Relics of the Cold War
When after the fall of the Berlin Wall the troops go home, I explore the places they left behind. I come to realise that the process of decay that has already begun needs more time to symbolise the end of this era. I decide to wait a number of years. Then, for eleven years, I do ‘photographic-archaeological’ research into the physical remains of the Cold War. Visually, I search for stillness, for the remains of a decaying military infrastructure that is slowly but surely being taken over by nature. Travelling through former enemy territory, I climb over fences of abandoned barracks with my medium format camera, and find rusting tanks and destroyed monuments. I marvel at the enormous numbers of air-raid shelters, army barracks, airfields, firing ranges, missile bases, border fencing and radar posts. When I descend into underground bunkers, the paranoia and hyperalertness of so long ago are still tangible. On both sides of the Iron Curtain, the same war architecture was built from the same fears. ‘Relics of the Cold War’ depicts a society on the brink of war that would have brought about its own downfall by actually firing its nuclear weapons, but also shows the will for peace, after which the war architecture falls into disuse and decays. In this new phase of neglect, this serene military world seems like an abandoned film set. In fact, it is surprising that these places have been ‘forgotten’. In order to tell the geopolitical story of the Cold War to future generations, these physical remains are needed.
In 2022 Relics of the Cold War has (unfortunately) become very topical and acts as a reminder of what the Cold War was like and what it could yet be again: two opponents building identical defenses because of the same distrust and the same fear.
Relics of the Cold War comprises 73 photographs taken in: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherland, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
Book publication: ‘Relics of the Cold War’
1st Edition (Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2009)
2nd Edition (Waanders Publishers, 2020)
Works from this project are included in the collections of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the German Historical Museum in Berlin, and the Stadtmuseum in Berlin.
“Hallucinating images of a bygone era.”
— Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
“A terrific book. Surreal. The pictures are straight out of Dr. Strangelove.”
— Kathy Ryan (The New York Times Magazine)
“Roemers’ photographs find an uneasy balance between the lushness of colors and textures and the destructive impulse of this rotting infrastructure. [……] Roemers has found surprising beauty in submerged bunkers and graffiti-covered spy stations, but the echoes of former aggression are still embedded there, like ghostly evidence in the crumbling debris.“
— Collector Daily