Monica Ross /Brighton

Women with Red Umbrellas

My first sighting of Gropiusstadt was of tall blocks rising like cliffs from a sea of trees. It was a hot summer evening in 2004. I had cycled from the centre of Berlin to see it, but the scale was unexpected. People were strolling along tree-lined walks, saying "Guten Abend" to each other, relaxing in the green spaces.

There were as many elegant old ladies on bicycles as in any other part of Berlin. The air rang to the voices of children playing. It was a very different atmosphere to similar estates in the UK. In January 2005, I had the chance to stay in the Pilotprojekt Gropiusstadt flat. It was snowing. Coming from a flat in Kreuzberg, where coal has to be carried up six flights of stairs, it was like travelling backwards into a diverted future, via U-Bahn, in about twenty minutes; central heating, fitted kitchen, spacious rooms, a view. But the view on the grey winter's day that followed, of the grey blocks opposite, was not euphoric. I set up a video camera to film a snow covered path between the blocks and the flat roofed Parkhaus that they stand around, as if it were an amphitheatre. A woman carrying a red umbrella walked into shot. Another woman had done the same a year before when I was making a video of a deserted park on the Byker estate in Newcastle, UK. I came back in autumn 2005, the most beautiful, they say, in Berlin for years. On Saturday, October 18th, eleven women and a baby came to Gropiusstadt, most for the first time. We walked, individually or in pairs, met residents and each other, some for the first time, under the red umbrellas that we were carrying. Eventually, except for one explorer, we gathered on the roof of the Parkhaus. There was a lot of conversation under the red umbrellas. After tea in the flat, we went up to see the panoramic view from the roof of the GEHAG building. Someone said it was like being on holiday. A resident of thirty years told us it was nothing compared to the spectacular view from her rooftop flat at night. Yet Gropiusstadt is not the social utopia of its architectural ideals. Unemployment and racism are issues. Viewed from the east, from the other side of the old border, or one of the lavish private villas which proliferate there now, the Gropiustadt skyline is a monument to the reverses of posited histories and projected futures. Anything can happen. People and places are not fixed entities. Meanwhile, the ideal that everyone has an equal right to the benefits that a modern, high tech society can provide – a decent home, standard of living and quality of life – remains.

Women with Red Umbrellas:
Bettina Bartzen, Barbara Breitenfellner, Steffi Hanna, Laura, Inge Lechner, Olivia Lechner, Patrizia Monzani, Maria Morata, Annette Rose, Monica Ross, Sarah Schmitt, Petra Spielhagen, April Williams

Bettina Bartzen, Inge Lechner, Maria Morata, Monica Ross, Thibault de Ruyter, Birgit Anna Schumacher, Tim Jukes

Special thanks to Birgit Anna Schumacher and Uwe Jonas

contact: Monica Ross