On February 15 in 1714 the troops of Philip V. wanted to lead Catalonia into French absolutism and 50 brave men entrenched themselves in the marina tower. Again the people of Sant Pol de Mar were fighting for their freedom and independence, like so many times before and after.
This is the story of a fishermen village located between Barcelona and Gerona, it is the story of a Spanish-German family, it is the story of wars in Europe, the story of childhood, expulsion, departure and return. It is the history of analog black and white photography, the history of photographic emancipation. It is the story of a fading past and it is the story of your future.
The history of Sant Pol de Mar is closely linked to the history of Catalonia. The integrative power of language has repeatedly fueled the desire for freedom and independence. The natural desire to give space to one’s own identity and culture has usually been abused by bad leaders. In my family too, brothers and sisters have always faced each other in the struggle for dominance in the region. During the Spanish Civil War, part of the family went to Venezuela, others hid themselves in the narrow streets of Barcelona or stayed behind in the small fishermen village Sant Pol de Mar. A courageous woman made her way to France, was imprisoned in a concentration camp near der village Pau, from which she was able to escape after a while. She then crossed France on foot. She had taken along a slip of paper with an address of acquaintances in a distant unknown country way up north. The city was and is called Cologne, which means colony, for their roman founders the city in the diaspora. The courageous woman fled from the Spanish Civil War and found her great love in the Cathedral city. She ran away from a war against the people, and she ran into the Second World War, which I would now – with some distance and caution – like to call a civil war as well.
Josefine Vidal i Diaz was my grandmother, a proud Spanish woman in crazy, cosmopolitan Cologne. She gave birth to three children, one was my father, who also found his great love in the Cathedral city, my mum.
In times of the economic miracle, things only got better in the north. The south lagged behind and was only good for recruiting cheap labor, which the German economic miracle so urgently needed. In Sant Pol de Mar, the sewing shops closed, which had been the only significant industry apart from fishing, because the village in the narrow bay had no space for expansion.
Following in the footsteps of his older brother, who after the end of the war had cycled from Cologne to Barcelona, which took him 6 months, my parents also found their way to Sant Pol de Mar. They often visited the remaining family and soon made a decision: they preferred to stay in a guest house rather than exploiting the exuberant hospitality too much.
My mother is sure I was conceived in Sant Pol de Mar. I was born in Cologne. But it didn’t take long before I was taken to my Spanish family, to my cradle of nature, my sea. I often got up at 6 a.m. and went to the beach with my mother to swim for an hour before we had breakfast. I really enjoyed this silence and tranquility and the fresh morning breeze in summer.
Throughout my childhood I have always returned to Sant Pol de Mar, during and outside school vacation.
I would have loved to stay there every time I went back to Germany. The Rhineland was an adventure between theatre, radio and agriculture, but home was the sea and this small village in Catalonia.
Even later I was always drawn south. In the francophone area, I particularly liked the land of the Cathars. The people from Catalunya Norte just reminded me of my own roots.
A friend gave me the tip I should look for the fulfillment of my dream in Eastern Spain. My dream was to rebuild an old stone house in a mountain village and fill it with life. I found this house, the CASAdelDRAGON, in the only Catalan village on Valencian soil, just across the Catalunya border.
At the age of just 24, I began this reconstruction, naively, courageously, powerfully. More than 150 people from all over the world have helped me, more than 2000 have visited the artists’ residence in recent years. Many have left their mark on the reconstruction. And so the house is also a memory set in stone for a time after the economic miracle. My grandmother had left the country because of the the violence, my parents returned as visitors, I found my homeland and the roots of my family.
Sant Pol de Mar and Cervera del Maestre not only share Cathalan history, they and their residents are similar in many ways. And they have both found an identity in the diaspora, on the one hand through the recurring will to rebuild, on the other hand through envy and pressure from outside.
In Cervera they killed 50 men in one night because the village and its inhabitants were simply too successful. In Sant Pol, 50 men defended the village against the French, and actually against a Spaniard who allied with them.
Many families in both villages have sent their children to work abroad, some have returned, early with fresh blood, or later with their wealth.
The Spanish flu, which was not Spanish at all, the recession, the rise and fall of dictatorships in Europe, everything touched and shaped the people of both villages.
How closely linked is the history of Catalonia to the movement of people in search of space, work, bread, freedom. In the third year of the global pandemic – as it will probably be called in retrospect by remaining Europeans and North Americans- many people are again flocking to the Mediterranean region. This time they are not soldiers with guns, they are often young families with old cars.
Back then, my grandmother Josefine walked in the wrong direction, away from the Spanish Civil War and right into the middle of the Second World War.
History doesn’t seem to repeat itself, what does happen is that no one learns from it. So it will probably take several generations of forgetting, accompanied by an upswing from ruins, until the time is ripe again for the new conflict.
The long shadows once again fall on Europe and not only on the sundials on the facades. So the question arises: Sant Pol, what time is it? The Wild Coast has always had the right answer: any time.
The trivialization of photography was not first initiated by the smartphone. The holiday photo spread throughout the Wirtschaftswunder. This was accompanied by the appropriation of historiography. While the rare photograph was a preserved moment in contemporary history, the flood of images from Package Tourists was tantamount to appropriating pictorial historiography.
The selected photographs of a Spanish-German family are – at first glance – not a valuable contribution to the documentation of the history of the show. But if these photographs are connected with the people of that time, whose fate and values are viewed as representative for all the other photographs that were taken but can no longer be found, then one can sense the power of movement of these people in space and time.
Anyone who wants to understand history, which is nothing other than the sum of the experiences of contemporary witnesses, understands that the story does not exist. The all-too-human desire to find a red thread in ordering, evaluating and drawing conclusions can be met with humility. At the age of eight, I made my first experiences as a contemporary photographer in the Sant Pol de Mar train station, and the desire to experience the here and now has accompanied me ever since. That’s when they took me to the train. Now I bring others to the train. At that time it was my turn. Now it’s other people’s turn.
A selection of these photographs is pubished in the European social art project artsurprise.eu – which was invented in the artist residence and think tank CASAdelDRAGON. The whole collection of the family photographies have gone their own way, like a message in a bottle for the future, in a protected place to be forgotten for many years to come. Then they can be rediscovered as a gift by people who ask: What time is it?