Saturday, December 31, 2016

End of 2016 Note

Elvis and Marilyn wishe you a Happy New Year 

Dear Readers,

2016 has come to an end, and I want to thank all of you for visiting Urban Decay. Decay's total visits has exceeded 500,000, with the largest numbers of readers (or visits) from the United States, followed by Russia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Some of my blog goals for 2017:

  1. I want to finish up some short posts on central Europe and complete my 2016 trip on Route 66.
  2. The Mississippi Delta always beckons with interesting subject matter.
  3. I have a huge backlog of film negatives and positives to review and partly scan. In particular, photographs from Greece, central America, and the Vicksburg area should be of interest.
  4. You will see an increasing proportion of photos based on traditional film. Digital is so perfect and convenient - exposures are usually correct, colors are crisp and clean, and most scenes are correctly focused. And many of the billion digital pictures taken every day look alike. Black and white silver gelatin emulsion (film) simply looks different. I won't say it is superior, but it has an different emotional impact.

Upcoming projects:

  1. Cuba.
  2. Drive the central portion of Route 66.

Happy New Year, stay tuned, and please come back. All comments and suggestions are welcome. Let me know if you would like to contribute an article or photographs.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Nowa Huta, a Planned Communist Town - and it Looks Great (Krakow, Poland)

After the Soviets liberated (= conquered) Poland in 1944 and 1945, Stalin imposed rigorous communism on the country. The Soviets knew that the Polish people were deeply Catholic and unlikely to embrace collectivism and forced central planning. Therefore, the new overlords had to get industry operating again, rebuild a war-ravaged country, and demonstrate to the people that communism could make their lives better.

One example of this central planning was the construction of the immense Huta Im. W. I. Lenina steelworks east of Krakow. But to house thousands of workers, a new town was needed. As written in the Nowa Huta District Guide, "Nowa Huta - once an autonomous town, presently a Krakow neighborhood - arose in the 1950s, and represents the fullest, most interesting realization of the socialist realism architectural ethos. The unique urban layout of Nowa Huta - surprisingly monumental and symmetrical - has been given the status of Krakow's historical monuments."

"Its wide streets and well-furnished houses were foreseen as the birthplace of a new socialist society planned by the Communist Party leaders." Today, the wide streets, mature trees, and neat apartments give the community a gracious and well-ordered look. Compared to the rows of nasty high-rise people's housing I have seen in Moscow, Bogota, south Chicago, and Rockaway Beach, Nowa Huta looks pretty good.

The central square where the main roads converge is now known as Plac Centralny im. Ronalda Reagana. Never in their wildest capitalist nightmares could the original designers have dreamed that a main boulevard of their planned socialist reality community would be renamed aleja Solidarności, after a political movement that eventually freed Poland from communism. And even more amazing, the main plaza was renamed after the American president who contributed greatly to the downfall of the Soviet Union and its corrupt puppet states in Eastern Europe.
My wife and I only had a few hours to walk around during a walking tour of Nowa Huta, but we were surprised at the high quality of construction in the older neighborhoods. The photograph above is in the Centrum C area. The arches and wide sidewalks have almost a Parisian flavor. Our guide told us that part of this design was for military purposes: in case the locals revolted, soldiers would have straight firing lines (just as Washington, D.C, with its wide boulevards). As stated in the Nowa Huta District Guide, "In the Stalinist era, Nowa Huta was constructed as a kind of fortified camp prepared for potential wartime activity. Its different areas resemble medieval strongholds equipped with an intricate system of passages and security devices. For those who do not know the quarter, the area is an incomprehensible labyrinth, in which even the entrances to the different settlements are hidden behind wall curvatures, being invisible from the sides."
The earliest houses, starting in 1949, were built by teams of young laborers who lived in temporary camps. They had contests on who could lay the most bricks and demonstrate true communist fervor in building a new world. Considering the carnage and devastation of the Second World War, there probably was genuine fervor in rebuilding the nation. I am not sure if the workers were forced labor, but I suspect they could not quit if they did not like the work conditions. But they were fed and received medical care, so conditions may have been similar to work camps of our Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Consider that for many of the first inhabitants of these housing estates in the 1950s, this was the first time they experienced indoor plumbing, central heat, and, possibly, dependable electricity. Before the war, Poland was largely rural and very poor, and the war destroyed thousands of towns and villages.
We saw many older folks who have probably lived in Nowa Huta for decades. They had access to clinics, dentists, child care centers, cinemas, concert halls, and other amenities. They also could eat inexpensive meals at bar mleczny, or milk bars. These were state-subsidized and served dairy and egg, cereal, and flour-based meals such as pierogi. We stepped into one, still in business. Many closed after the fall of the communist government, but recently they have made a comeback, in response to welfare state nostalgia and the fact that they provide decent quality food and customer service at low prices.
The buildings are severe, but moderated by the tall trees and grassy plazas. Windows have been replaced with modern energy-efficient units. Our guide told us that apartments were allocated to residents based on family size (and political connections?). I don't recall if residents bought their units or how ownership is now titled or deeded.
Thousands of residents still live in Nowa Huta, including many young people who never knew it under communism. Our guide told us about how there was an informal information network to inform residents when shipments of food, furniture, clothing, or other goods were due to arrive at the official shops. The residents would be ready to line up at any time of the day or night for these rare commodities. We saw lines like this in the Soviet Union during a 1978 visit.
We also had snacks and coffee in a cultural center, sort of a 1960s-themed restaurant/club. This may have been the Janusz Korezak Youth Kultury Center. Nostalgia for some aspects of the good old communist days may be on the rise, but I suspect few Poles really would want to return to that grim lifestyle and political system. Regardless, Nowa Huta is an interesting example of a planned community, and it has weathered the changing times well. I highly recommend a visit. Poland is a fantastic destination, and the people are really nice.

I took these photographs with a Rolleiflex 3.5E twin-lens camera with 75mm ƒ/3.5 Xenotar lens on Kodak Tri-X 400 film. Film looks right for historical topics like this.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Massive 20th Century Architecture: Tempelhof Airport, Berlin, Germany

In the late 1930s, Nazi Germany was in the ascendency. It was recovering from the devastating inflation of the Weimar era and from the Great Depression, was rebuilding its industry and finances, was flexing its military power, and wanted to demonstrate to the world that it was a technological leader. What better way than to build the world's most modern and sophisticated airport? The leaders of the Third Reich conceived their new airport to be an architectural testament to German supremacy and superiority.

In addition to demonstrating the wealth and technological superiority of the Reich, the new airport was to become one of the cornerstones of a new Berlin, to be renamed Germania. The plan was for thousands of grungy old plebeian apartments and commercial buildings to be razed and replaced with monumental architecture. In the late-1930s, wholesale building demolition began, and some construction started, including the new airport. But by 1940, the war intervened, money and manpower were siphoned away to the war effort, and Germania never came to fruition.

The broad open site where Tempenhof is located had been used for aviation since the beginning of the 20th century. Orville and Wilbur Wright demonstrated their mechanized flying machine on the Tempelhof fair ground in 1909. The Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg web page has a Tempelhof timeline. A modest terminal building was built in 1927, and this older building continued to serve as the commercial airport through World War II. Amazingly, Lufthansa continued to fly passengers out of Berlin until April 1945, just days before the end of the war.
Main entry hall of Tempelhof airport, in use until 2008.
The monumental new terminal was built between 1936 and 1941, designed by a Prof. Ernst Sagebiel, who was closely associated with the Luftwaffe. Initially, it appears as if money was no object, because not only was the scale of the building monumental, but the very finest marble and limestone were used in the decoration. The building was never completed. After the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, all work on Germania ended. And although mostly functional, the new monumental building was never used by the Nazi government as a passenger terminal. Instead, it was converted into an aircraft factory. Fighter planes were built or repaired in the main entry hall and underground tunnels, pushed out onto the tarmac, and flown off into combat.

During the war, the Tempelhof suffered very little bomb damage. Our guide said the likely reason is the Allies knew they would need an airfield after victory, so they made sure to not bomb the site. Initially in 1945, the Soviets occupied Tempenhof. An explosion of mysterious origin destroyed the roof of the main entrance hall. Therefore, the roof you see in the first photograph is post-war and about 3 m lower than the original.
The office and administration buildings were built in the severe style popular in Nazi architecture. They were massive and purposeful, intended to portray power and permanence. Notice in the second photograph, part of the facade is clean. Our tour guide told us that a portion of the film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2, was filmed here. The film crew cleaned part of the facade to make it look fresh, but neglected to clean the rest of the wall.
My photographs really don't convey the scale of this building, which was 1.2 km long. At the time of construction, it may have been the largest building on earth. The long curved roof that you see in the right side of the photograph was not only a cover over the aircraft loading and unloaded area, but was also intended to serve as bleachers where over 100,000 loyal citizens of the Reich could watch parades and political assemblies. Stairs were built in towers to funnel these thousands up to the roof.
This is one of the stairs that would be used by the people heading for the roof. It is a double spiral stair, where one side is for uphill traffic and the other for downhill.
After descending from the roof, our guide led us into a long hallway that had not been completed. The ceiling, still blackened from the 1945 fires, shows the original design. This roof is 3 m higher than the post-war roof in the main entrance hall.
This is the view of the tarmac under the cantilevered roof. In the 1930s, when planes were smaller, a plane could pull in under this huge roof and passengers would be protected from the weather. Part of the roofed area was enclosed to serve as hangars.
Tempelhof played a critical role in the famous Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949. The Soviet Union had closed all ground-level access to Berlin, and the United States and United Kingdom supplied West Berlin with food and fuel by aircraft. At its peak, one plane landed every 3 minutes, was unloaded, and flew away. Supporting the German population in West Berlin at incredible cost and not abandoning the city to the Soviet Union was a major propaganda coup and did much to make the German people look upon the Allies favorably. As stated on the web site of the State Department Office of the Historian, "It also transformed Berlin, once equated with Prussian militarism and Nazism, into a symbol of democracy and freedom in the fight against Communism."

The photograph above is titled, "U.S. Navy Douglas R4D and U.S. Air Force C-47 aircraft unload at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift. The first aircraft is a C-47A-90-DL (s/n 43-15672)." from  U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation, photo No. 2000.043.012 (in the public domain).
The terminal was in use until 1988. One of the main problems was the runways were too short for many modern aircraft. Because the site was surrounded by city, there was no practical way to extend the runways.
Much of the interior decoration looks like it came from the post-war modernism 1960s. It is quite appealing when done well.
For many decades, the US Air Force occupied part of the complex. Air Force personnel lived in the city, but recreation facilities were on the upper floors. Our guide told us that occasionally a former airman stationed at Templehof came on the tour and remembered his posting here with fondness.
In the deepest parts of the basements, bomb shelters were set up for civilians during World War II. To make children feel less uncomfortable, quotes and figures from German folklore were painted on the walls.
Today the huge complex is largely unused. Tourists take the guided walking tours and pose in the main entrance hall. The Berlin police rents part of one office building. The organization that runs Templehof is trying to attract new tenants. Rock concerts and trade shows were held in some of the hangars.

But the concerts are on hold. An organization that helps refugees has rented (or used) sections of the former hangars to house hundreds of Middle Eastern refugees from. They put up temporary walls and bunk beds; I am not sure about food services or sanitation. A New York Times article describes this new phase of the airport's evolving history.

Berlin has been building a new Berlin Brandenburg Airport adjacent to the existing Schönefeld Airport. The new Brandenburg has cost €5.4 billion, is delayed, and has been plagued by cost overruns, significant technical issues, construction flaws, bankruptcies, and corruption. Our guide said the new terminal may need to be torn down and totally replaced at a cost of more than €10 billion! Pity they can't reuse Tempelhof.
The architectural design of a wide cantilevered roof extending out over the parked airplanes was copied by the architects of the Pan American Airlines Worldport at Idlewild (later Kennedy) Airport in New York. It was a striking design for the modern jet era, and from the air, the building looked like a flying saucer. Note that PanAm was also a major user of Templehof for 4 decades. After PanAm went bankrupt in 1991, Delta took over the Worldport. Passing through several times in the early 2000s, I recall that the building looked tired and grungy. A 2013 Vanity Fair article outlines how the The National Trust for Historic Preservation and other preservationists tried to save the Worldport, but the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was uninterested. The photograph above is from 2013, when I was lucky enough to land at Kennedy while demolition was underway. (I also flew out of Idlewild in 1962, but I was too young to care about architecture.)

Photographs at Tempelhof taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera with 14mm and 18-55mm Fuji lenses.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The TB Sanatorium on Parnitha, Greece - Revisited in 2016 with Tri-X Film

Mount Parnitha is a mountain northwest of the urban sprawl of Athens. In 1912, a tuberculosis sanatorium was built up on the slopes to treat TB patients. In that era, rest in a quiet environment with fresh air was the only means to help victims of the disease. Many Athenian notables spent time there. In sunny weather, it was a nice setting. But in winter, it must have been gloomy for the patients, and Parnitha was known for its winter snows. Thanks to public health initiatives and the availability of modern antibiotics, tuberculosis was largely eradicated from most of Greece after World War II, and the Parnitha hospital closed in the 1950s or early 1960s. Sanatoriums around the world closed, and many of these gloomy old buildings have become popular topics for urban decay photography or paranormal exploration.
Around 1965, the Greek National Tourist Organization bought the hospital and renovated it as part of the now-defunct Xenia hotel chain. Grotesque! Sometime later, it became a training facility for the Xenia organization and closed about 1980. The building you see in the first photograph is clearly not from the 1920s. I have been unable to find information if the original hospital was demolished or added onto.

I previously visited the sanatorium in 2015. But on my latest Greek trip, my nephew expressed an interest in visiting the site, and I had film, so off we went on a sunny afternoon. It was busy up there. A film crew was making a music video, complete with lights, reflectors, a drone, ladies with insufficient garments, and a rented BMW 1600 (see the first picture). Other visitors came and went all afternoon.
This may have been a sitting room or dining hall. The wood flooring is barely visible through the dust.
The hallways are as gloomy as ever. This was a 1-sec. exposure, with camera braced on a concrete block.
This time, we ventured down into the dark cellar level (I did not in 2015 because I was alone). My sturdy nephew was with me to maintain security, and we brought headlamps. But there were no issues, and several tourist groups wandered by, glad that we had headlamps. The photograph above may be one of the old kitchens.
This is a lavatory. The rooms to the right were toilet stalls. Again, a 1-sec. exposure.
There was not too much more to see in the cellars. Most of the wiring and plumbing has been looted. We never saw any kitchen equipment. The honeycomb concrete panels seem reasonably intact, but the degree of cracking plaster, concrete-spalling, cracks, and brick debris make me think the hospital is structurally unsound.
Note the exposed rebars in the wall and the debris scree slope. (This is a digital photograph.)
The air shafts have piled debris that has crumbled off the adjacent walls. The old hospital is unsecured. What will likely happen is someone will have an accident or be killed, and then the municipality will reluctantly secure the site and pay for demolition. And of course, it will be no one's fault for having neglected the hazards for decades.

The square photographs were from a Rolleiflex 3.5E camera with Schneider Xenotar lens on Kodak Tri-X film. Most exposures were 1-sec. long, where I placed the camera on walls or window sills. The Rolleiflex is convenient for this type of work because you can place the body on a support, look down into the viewfinder from any angle, set the self-timer, and move out of the way. I processed the film in HC-110 developer and scanned the negatives at 2820 dpi with a Minolta Scan Multi medium format film scanner. I manipulated the exposure curve to bring up details in the shadows.
As an example of the resolution of the 1960s Xenotar lens, here is a full-size crop of part of the first photograph. You can see the film grain and easily read the license plate.

I am glad to have recorded the hospital with film. Will we be able to open our digital files in 50 years? Will the typical household preserve their digital files for half a century? If you think yes, you are dreaming.

Update 2019:  My nephew told me that the doors and entry ways to the old hospital have been concreted and blocked.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Preserved! Kraków, Poland

Kraków is really a gem. It is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. As written in Wikipedia, "Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life and is one of Poland's most important economic hubs. It was the capital of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland from 1038 to 1569; the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1795; the Free City of Kraków from 1815 to 1846; the Grand Duchy of Cracow from 1846 to 1918; and Kraków Voivodeship from the 14th century to 1998. It has been the capital of Lesser Poland Voivodeship since 1999."

For a visitor, one of the best features of Kraków is its authenticity. Most cities in Poland were terribly damaged in World War II, and some, like Warsaw, had to be largely rebuilt after the war. But Kraków was amazingly spared from serious damage. So when you look at the buildings in the rynek (Main Square) you are really seeing medieval buildings, not Old Town 1950. I want to share a few scenes from my 2016 trip. My wife and I were impressed in every way: friendly and hospitable people, great food, excellent prices, immaculate cleanliness, and amazing history.
Most visitors start their trip at the Rynek Główny, the grand Main Square. This is one of Europe's largest medieval market squares and possibly the best preserved and authentic, dating back to the 1300s. The city was destroyed by the Mongols in 1241, and the Main Square was rebuilt in 1257. The elegant hall in the center is the Cloth Hall, with the Town Hall Tower behind. I took this picture from the tower at the Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven (more commonly called St. Mary's Basilica). To reach the viewpoint, you need to buy a ticket and climb about 300 steps of the north (taller) tower. A fireman is on duty in the tower and blows a trumpet signal every hour, the Hejnał mariacki. At noon, the signal is broadcast by Polish radio around the world. The Trumpeter of Krakow, a 1929 historical novel by Eric P. Kelly, is based on the trumpeter and events surrounding a 1462 fire. History permeates everything in Poland.
Now let's switch to Tri-X film. This is St. Mary's Basilica taken from the Town Hall Tower. During World War II, the Nazis planned to remake Kraków into a purely German city, which may be one reason it was mostly spared from massive destruction in 1944/1945. As part of their Germanification plan, they renamed the square Adolf Hitler-Platz.
Tourists love Kraków. This was a cheerful Italian group. We saw mostly European visitors along with some Chinese and Japanese groups, but very few Americans.
Summer is the time for musicians and entertainers. We heard that Christmas was also festive despite the cold. (This is a digital photograph.)
Food vendors sell all sorts of locally-sourced foods. You can snack and skip dinner at a sit-down restaurant. We were surprised at the large number of ice cream stores.
The Jagiellonian University (Polish: Uniwersytet Jagielloński) was founded in 1364 by Casimir III the Great in 1364. In 1939, the Nazis sent 184 professors to concentration camps and closed the university for the rest of the war. Some illustrious alumni include Nicolaus Copernicus (the astronomer) and Saint Karol Wojtyła (John Paul II, Pope of the Catholic Church). As I said earlier, history permeates everyplace in Poland.
Mostowa 6, where the new and old coexist.

Cafes and historic town houses and offices line Mikolajska Street. The state of restoration/preservation was excellent.
Jewish traditions and culture are reviving in Kraków. Jewish residents played an important part in the society from the 1300s, and King Bolesław the Pious granted the Jews freedom to worship, trade, and travel via a royal charter. Most lived in the Kazimierz district of Kraków, which was a thriving economic and cultural hub until the Nazis invaded in 1939. As the war progressed, almost the entire Jewish community was sent to a ghetto and then on to concentration camps. Our tour guide told us that during the post-war Communist era, Jews were not specifically targeted or excluded, but very few returned to Kazimierz and worshiped openly. But in the last decade, Jewish families are returning, synagogues have reopened, and Kazimierz has become a popular site for tourists and scholars interested in the Jewish revival. The photograph shows the entrance to the Tempel Synagogue (Synagoga Tempel) on Miodowa Street, built 1860-1862 in Moorish Revival style.
Galeria LueLue, at Miodowa 22 in Kazimierz, had fascinating historical photographs, including ones taken during the war by German photographers.
Every visitor eventually visits the royal palaces, castle, and cathedral on Wawel Hill. This view is looking north towards the main town, with the towers of St. Mary's Basilica in the distance.
Southeast of town is the Cmentarz Podgorski. This is a Catholic cemetery still in use, but with many mid-century stones. Nearby is an old Jewish cemetery, but we were short on time and it started to rain, so we had to pass.

The square photographs (click to enlarge) were taken on Kodak Tri-X film with a Rolleiflex 3.5E camera with Xenotar lens. I scanned the 6×6 negatives with a Minolta Scan Multi scanner at 2820 dpi and cleaned with Pixelmator software. I resized the frames for this article with ACDSee pro software.