Starkes Vier­tel- photos of Dresden Neustadt in the 70s and 80s

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(all photos taken from

When I was in Dresden, I bought a photo­graphy book by a local photo­graph­er. Günter Starke lived in Dresden Neustadt, the area just across the river from the histor­ic­al centre, in the 70s and 80s, and took a lot of photos. Despite the name, Neustadt is full of old build­ings that escaped bomb­ing during the war (it’s only new compared to the baroque city centre), and in the commun­ist days, the local coun­cil concen­trated on build­ing blocks of flats and hous­ing estates to house famil­ies.

The old build­ings in the Neustadt were dilap­id­ated, and home to students, artists, old people and other people look­ing for cheap rent. Some­times Starke didn’t both­er to pay his rent if the roof had been partic­u­larly leaky, and no-one from the coun­cil seemed to care that much. Nowadays, the area is a funny mix of the fully restored, half-restored, and almost derel­ict, and there are a lot of inter­est­ing bars, restaur­ants and shops.

The title of the book is a pun- it means both “Starke’s neigh­bour­hood” and “tough neigh­bour­hood”. From the way the book talks about the area, I don’t think it really was a tough place to live. There’s an intro­duc­tion by local novel­ist Jens Wonneb­ur­ger. He starts off by saying that recently he was watch­ing a docu­ment­ary about the history of Dresden with his daugh­ter, and they had some foot­age of Dresden Neustadt in the 70s and his imme­di­ate thought was “wow, was it really that shit when I lived there?” because it looked so shabby and run down, but he only had good memor­ies of the area. On further thought, he decided that he had prob­ably been used to things being decrep­it and unre­paired, but that it had been a nice place to live, full of inter­est­ing and friendly people.

All the photos have a text with them explain­ing who the people were, with little stor­ies about how Starke knew them, such as the old lady who lived upstairs, whose flat was a disaster zone that was always leak­ing water in unex­pec­ted places. A lot of the people were students or artists, or just people who didn’t want to live on one of the sterile hous­ing estates on the edge of town. There was little traffic in the area, so adults and chil­dren often played sports and games out on the street.

The author also talks about the life of the artists in the area, and how it was free and easy in some ways, but not others. No-one really cared what you wore, or how you looked, both because they were artists, and getting hold of new clothes in the DDR could often be a prob­lem anyway. The rent was super-cheap, and food was subsid­ised by the state so it was never a prob­lem feed­ing your­self or keep­ing a roof over your head. On the other hand, you had to do your best to keep under the author­it­ies’ radar, so they wouldn’t pick you out as a subvers­ive element, and the offi­cial policy to pretty much ignore the old build­ings in the area meant that getting anything repaired or replaced or fixed took a lot of harass­ing of the hous­ing office, and trying to balance out getting some­thing fixed vs being marked out as a trouble­maker.

The aloof binmen were one of my favour­ites in the book. They had their own dresscode of farm­er boots and cowboy­ish hats and mous­taches, and they wore oven gloves to handle the bins (often full of ashes because most people in the area had coal-fired heat­ing stoves) and clearly considered them­selves some of the coolest people around. They made money on the side by selling things they found for scrap, or fixing them up. Starke was short of cash at one point, and asked them if there was there was any way he could help them out with their scav­en­ging for a bit of extra money, and they laughed at him, and made it clear that he was in no way cool enough to be a binman.

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