“Like a tidal wave, an avalanche that does not cause any noise, it rolls through Fantasia and swallows up everything that crosses its way - all life, all color, every scent, every sound and every feeling. What falls into the Nothing disappears as if it had never existed. "
Michael Ende, The Neverending Story, 1979.
Immerath. Etzweiler. Spenrath. Garzweiler. What these places have in common is the fact that they all no longer exist. They fell victim to lignite mining in the so-called Rhenish Lignite Mining Area, a triangle between Aachen, Cologne and Mönchengladbach. Where its residents once lived, the horizon now stretches into the deep. Looking into these opencast mining canyons is reminiscent of the Nothing from Michael Ende's novel “The Neverending Story”, which threatens to swallow up Fantasia while its inhabitants helplessly watch as their world and everything that lives in it gradually disappears. Another motif that runs through “The Neverending Story” is the relation between memory and identity, or rather their loss.
What it means when the place where one was born, grew up or has started a family and where parents and grandparents are buried disappears, has also been experienced by the residents of Manheim since 2011. In the course of the lignite mining in the Hambach opencast mine, their village had to be relocated to Manheim-neu, which was built in 2012.
The mining of lignite in the Rhenish Lignite Mining Area began in 1819. Electricity has been generated from this fossil fuel since 1892. One of the first power plants was taken over by the Rheinisch-Westfälische Elektrizitätswerk (RWE) just a few years later. Today 12% of Germany's electricity is obtained from the seams in the Rhenish Lignite Mining Area, the largest lignite seam in Europe.
Resettlements usually begin 15 years prior to the actual utilization of the area. First of all, the residents are informed about the relocation plans. This is followed by finding a location for a new development area. Once the new location has been found, inventory, needs assessment and the planning of future properties and infrastructure follow. Once the negotiations between owners and RWE have been concluded, the actual relocation can begin. If residents refuse to relocate, a land cession procedure will be initiated.
With the loss of a place, not only memories disappear, but also a part of culture, individual and collective identity. Of course, this loss does not necessarily go hand in hand with the destruction of objects or places, but if there were not an inevitable connection between them, our museums, archives, books or memorials would be obsolete. In an attempt to preserve parts of this culture and identity, villages are being relocated as a whole and the preservation and transfer of as many significant objects and buildings as possible is sought. In such an attempt, even the historic chapel was moved to Manheim-neu. Also street names were adopted in a slightly modified form. Otherwise, Manheim-neu looks more like a typical American suburb designed from scratch: modern houses that - with a few eccentric exceptions - hardly differ from one another, new streets, new infrastructure. Not a single tree grows here whose location has not been artificially predetermined. The new places are not telling any stories yet.
In the course of their preparation for the exhibition “Offenbach-neu”, Max Brück and Mathias Weinfurter visited both the almost completely disappeared village of Manheim as well as the relocated Manheim-neu. They spoke to local residents and captured their impressions in photographies and video recordings. During these field trips, a total of 22 inspection flaps were collected from the last standing street lights in the "old" Manheim. Like lonely relics, they still give an idea of the former village structure. Since the street lights are connected in series, they are dismantled last.
The installation developed by Brück and Weinfurter focuses on a 2.50 meter high cantilever rack made of rusty steel, placed in the center of the exhibition space. The rack stems from a carpenter's workshop near the Kressmann-Halle, which has to make way for future urban development measures. On the double-sided cantilever rack there are six pressure-impregnated wooden masts, each 5 meters long. Milled into it, the collected concrete-gray inspection flaps stand out clearly. Like spolia - rescued or stolen - from the ruins of a destroyed site, they contain fragments of the place for which they were once intended. At the end of the 5 meter long and 20 centimeter thick masts, spherical, milky-white lanterns, which were purchased from the Kerpen municipal utility, are attached. They come from the neighboring village of Sindorf, which - just like Manheim - is part of the Kerpen community. The cantilever rack, the lanterns and inspection flaps, all these objects are collected quotes that refer to their places of origin and at the same time overcome them with their new usage.