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Designy Decay in Berlin: Clärchens Ballhaus

5.February 2011

As you know, a few weeks ago, I spent a couple of weeks in Germany.  It was my first trip there in almost three years – the longest I’d been away from Germany since I was seventeen.  Needless to say, I was QUITE excited.  I packed up only two cameras (what restraint!), a bunch of memory cards and a stash of film, color, black and white, and slide film.

Knowing that I was going to be in Berlin, I planned on shooting some slide film to cross process – Berlin in a city that is, in my opinion, exceptionally well suited to cross processing.  The colors of the graffiti and the buildings that are left to artfully decay are well served by the blown out colors and high contrast achieved by cross processing.  The only roll of slide film I got around to shooting was a roll of Velvia 100, which I’d never cross processed before.  I’ve done it with Velvia 50 and was delighted with the greens that showed up everywhere, so I was very, very surprised to see that the roll of Velvia 100 came back bright orange.

But, the beautiful thing about it is that the space was really dim and cool and blue-purple in tone, so the film photos are completely different from the digital shots I took there.  And somehow the warm tones really suited the space.  I’m sure that’s how it’s lit when it’s open (which it wasn’t, really, while we were there).

Clärchens Ballhaus was opened in Berlin’s heyday just after the turn of the century.  It opened as a dance hall and, with the exception of wartime, it has been in operation ever since.  It remained open during the DDR and these days it’s very popular with the expat crowd.  Its legitimacy as an institution in the American imagination of Berlin was solidified by a glowing profile in the New York Times (one of the Times’s drooling weekly articles about how great Berlin is – and it is.).

Now, I’ve never been there when it was full of people, but the space itself is magical.  The mirrors are approaching a hundred years old and the silver is fading, going black, and peeling.  Huge cracks spread from the holes in the mirrors where lamps used to be mounted, and the paint (almost certainly chock full o’ lead) is flaking off the walls in crackly postage-stamp size chunks.  This is a case where the downward trend of decay and deterioration has hit the sweet spot of design taste among the young and stylish set.  There seem to be two trends in Berlin – one where everything is empty and Scandinavian with muted colors and clean lines and the other, exemplified by the Ballhaus, where Baroque decadence begins to fall down and the layers of history and the march of time become visible.  You can’t really fake this kind of aging.

In other news, a few of these photos were featured on Words to Shoot By.  I was so pleased to be chosen this month and hope to be able to point you guys all over there when I submit photos again!  Go check it out – it’s a great website.

Another note: you can expect a few more of these posts over the next few weeks.  I’ve got a BIG backlog of photos and a MAJOR lack of time to bake, so I’ll be telling you ALL about my adventures in Germany.  Get used to it.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 6.February 2011 20:31

    i want the one of me playing with fire! and the ones from the cafe late at night. “whom do you think about when you masturbate?” #momentsthatwillneverhappentwice

  2. 9.February 2011 23:28

    Might you be willing to sell any? They are stunning. I want a suite of them. A suite of the spring greeny-bluey photos (you know the ones I mentioned before), and a suite of these.

    • Darby O'Shea permalink*
      10.February 2011 11:49

      Of course! We should talk about sizes and so forth. And many other things. I’m coming out of hell week slowly and will (I promise!) answer your email soon!

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