The first time I visited Wolfsburg was in june 2007, after deciding to write my BA thesis on the Italian community living in the city of Volkswagen. In fact, between 1955 and 1973 about 120.000 young Italians lived and worked there, and I thought that it was an interesting story to understand. I discovered that many of them came from the southern regions of the peninsula (but also from northern Italy) and worked in the car industry for a limited period of time: once their short-term contracts terminated, they used to leave the wire fence surrounding the Volkswagen barracks and go back to their families with good savings. I also discovered that some of them rested. They kept being employed by Volkswagen or become self-employed workers. They entered flats, rejoined their Italian wives and children in Wolfsburg or got married with german girls. As it could be expected, the most evident traces of these chronicles are preserved in the friendly atmosphere of some typical italian bars, in the picturesque interiors of many regional associations and in the towering chimneys of the Volkswagen power station. The picaresque past of these retired workers (but many work even now, together with their sons) still reverberates in their family photo albums and the intimate stories about their homeland and their migratory experience. The prevailing representations of the Italian community living in Wolfsburg are apparently limited to the construction and preservation of a collective mythology based on the recovery of memory. This process finds its way out in the public celebration of traditional italian festivals and in the denunciatory pamphlets of some cultural associations. During my field-work I moved mainly through the established narration of this community. So, besides the gathering of interview the role of social researcher required to me, and not separated from this, I also participated to the representations of the Sardinian carnival of Orotelli (left), I visited the local mosque with the members of the Apulian Cultural Association and took part to the assembly of the german-italian school. About five years later, in October 2012, I went back to Wolfsburg as photographer. Apparently nothing was changed. I was happy to meet the people I knew a few years before exactly in the same places where I left them. They told me what happened in the meanwhile and indicated me new directions to explore. Actually I was there to stumble on undiscovered layers of the ‘biggest Italian village beyond the Alps’. So, I began to explore the city from the beginning, like if it were the first time …
During ten days I walked through the town, getting in touch with a big part of the Italian and Italian-related entities, milieux and people. I strengthened old contacts and forged new ties. I explored the aesthetic of this place with my camera and also wrote down some reflexions, phone numbers, quotations and appointments in a sort of ‘field diary’. Because of a promise I made to my flatmates on the portal of my house in Barcelona, I send everyday a postcard to this imaginary but at the same time also so real family. I guess that the so-called ‘Familia de los Caballeros’ represented for me the the reference point that every emigrant is in need of, a place where to share questions, aspirations, disaffection and joy, and where to address its Heimweh. Here below you can find some traces of my last visit to Wolfsburg …
The first picture I did not take is that of a locked blonde girl with a bicycle waiting at the semaphore in the fresh wind in the ground boring would-be modern german buildings. Then, that of a rude boy in the underground passage of the main station in Braunschweig, with his little and young mediterranean mother, aggressive movements and shoes. It lasted just an instant. Above all I should take confidence with these yobs with the penis. Be a man! I sit in the train watching the fields and I ask to myself if there are still italians working there as farmers. The first Italians were recruited as peasants, like Lorenzo A.. Walking through the Porschestrasse I am able to recognize the somatic traits of the elderly ‘compatriots’ sitting in the sun. I would like to approach them but I do not have any plausible conversation in mind. Today I am under cover, or rather, I convince myself of this. I should take familiarity, feel the camera in my hand and do not make a certain number of pictures which will certainly blow up – I hope – in a day full of chiribitas (sparks). I decide to visit the Apulian Cultural Association and just when I am inspecting the interiors through the window arrive Angelo M., the president. We converse for a while and he provides me with the following informations, which I record:
- Tonight the NDR broadcasts a documentary-film titled ‘Wolfsburgo Autostadt‘;
- In the castle there is an exposition on the first Italians titled ‘i primi italiani – italienische Premierens, Porträts aus Wolfsburg‘;
- December the 14th the book of Margherita Carbonaro ‘Wolfsburg, eine italienische Geschichte‘ will be presented to the public (see the program of the Italian Cultural Institute);
- The Lupo-Martini football team play in Wolfsburg on Sunday at 3pm. The trainer is named Francisco C.: he is half Italian half Spaniards;
- If I want to know how to enter into the Volkswagen factory I should call Franco G. which is member of the Works Council. His number is +49 (0) 5361 ******;
- On Sunday at 3 pm, when also the Lupo-Martini plays, Angelo will arbitrate a Kreisliga football play in Boddenstädt, where he also lives (it is 70 km from Wolfsburg). If I want I can go there to take some pictures of him in referee clothing!
In the Azzurri Bar i meet Armando G.. He remembers of me. I find him much more happy than in the past. He plays and jokes with all. He roams in the bar and is probably the only person, excluding me and the barman, which does not play cards. He clouts his friends and let them clouting him. Then he cames back to me laughing, and leaning to my arm says: ‘they are all crazy!’. He has a strange way, that I really like, to touch you when he talks: for less than half a second he exterts pressure with all his weight on your arm or on your shoulder, in order to signal when you are expected to laugh or when the crucial point of this or that anecdote is coming. He informs me that I should watch the cabaret performance of Francesca de Martin ‘Aufmarsch der Itaker’.
Wonderful answer of the German girl of the picture IMG_8559 after I explained to her what I am actually doing in Wolfsburg: ‘Ah, the Italians! They should be our best friends!’
I am half-sleeping on the train to Braunschweig, I open the eyes, take my moleskine and write down: ‘cemetery’. Then I continue: ‘I guess the name of the barman of the Azzurri Bar is Domenico, he is from Brindisi and is about 30 years old. He came to Wolfsburg four years ago following the recommendation of his uncles, arrived in Wolfsburg many years ago. He is, together with the Tunisian man married with a Campanian woman, the dark-hair ex-sportsman Kosovar Albanian who lived in Italy but nothing remembers of the Italian language, and the sloppy Israeli guy fucking his life in front of the automatic gambling games, and also the crazy violet dark sloopy alcoholic blonde with a doomed but provocative expression … these are the ‘outsiders’, whose stories seem to intertwine with the image – apparently solid and homogeneous … but I created this image: in the reality every one has its own history, thus, is an outsider among the outsiders – of the old Italian ‘ao! cazzo!‘ playing cards at last retired. Stories to tell? Pictures to do?’.
‘I also wants the mustaches like this, like Bismark! – Now I tell you how you should do: you should have a good pussy to lick!’
‘… eh, currently I am living just of satisfactions! – Eh! We should all live of satisfactions! When you die, you do not take nothing with you. Now they use to burn you, they burn the cloths … ’cause burial became a luxury. Now also in Sicily they incinerate you … before we emigrated for poverty, now to emigrate is a luxury. Before we threw us on the straw, il feno, do you understand sicilian? Now we have the duplex, the foam mattress … now all is luxury. And luxury will make us poor again!’.
The talks about pussy and death of Pietro S., the man from Catania with great mustaches great rings great stomach and great wisdom (his appearance is pure gadget. In the reality he is more profound than the image he gives of himself) strengthen the thought of yesterday: I must go to the cemetery.
Today I walk continuously and approximately 8 hours. Now that I’m recalling it, just a few days later, I know that it was a beautiful day. It has been a day of loneliness between me and the city. To justify the absence of unforgettable pictures (which is not true) I told myself that yesterday I had to let me see by the Italians and today from the city. I was surprised and annoyed by the cemetery-forest where everything is undefined because everything is nature. I prefer the squared künstliche ordered and mediterranean cemeteries rather than this ‘earth to earth’ taken literally completed with squirrels and rabbits. However I enjoy eating a sandwich in the humid silence of the little park to the victims of Nazism and later in sign of respect, by way of a moral rule of which I ask me the origins, I jump over the railing to piss just a few feet from there. I caress and hug a three without looking like a fool. It is a practice that tunes me with myself and all the important things. Then I come back to the center. There are some tubby rabbits, the same that the Italians immigrants hunted for fun or need and ate: unphotographable decently. I come to the bridge after the adventure of the circus (not very exciting for the truth). I stop by coincidence exactly at the same point of the railing where I noticed the wisdom of Mr. S. (I notice it because I see the factory from the same perspective) and I write: ‘I feel strange. I feel like I’ve never been. I feel I am present, too much present (perhaps because the only thing in this city it’s me) (get out of me, please)’. Before taking the train I go to watch the canal (actually I am seeking a place to piss near the train station, but at this time there are white collars everywhere). I consider that I should try to sail away on one of these boats which are crossing the river. And I should come more often to watch the canal while waiting for the train.