Life is here: collecting memories in Wolfsburg

Margherita Carbonaro


Margherita Carbonaro, La vita è qui. Wolfsburg, una storia italiana / Das Leben ist hier. Wolfsburg, eine italienische Geschichte, Metropol Verlag, Berlin 2012

Almost all stories here in Wolfsburg begin on a train, with images of unknown landscapes and the absolute uncertainty of what will come next – and so did my adventure too. Like tens and tens of thousands who preceded me, I arrived for the first time in Wolfsburg by train. My adventure, of course, was nothing compared to theirs. At least I had a precise arrival time printed on a sheet of paper. “They” knew when they had left their homes in Italy, but in most cases they didn’t have the faintest idea of when, or even where, their trip would come to an end. What we had in common was that neither they nor I knew anything about the place and the reality they were travelling to. “They” came here to find work, but they also found and discovered a new world. I came here to collect their memories – and discovered their world.

The big wave of Italian immigration hit Wolfsburg in 1962, and it kept rolling during the entire 60s and 70s. Some scattered pioneers had already arrived at the end of the 50s. But one cannot forget the couple of thousand  Italian construction workers who were recruited back in 1938 to build the city that Hitler had wanted as the industrial center of his “automobile for the people”.

What however happened in the late months of 1961 is that Volkswagen – whose name is almost synonymous with Wolfsburg – was running short of unskilled working hands and decided to get them (once again…) from Italy. The first were officially hired on January 17th, 1962. And in the following months and years the train station in Wolfsburg was busier than ever. People arrived and were immediately boarded on the blue buses of Volkswagen – and directly transported to the wooden barracks of the “Italian camp”: mostly peasants who were turned into industrial workers, literally overnight.

And then there were the “special trains”, Sonderzüge, treni speciali, which brought people home for the holidays and back again to Wolfsburg a couple of weeks later. On their way South they were loaded with electrical household appliances but also with German cigarettes and chocolate (or even cartons of bananas!). In other words: they were loaded with prosperity. And on their way back North, from Italy to Lower Saxony, they contained everything that could sate nostalgia for the following months: wine, oil, pasta, sausages and cheese…  “Bring along your brothers and cousins and friends, when you come back” said the persons in charge at Volkswagen before the packed holiday trains whistled and left. “You went down home alone and you came back with five or six others” explained Rino, who arrived for the first time in Wolfsburg after an adventurous trip in 1964.

These trains, which no longer exist, are like a legend in the collective memory of the Wolfsburger Italians. Every community has its founding myths – I caught myself thinking one day while I was walking along the central Porschestrasse – and the original myths here swing on railroad wheels and tracks. I cannot say how often I heard these trains mentioned during my many sojourns in the city – when I was collecting memories for a book which was going to be the story of many stories.

It all started for me in December 2010 when Stefano Jorio, who was directing the Italian Cultural Institute in Wolfsburg, proposed that I write a book about the Italian community in Wolfsburg that should be published in 2012, fiftieth anniversary since the beginning of mass arrivals from Italy to the city of VW. But we don’t want one of those celebratory publications that nobody reads, he told me. We don’t want a mere documentation but living stories, details, images and emotions. I accepted his proposal with enthusiasm and a few days later I went to Wolfsburg (by train!) to meet him and the other two sponsors of the project: the Historical Archive and the trade union IG Metall of Wolfsburg. I accepted without knowing what to expect. And so I started my many trips to Lower Saxony, each time staying for a few days, meeting people at their homes, in cafés, at the various Italian and regional meeting points, at the hairdresser’s or on a park bench. I always took along my small voice recorder, so small that it should never be felt as a bothering presence during a conversation. And so precious for me because I could listen again to all the different intonations and expressions of the Italian dialects when I later on sat down to write the stories I had heard. Being myself a foreigner and a stranger in Wolfsburg, almost wrapped up in my void of any previous knowledge, I realized that this was an excellent condition for the kind of memory-hunting I was pursuing. Memory-hunting, or with other words: fishing out objects and glimpses and smells and songs and noises and feelings from the (more or less) dusty boxes of the mind. This is how I collected stories of departures and arrivals, of the shocking impact with the huge machines in the immense factory, of hostility and curiosity and cold and fear, stories of dance evenings and love – but also stories visited by snails and parrots and bats. Even by brigands.

I would like to add two more reflections. Many times Wolfsburg had been praised to me as being “the most Italian city north of the Alps”. But how can a city with such sober and austere architectures and lines be Italian – I asked myself at the beginning – a city which doesn’t have any Mediterranean atmosphere, not even in the form of a stereotyped “Little Italy”? Cinzia, who told me her story for the book, finally gave me the clue: you walk on the streets and you hear the language. It is also words which make up a city, all the words pronounced in the course of time. So I imagined Wolfsburg being crossed by traces and trails of words, as in a night photograph whose exposure has been left open for decades. And I learned to listen carefully in order to catch up those words each time I stepped out of the train station in Wolfsburg.

One last thought: people in Wolfsburg were generally happy to narrate their own story, to a degree which sometimes amazed (and obviously pleased) me. This shows in my eyes the awareness, and also the sense of pride, felt by so many that one’s experience – besides being precious in itself – is part of a valuable piece of history.

Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund

„Alle nach 1949 auf das heutige Gebiet der Bundesrepublik Deutschland Zugewanderten, sowie alle in Deutschland geborenen Ausländer und alle in Deutschland als Deutsche Geborenen mit zumindest einem nach 1949 zugewanderten oder als Ausländer in Deutschland geborenen Elternteil”  – Die Bundesregierung

Work in Progress / Henrik Malmström

Episodios sobre la emigración portuguesa a Francia

“Au Revoir Portugal! historia  de la emigración portuguesa a Francia en las décadas de 50/60/70, en 5 episodios. Durante este período, alrededor de dos millones de portugueses abandonó el país clandestinamente. Este fue el mayor éxodo que haya conocido la historia de Portugal.

Esta es la historia de todos estos hombres que decidieron ir en busca de una vida mejor para ellos y sus familias, contada en  primera persona. Relatos sufridos, que muestran la dolorosa y arriesgada forma en que los portugueses abandonaban el país.

Esta es una historia de Portugal, una historia de los hombres que mi abuelo ayudo a llevar a Francia, y también es su historia y la mía, y estoy seguro que en otras partes del mundo el espectador encontrará un portugués con una historia similar.  ‘

Carlos Domingomes



‘A journey between the memories of the past and the reality of the present’. Alberto’s collective archive


3Stefano Piemontese

A few months ago, previous to my first visit to Wolfsburg – which I chose as the location where to realize my photographic work for the TOET project – I was getting lost on internet with the vague idea to gather together some ideas and new perspectives about this town and its italian inhabitants. By chance (that is, by google) I stumbled upon a website named ‘Wolfsburg, a journey between the memories of the past and the reality of the present in the city of Volkswagen’. It belongs to Alberto Gavioli, a former italian migrant who worked and lived in Wolfsburg for just one year between 1964 and 1965. Alberto’s original purpose was to recollect some memories, images and personal reflections about his short but very significative stay in the city of Volkswagen. Notwithstanding, year after year, Alberto begun receiving an increasing amount of calls, mails and images from other former emigrants who stumbled upon his website like me. As he writes, this occurrence gradually transformed this space from a private blog to a sort of collective photographic archive on the italian migrations to Wolfsburg:

‘Honestly I was not expecting all this. Evidently the witness of my working experience at the Volkswagen industry aroused the memory and the nostalgia of many Italian migrants … This website has grown thanks to you. All the material I received has been put in these pages and made available to those who still want to remember … We must keep the memory alive! Do not let the time erases the testimony of our work in those years!’

Today, the website recollect some really interesting records about Alberto’s migratory experience and first return to Wolfsburg in 2002. The little collection of Alberto’s personal pictures is completed with a rich collective photographic archive. This include some pictures of the daily life of the Italian workers in the VW-erected ‘Berliner Brücke’ barracks, as well several random documents (such as working contracts, cinema’s tickets, VW work regulation plan, etc.).

At the beginning of January 2013 I called a friend of mine and I told him that there was a person I wanted to meet. According to a couple of e-mail I exchanged with Alberto, his village was just three hour away from my hometown in Italy. We met more or less at equal distance in an empty restaurant of Nonantola, a little town we chose by chance looking on google maps. The video interview we realized with Alberto gives some insights about his (as he defines it) ‘atypical’ experience in Wolfsburg, and offers also some reflections on the necessity of memory. The video will be soon posted on this blog. For now I invite you to explore Alberto’s website hearing Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto. It is the melody he was used to listen from the neighbors’ record players before falling asleep in his bed of the Room number 3 of the Barrack 40. It still changes the shape of his wrinkles.

How did I get to Wolfsburg?

Representation of the Orotelli's Carnival in Wolfsburg (July 2007)

Stefano Piemontese

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 …

My map of Wolfsburg

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 …

Diario 1

Diario 2

Diario 3Dienstag 16.10.2012

First Day

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:

  1. Tonight the NDR broadcasts a documentary-film titled ‘Wolfsburgo Autostadt‘;
  2. In the castle there is an exposition on the first Italians titled ‘i primi italiani – italienische Premierens, Porträts aus Wolfsburg‘;
  3. 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);
  4. The Lupo-Martini football team play in Wolfsburg on Sunday at 3pm. The trainer is named Francisco C.: he is half Italian half Spaniards;
  5. 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  ******;
  6. 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?’.

Mittwoch 17.10.2012

‘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.

20.10 fronte     21.10 retro     18.10 fronte     24:25.10 retro

Workshop 1

The first meeting-workshop of TOET  was led in Seville by Magnum Photographer Patrick Zachmann.
Emily Adams, director of exhibitions PhotoEspaña, gave a lecture and a portfolio review for participants.
The meeting finished with a visit to the exhibition of Agnes Varda in the CAAC (Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo)

“There are different kind of workshops and, I have to say that I like them all, for different reasons. I use to say to my students (or photographers) that what they will learn the most, I guess, won’t be from the shootings, which are always, somehow, frustrating because of the short time we have to deal with, but from what we’ll be said, shown, discussed, criticized. It has been true for this workshop as well, even though some have been doing very well.But what is different in that one,from the others is the fact that the group of twelve photographers chosen by Cobertura in Seville, Atelier de Visu in Marseille and 1000 words in London, among 250 appliance were composed by almost only professionals (very few were “amateurs” but with a high quality level) and by the fact that they will have a lot of time to make their photographic project.

It won’t be “just” a four or five days Masterclass. It will be a long term workshop and project. With a very precise theme, on migrants coming from south Europe between the 1950 to the 80th.They will have two others meetings and Masterclass with two other photographers and so, their work in progress will be followed up. That makes a big difference and these guys and girls are lucky! But I was very lucky too to have the chance to be the first one to meet them, trying to guide them, advising them, criticizing their images and evaluating their specific projects.

I appreciated each personality, already built or in progress, every personal world, vision and for some, obsessions, hesitations.It’s fasciainating to see how visual identities are on construction. But I think, what I appreciated the most, has been on a human level.This group has and will work very well as a group. I liked the way they were not in competition one to another but, on the contrary, tried to help each other. We could see already some friendships to be born. This is so important in photography which is dealing with human being!

Thank you to you, guys and to the organizers who have impulsed this positive energy.
Go luck, good work and continuation in this great project.”

Patrick Zachmann

El tren de la memoria

Ficha técnica

Título: El tren de la memoria
Dirección: Marta Arribas, Ana Pérez
País: España
Año: 2005
Fecha de estreno: 26/05/2005
Duración: 85 min.
Género: Documental
Intervenciones: Josefina Cembrero, Leonor Mediavilla, Victoria Toro, Josefina Pérez,
Pedro Serrano, Virginia Serrano, José Luis Leal, Juan Chacón, Heinz Saidel,
Hans Peter Steber 

España. Años sesenta: Dos millones de españoles salen del país empujados por la necesidad. Su destino: Alemania, Francia, Suiza y los Países Bajos. La mitad son clandestinos y viajan sin contratos de trabajo. El ochenta por ciento son analfabetos. Ante ellos se levanta el muro del idioma y las costumbres diferentes. España, hace un tiempo: Otros necesitados llaman a la puerta de un país próspero. Casi nadie se acuerda de la otra historia. Josefina sí. Ella recuerda su viaje en el tren de la memoria.
Destino: Núremberg, Alemania. “El tren de la memoria” retrata el éxodo de dos millones de españoles que buscaron la prosperidad en Europa en los años sesenta. Se fueron por unos meses, se quedaron treinta años. El documental pretende cubrir una laguna en la reciente historia de España y saldar una deuda con los protagonistas de unos tiempos difíciles de los que apenas sabemos algo más que una escueta historia oficial y unos cuantos tópicos.


Lara Mazagatos

Lara Mazagatos Pascual



Degree in Audiovisual Communication by Universidad Complutense de Madrid. She completed her studies in photography courses in the Portuguese Institute of Photography (Oporto, 2009) and CoberturaPhoto (Seville, 2009-2010), winning the award for best project “Little Warrior”. This same story she used to get the grant of photojournalism GrisArt School (Barcelona, 2010-2011). Her images have been exhibited in Barcelona Colectania Photo Foundation (cycle Projector) and in a solo show in Cobertura Photo, Seville. prueba modificacion