Cycling Through Abandoned Germany as Captured by Antonio Castello and His LC-A+

At first, I thought I was lost. I didn't plan to come through this city, nor was it on my traveling map. However, I decided to embrace it. If my bike had brought me here there was nothing I could do but enjoy it. So I decided to look for a camping ground in the area and after finding an old abandoned soviet airport (or what I thought it was: a public park) I started to explore it. What I found was gonna change my life forever… I was in the middle of the Fusion Festival grounds, the biggest Techno show in Europe.

© AntonioCastello

But first, let me put this in context. In the winter of 2017, I was visiting my family in Colombia after 2 years of living in Germany. One of those warm nights of cold beers and tropical music my cousin asked me if I wanted his bike (at that moment the bike was parked in a basement in Leiden, Holland), I didn’t understand the question, how was I supposed to get his bike? “Well you could travel to Holland and bike all the way back to Berlin”

© AntonioCastello

It was a brilliant idea, I always wanted to travel to Europe by bike, but never found the guts to do it. So when I returned to Germany I planned the trip and I did it! It took me 7 days, but I rode all the way from Rotterdam to Berlin, which felt amazing. I saw and did things that I’ve never expected, photographed ghost towns and vibrant cities, I camped on the road, and ate granola bars and sandwiches for an entire week. Back in Berlin, I felt like this was the biggest accomplishment of my life so far and I decided to repeat this bike trip every summer.

So in 2019, I decided to do it again, but since I’m not the sporty type I was looking for a flat, easy route: Berlin-Copenhagen sounded like a great idea. There’s no hills and a lot of bike lanes. This time I was not just gonna bike, I wanted to do something artistic too, so I decided to explore the eastern part of Germany and create a photographic essay. I called it “Abandoned Germany”.

© AntonioCastello

Since the end of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) the eastern region of Germany has been the Cinderella of the European Union. Hundreds of thousands of euros have been invested in the region, but its lack of big industry, factories, town development, and well-paid jobs has driven away from the young professionals to cities like Berlin, Hamburg or Dresden where they try to find a better future. So eastern Germany sometimes feels like a ghost town, with only old people remaining. The streets are mostly empty and the big fields of corn and grain surround old abandoned houses and barns. It can be weird to bike through a town and meeting NO ONE in the streets.

© AntonioCastello

I wanted to see if Denmark had the same problems, so I chose a route not that touristic before reaching Copenhagen. My plan was then to travel with a small 35mm analog Camera and document all this in a non-intrusive way: camping in tourist and youth centers, talking to the local people while asking for directions, and trying to understand their Lifes problems.

I was however missing the most important part: a place to stay once I reached Copenhagen. This is where the Human Hotel (an Internet community of artists who want to share their house with other traveling artists) came in. When the people of the Human Hotel heard about my trip they were as excited as me. Very fast they found a place to stay for me in the capital of Denmark. A young artist was offering a couch for me to stay for free! I was so excited since it allowed me to stay in budget, as for the rest of my trip I was just camping here and there and eating self-made sandwiches and instant noodles.

© AntonioCastello

The trip started on a high note, exploring Brandenburg and some old towns around Berlin was all I expected. It was on my third day that my plans abruptly changed: I got lost following a group of cyclers through a National Park and ended up in a little town that was not on my plan. After biking around looking for a camping place I realized I was biking next to a big abandoned airport, it looked like one of those forgotten soviet areas. But the hangars where all painted in funny colors and shapes. I followed the path and reached the main gates. They were open and many people were walking around, so I thought it would be nice to explore it.

© AntonioCastello

As I entered the place I saw more and more psychedelic big constructions, old hangars and airport facilities had been transformed into art sculptures and alternative dancing spaces. I saw, what looked like Berlin techno kids working on these structures, testing sound and lights for what I thought was gonna be a big party. I reached out to one of these groups and asked where I was. “This is the Fusion Festival, it will start in a couple of weeks and we have to build the stages,” one of the artists told me. I couldn’t believe my luck, I got lost in the middle of nowhere in Germany, and here I was. Along with many abandoned houses and farms, there was a vibrant community of artists, designers, carpenters, musicians, electricians, and whatnot. All these people travel to Lärz in the summer to put together the biggest Techno Festival in Europe with more than 70,000 attendees per year and therefore keep this small town alive.

© AntonioCastello

After talking to some of the artists and explaining what I was doing there I was invited to set up my tent on their ground for one night. A night in which I ended up having dinner and beer with them. The scene was completely surreal, the festival has a huge kitchen and food service for a staff of over 200, beer vendors, bathrooms, and showers are included.

I spent the next day taking photos and talking to the people there, I didn’t want to leave but I was far away from where I was supposed to be, and way behind my schedule: Around noon I decided to take off with a broken heart and took a train to the north where I would then catch a Ferry to Denmark that night.

I arrived in the city of Gedser at midnight and stayed in one of the many free open lodges that are offered to travelers and campers. Little wooden huts with only three walls where you can throw in your sleeping bag and rest for the night.

© AntonioCastello

Traveling through Denmark was a great experience, I also found many "ghost" towns and talked to many people who supported the local right party. However the people were very friendly and they shared their food and drinks with me, despite my being a Colombian Immigrant. Many of them only spoke Danish and we ended up communicating in a mix of English, German, and hand signs. The bad part? the wind. Denmark can be very cold and windy and biking all day in those conditions is hard, but the scenery, the ferry trip, the bike roads, and the seaside made this trip unique.

© AntonioCastello

On the 7th day, I reached Copenhagen, tired and stinky. I was then welcomed in a very warm and friendly way by my host Jacob Remin, a local artist, and his girlfriend, an art curator. They made me feel at home and happily gave me tips about their city.

The next day I visited The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School, where an art exhibition about Brexit was taking place; it was the best way to end my trip. England as the United States had elected a far-right in part as a solution to the lack of jobs and investment in rural areas, something that was present all along my trip.

Before leaving I paid a visit to the Human Hotel Headquarters and had lunch with Martin, the man behind the project. My trip was possible thanks to his help, so I assured him that I would tell my story and do the same again next year.


A big Thank you goes to Antonio Castello for sharing these wonderful images! Check out his Facebook and Instagram to see more of his works!

written by alinaxeniatroniarsky on 2020-07-08 #culture #people #places

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