive apartments in the pipeline, Barmbek Nord is on track to change radically. Treiber, who has been living in the neighbourhood since 2008, describes the shift from an idiosyncratic village-like community to a redevelopment area as swift and palpable.
“What was once its character became a deficit,” she says. “Why were the old things suddenly no longer of value? Was I nostalgic?” Torn between the city’s demand for housing and the threats posed to Barmbek-Nord’s history and identity, Treiber began her personal observation of an area in motion.
Since 2014, the German photographer has been exploring the region and documenting its faces, places, objects and fleeting moments. Driven by a belief in reflecting on the past in order to understand the present, her photographs are an inventory of the soon-to-be relics of her surroundings. “My photos often become an archive of things that no longer exist in the present,” Treiber explains.
Among the remains are jubilant memories from the final football match at Barmbek Anfield – an old stadium demolished to make way for new flats – and melancholic traces of century-old allotment gardens that are in the process of being destroyed.
Drawing attention to the details at risk of erasure, the project resonates strongly with the theme of the Hamburg Triennial of Photography, where it will be shown as part of the festival’s first edition of an Off section, comprised of submissions to an open call. The theme of Breaking Point champions photography’s ability to bring focus to moments of critical change, and Treiber hopes that her observations will raise questions about the direction of the future.
“How do we want to live together in the cities and who determines what this life looks like?” she asks.
gretjetreiber.de This article was first published in the May issue of BJP, which was a special focus on the Hamburg Triennial www.thebjpshop.com The Hamburg Triennial takes place from June-September, with the professional week from 07-17 June www.phototriennale.de/en/