Spooklight search - July 2006
During our holiday on the Lüneburger Heide the landscape invited me to write a fictional but romantic trip report. How could I refuse?
The Lüneburg Heath (Lüneburger Heide) is a region in Northern Germany. It covers the area between the cities of Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen. The landscape has been sculpted into low hills by the ice ages and ancient boulders show that once mighty glaciers covered the area.
And while it is near to industry and civilization it is full of lonely and powerful places.
It is also a very mystical landscape, with medieval churches and graveyards and even older bronze-age burial mounds, dolmens and long barrows.
And even the modern infrastructure has it’s mysteries, like the active but silent transmission towers that are strewn around the landscape. Like robotic watchtowers monitoring the landscape.
During our visit we had extremely hot weather, and the silent fields and lonely woods were full of invisible tension – and we, the intruders could any moment be attacked by that ancient feeling of “panic”. Actually – I hoped I would once again experience that intense midday fear that I knew from childhood. But it didn’t happen.
The most mysterious event was when we passed a girl with long blond hair who was walking barefoot through the woods. She looked at us in an irritated way, as if we had disturbed some meditation or spell-weaving. Later I photographed her as she disappeared around a curve in the footpath – and I was almost sure that she was a witch – or an apparition of that mid-European mid-day ghost, the Polednice. (More information here, here and here.)
In some places the landscape looked almost Siberian – although I have never been in Siberia. And I was certain that at the end of these long country roads - or the disused railroads - spooklights would appear, if only I waited until sundown.
And I didn’t want to wait for a chance sighting, I wanted to recreate that spooklight feeling right then and there, because I knew I wouldn’t be cheating – I would just be making visible what was already there – and giving the landscape back some of the magic that had enchanted me.
So during several evenings I went out into the fields and made photographs of distant streetlights and farm-house lights. I tried to recreate that mysterious and fuzzy atmosphere of “real” spooklight pictures. And during my search I saw the landscape with fresh eyes and I will never forget the feeling of being “out in the fields”, something that I can never experience in the busy city where I live.
And even though I knew I was photographing just a streetlight I was surprised at how powerful such a dot of light can look in an empty landscape.
And all the time I was thinking of the powerful photographs of the Russian artist Igor Savchenko and their simple but powerful "Commented Landscapes". So let this – once again - be my homage to him.
4-94-3 - Something, just flashed in the sky over those trees 4-94-22 - The road to the distant forest, where a small light was twinkling from time to time last night
A week later we were on our way to Dresden and Prague, but we also spent some time exploring the (former) East German border.
I had expected to find lots of industrial archaeology, and we certainly did see a lot of that, but we also found an empty landscape dotted with ancient villages.
And how to describe them? Were they ghost towns? No – people lived there and had neat houses and well kept gardens. But there were no pubs, no shops, no bustling town centers, no tourist attractions. Maybe “zombie towns” is the best description.
But they were old. Every village had its own Romanesque church that must have been a thousand years old.
During an evening drive we saw a village in the distance with one streetlight. It was an unexpected spooklight experience.
We drove on and entered a tiny, but old village with a streetlight that came right out of “Half-Life 2” and any moment we expected to see a zombie or alien stumbling towards us. But we saw only a cluster of teenagers who all looked at us in surprise.
But at the entrance to the village we saw this deserted house, with signs warning of possible collapse where at least three ghosts must live. But I wasn't sure if the were ghosts in the classic sense, or just the negative enrgies of the dead communist regime.
I’m sure that I’ll try to go back, and spend some more time in this unearthly landscape. It must be wonderfully melancholic and dreary in winter.
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© Petr Kazil

August 2006