100 Essential Photos

Look At This If You Love Great Photography:
A critical curation off 100 essential photos (Ivy Press, 2021)

Martin Roemers
Soviet Army Hospital, Jüterbog, former East Germany

by Gemma Padley

How do you photograph the aftermath of a conflict that never happened? This is the area of enquiry that Martin Roemers tackles in his epic project, Relics of the Cold War (1997–2009).

Roemers’s project saw him visit ten countries including Russia,
Poland, Germany and the UK as well as his home country of the Netherlands in his search for remnants of the Cold War (1947–1991) to photograph. He photographed everything from deserted army bases and military training areas to underground tunnels and rusty tanks. He also photographed inside an abandoned Soviet Army hospital at a military base in former East Germany as seen in this image. It is not immediately clear what we are looking at and Roemers does not give much away. The huge leering light, which draws our attention, looks like something from a science-fiction film. We could also be inside some kind of research facility at an aerospace agency. Although there are no people pictured in this eerie image of an abandoned site, a strong human presence remains. An uneasiness hangs in the air.

Roemers grew up during the Cold War, which was a period defined
by division between Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc. It was
marked by mistrust, fear, hostility and an ever-present nuclear threat. He has spoken about how documenting the landscape of the Cold War allowed him to create a visual memorial to a conflict that never materialized. As time goes on, memories fade, and the process of decay takes hold as sites devoid of purpose are forgotten and left to rot. Superficially the photograph is not about much at all and yet there is a surreal beauty at work here, which calls us to pause and reflect on what might have been.

Dutch, b. 1962

Trabant (1990–1991), The Never-Ending War (2004–05), Metropolis (2007–2015)

Martin Roemers discusses Relics of the Cold War on the Deutsches Historisches Museum YouTube channel

Germany. Soviet Army hospital