Return to Germany

Between 31 July and 3 August 2003, Bill Brown of the New York Surveillance Camera Players (SCP-New York) returned to Germany to take part in a very ambitious series of events sponsored by the ACC Galerie, which is an art and culture space founded in Weimar, Germany, in 1988. Entitled Get Rid of Yourself, the exhibit was curated by Frank Motz, who Bill met four months previously in Portland, Oregon. Presented in three stages between 26 July and 12 October 2003, Get Rid of Yourself featured objects, installations and walking tours by the following American artists and/or political-art groups: the E-team, Cabinet Magazine, the Bernadette Corporation, Picture Projects, Michael Rakowitz, Matthew Buckingham, Anne-Marie Schleiner, 16 Beaver, Temporary Services, and the SCP-New York.

Thanks to Frank's boundless energy and zeal, Get Rid of Yourself took place simultaneouly in two cities formerly part of the German Democratic Republic ("East Germany"): Weimar and Leipzig, both of which are cities in which major and sometimes truly horrible historical events have taken place. Weimar is the final resting place of Goethe and Schiller, and the home of the Nietzsche Archives; the birthplace of German democracy (1919); the location of the original Bauhaus (also 1919); and the city nearest the Buchenwald concentration camp (built 1937). Leipzig is the place in which the first major revolt against the Soviet Union broke out (1953, that is, 3 years before the Hungarian Revolution, and 15 years before the revolt in Czechoslovakia); and the starting place for the "Velvet Revolution," which ultimately brought down both the Berlin Wall and the GDR itself (1989).

Because it was never an industrial city, and wasn't destroyed and re-built in the aftermath of World War II, Weimar has few public surveillance cameras. And so Bill concentrated his efforts on Leipzig, a partially rebuilt industrial city, indeed, one of the first cities in post-reunification Germany to allow its police department to install surveillance cameras in public places. Anti-surveillance protests have been taking place there since 2000; a group from Leipzig participated in the First International Day Against Video Surveillance, which was staged on 7 September 2001. (Since then, the protests have subsided. Today, there are no active anti-surveillance groups in the city.)

On the evening of Thursday 31 July and the morning of Friday 1 August 2003, Bill scouted and mapped out the locations of public surveillance cameras in Leipzig's city center, which is dominated by bars, restaurants, shops, out-door markets, arcade-like malls, and other commerical "attractions." Roughly the size of the one in Graz, Austria, the city center in Leipzig is watched by at least 73 surveillance cameras: 60 installed on privately owned buildings; 5 installed on the exterior walls of the Hauptbahnhof (the main train station, in which another 140 cameras are supposedly in operation); 4 installed on the roofs of buildings, directly above areas in which large signs proclaim that the police are using cameras to prevent "punishable acts"; 3 traffic cameras (see below); and 1 webcam.

Later in the day on Friday 1 August, Frank drove Bill to Weimar, where he gave a talk (in English) on the activities of the SCP-New York and showed the tape of the group's classic performance of George Orwell's 1984. In attendance were 10 people, nearly all of whom asked at least one question at some point in the 1.5-hour-long presentation. Four of these 10 people were interested enough to travel to Leipzig the following day and attend the two other SCP-New York events.

Back in Leipzig on Saturday 2 August, Bill led a walking tour based upon the map he'd made. Despite the heat (30 degrees Centigrade), approximately 25 people attended; half of them stayed for the entire 2-hour-long tour. Mostly improvised, the route taken by the group revealed the existence of two cameras Bill had missed the first time around: a traffic flow-monitoring camera and a so-called red-light camera, both of which were subsequently added to the map.

During the evening of 2 August 2003, Bill gave a talk and showed the 1984 video in Hall 14 of a beautiful old wool-spinning plant that was abandoned in 1990 and converted by Frank and others into an arts space in the weeks before the exhibit opened. In attendance were over 50 people, several of whom asked questions and stayed afterwards to talk and drink beer. Five hours later, Bill was on his way back to the USA.

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