Magazine Article


A Different photokina

ruin in a WWII photo
A passerby with cellphone points at a ruin in a WWII photo, hanging in the new Koelnmesse.The message of the iconic images may be changing with the generations.
Don Sutherland

Köln Messe
The Köln Messe where photokina was born is no more, but its shell will remain as a reminder. What else of photokina will join the relics of Cologne?
Don Sutherland

old Köln Messe
The walls of the old Köln Messe form a composite with the cathedral steeples, more than a half-mile away. In a sense, they’re all equally ancient.
Don Sutherland

Panasonic DSLR
Like Sony, Panasonic treated their DSLR like "new," despite its announcement last February. Projecting a 10% market share within a few years, Panasonic’s message seemed to echo Sony’s: Forget the technicalities—we’re here, and we mean it.
Don Sutherland

Sony Alpha DSLR
At their heavily-attended press conference, Sony treated their Alpha DSLR almost like a new introduction, despite its half-year of existence. What were they trying to tell us?
Don Sutherland

When we asked the younger generation, people then in their twenties, they gave it some thought and finally replied, “It must not happen again. No more war. We’re taught that in school.”

It sounded like an intellectualization of an emotional theme. What became of the loss and despair of one of the main targets of World War II, or the sense of resolve and maybe closure for the restoration? Have those feelings been sublimated? Forgotten?

People in their twenties in 1986 would have been born in the sixties. A great deal of the restoration would have been finished. They grew into the heritage, but did not live it. Today, people in their twenties at the time of the war would be in their eighties. Some of the things they felt, yesterday’s news, might now be the things taught in school.

The old-fashioned Kolsher, the citizen of Köln, was considered a Rhineland citizen more than a regular German. The people had their own dialect, and a long reputation as laid-back, easygoing, fun-loving, beer-loving, love-loving. They had a charm and an unguarded way that made them seem, to jaded American eyes peering through masked faces, sophisticated and innocent at the same time.

But the modern Continent, or at least some sectors of it, identifies a larger whole, an entity called Europe. No longer are passports required between once-sovereign, frequently antagonistic nations. Where once we spent Deutschmarks or Francs, now it’s all Euros.

Americans groan, when they see a Burger King or a McDonald’s a few blocks from the cathedral. Did we come all this way to stay home?

But Europe is a member of the modernized world. Turn on the radio—it sounds like American radio, with the same audio efx and the hushed, breathless, pseudo-intimate announcer’s voice. Only the words are German. German television looks like ours, its on-camera anchors as plasticized as our own.

photokina show used to be held in the Köln Messe (Cologne Market), a rambling structure begun in 1922. Additional halls were added over the years till the Messe came to the railroad tracks—and then leapt across. Newer buildings went-up, and the legends began of the hour-long walks from Halle 1-14.

At the 2004 photokina, we learned that the original Rhine halls would be torn down. The Messe would move to the upper halls, the ones past the railroad tracks, and additional halls would be constructed. 2006 was our first year in the new buildings—the Koelnmesse.

All the signs say Koelnmesse now. What happened to the Köln Messe? Well, combining words together is something of a German linguistic tradition, but also, it’s fashionable among modern corporations too. And Köln, written properly, has an umlaut over the “o.” Umlauts are distinctively German—Koeln, a valid alternate spelling, dispenses with the umlaut, acknowledging tradition in a modern European way.

So the giant photo-enlargements, hung by a generation removed by time from the event they depict, seem to speak not of sorrow or of achievement, but of a lesson. They seem to cry out “never again.”

Goodbye to the Ghosts.

The old Köln Messe, the Rhine halls, is no more. Television production is a new economic engine of Koeln, and a complex of facilities is taking the place of the old Messe. Or anyway, most of the old Messe.

The exterior walls remain. They stand as a massive ring of bricks surrounding the new construction, braced by scaffolds until new joists can be installed to tie them together. From the standpoint of facades, the streetscape will be much unchanged. That fits right in with a town whose other relics, going back two millennia, have been conscientiously preserved.

But the ghosts of a building are not in the facades. They’re in the rooms and the hallways, the places where people congregated. Remove those structures and the ghosts go with them. We were surprised by the nostalgia we felt for the old place, and the sadness that it’s gone. For the ghosts in those buildings were ours, too.