Extract from the Wagenburgleben in Berlin Catalogue

This exhibition wishes to bring together people who live on those settlements called Wagenburg still visible in the urban architecture of Berlin nowadays, and allow them to tell about their life, history, hopes or dreams, even. But it was evident from the beginning that such a project can only be modest in the sense that not everybody from the wagenburgs would or could even accept it in order to cooperate. Wagenburgs remain a controversial subject as they do question deeply the rationality, rules and laws of the society in which they appear. Their inhabitants are used to misunderstandings and well aware that what they have to say about their choices or aspirations can also be used against them. So they are extremely cautious when they come to express their feelings and speak for themselves.
Nevertheless, wagenburgs did not appear by chance, even less so because of any deemed superficiality of their inhabitants and the reasons why they exist and wish to survive as such are certainly complex. We are searching here for clues that could help us apprehend a social phenomenon. Indeed, in a society where the logics of profit and growth do create massive entropy, consumerism, restless exploitation of natural ressources, uncontrolled environmental disorders and wastes, along with poverty that throw towards its margins lots of unwanted from the domineering culture, the voice of the « marginalized » who are trying to survive, assert themselves and give way to their own alternative lifestyle and philosophy, can only be constructive and educative. Whatever might have been written in the past on the subject, strange enough at times a rather negative approach that could eventually be questionned in its objectivity, a population of diverse ages, gender and origins intend to live that specific way. It probably responds to necessities and basic needs remained somewhere and somehow unfullfiled.

So it seemed necessary to reopen a debate, and Wagenburgleben in Berlin is an exhibition staged with the intuition that identity/identification in the process of structuration of the self and society can only be possible in an open and respectfull exchange with others. The documents collected here could hopefully nurture this dialogue.
It then became also quite naturally evident that each wagenburg should have a space of its own in the exhibition with all liberty to occupy and invent it ... or not take the opportunity and prefer to remain silent, wishing even not to be mentioned if so decided.
One cannot speak of the wagenburgs in general. The exhibition discloses that each group or «place» (spatially an intricate system of little places where caravans and trucks assemble around open fires), has it’s own way of existence and collective identity or imagery. People seem to assemble there by instinct and respect, sometimes even because of love (as mentioned in the interviews shown on the video monitors). But no two wagenburgs do « function» in the same way, and each of them is an open assembly of people with strong personalities and characters who do not necessarily think exactly the same altogether or have a common ideal. Everybody wants to live on his wagenburg, but in their own particular way.

The result of this proposition displays the collection of objects, pieces of clothing and furniture, works of art, structures/sculptures, panels, posters, installations proposed by several wagenburgs. It surely could be more extensive and we might miss explanations and historical perspectives. But if some decided not to do more than share images or objects, we have to respect their deliberate choice. The mere possibility of speaking is sometimes not so easy to take as one might expect. It confirms that we are definitely witnessing a sensitive social experience with obvious traumatic memory (the relationship with the police and the press for example, the conflictual exchanges with the legal owner of the land or space where the wagenburgs wish to station, even though it was unoccupied and unused primarily ... but also the disapproving judgements and complaints of neighbours and passers-by if not the invasive curiosity of the tourists too). Nevertheless, we must know also that some wagenburgs have negociated with the concerned authorities and experience a rather peacefull legalized stay.

Dr. Ralf Marsault