Gretje Treiber’s requiem for a working class Hamburg

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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.

Insurance company VBG is constructing a 15-storey building for around 550 employees next to the former Hertie department store. A supermarket, restaurants and other small retail space is also planned. From the series Hamburg Barmbek Nord: Attempts at an Encounter © Gretje Treiber

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. This article was first published in the May issue of BJP, which was a special focus on the Hamburg Triennial The Hamburg Triennial takes place from June-September, with the professional week from 07-17 June

Ronny came to Barmbek-Nord to live near his mother ten years ago, and found a home near the football stadium on Steilshooper Street. For eight years, he was groundsman at HSV Barmbek Uhlenhorst. “History was written here!” At the end of 2016 Ronny moved on a quarter, for even cheaper rents. He is not yet in the new stadium on Dieselstrasse. From the series Hamburg Barmbek Nord: Attempts at an Encounter © Gretje Treiber
For a long time Barmbek-Nord was regarded as an unattractive district, especially by young people, but in recent years there has been an influx of young, well-off families. Despite rising prices, rents are still comparatively low. In the Quartier Barmbek Family, which is currently being planned, publicly-subsidised apartments are intended to make the former working-class district “younger and more attractive, but not more expensive”. From the series Hamburg Barmbek Nord: Attempts at an Encounter © Gretje Treiber
“112 condos sold off successfully. Exclusivity made to measure. Two rooms, 60 square meters, from €200,000.” The real estate company of the Hamburg CDU deputy Andreas Wankum promised to construct 115 social houses; due to increased costs, the company decided this was no longer possible. The city had forgotten to include an urban development contract to secure the promise. The government says it will not allow old workers’ quarters to become unaffordable to average earners. Inhabitants with low incomes may not be displaced, according to the SPD’s 2011 policies. From the series Hamburg Barmbek Nord: Attempts at an Encounter © Gretje Treiber
Dominique and her husband moved to Barmbek in the summer of 2004. Since then it has become a bit classier, and at some point that will change the prices. Dominique used to have a shared flat in Eimsbüttel – now it is very expensive and she couldn’t live there now. From the series Hamburg Barmbek Nord: Attempts at an Encounter © Gretje Treiber
After standing vacant for five years, the Hertie department store was finally demolished in 2015. Tangled ownership and several investor changes delayed new construction for years and prevented any meaningful temporary use. Now a commercial building with 9,000 square metres of catering and retail space is to be created on the vacant lot. An expensive hotel is also planned. From the series Hamburg Barmbek Nord: Attempts at an Encounter © Gretje Treiber
An analysis of the structural change of Barmbeks by the University of Hamburg in 2009 listed three historical filling stations as relics of the quarter’s road infrastructure – Hellbrookstraße, Bramfelder Straße, Fuhlsbüttler Straße. The buildings in Bramfelder Strasse are almost completely preserved in the typical 1930s style, and absolutely worthy of protection. After being demolished in 2016, the old building was replaced by a car wash. From the series Hamburg Barmbek Nord: Attempts at an Encounter © Gretje Treiber
Red brick architecture characteristic of Barmbek-Nord. As part of the Energy Saving Ordinance, most facades have been clad in recent years with insulation boards and an artificial clinker brick layer; experts have warned of an increased risk of mould growth, environmental pollution and increased fire risk. The city of Hamburg launched another boost for energy renovation in 2013, but the actual energy saving potential for the tenant is estimated as low, while the landlord can transfer up to 11% of the cost to his tenants. In December 2016, a brick ordinance was issued. The district assembly planning committee has approved a town conservation statute to protect the brick facades. From the series Hamburg Barmbek Nord: Attempts at an Encounter © Gretje Treiber