Wege, Raubbaufolgelyrik, Stefan Wartenberg
Wege, Raubbaufolgelyrik, Stefan Wartenberg | © Daniel Sadrowski, Ruhrtriennale 2023

In the dream I’m always walking through the streets of Stahlhausen and Goldhamme. The routes are unending, the city never calms down; a boundless metropolitan area of buildings, colors, smells, and time. And names: Kohlenstraße (Coal Street) at the corner of Umweltpark (Environment Park). The autobahn roars. Contradictions rain down on one another, break my stride.

A hidden path lures me from the sidewalk into the brush beneath a concrete bridge where there are old tracks. Farther back is a swathe of derelict freight lines, long since an asphalt bikeway. The sounds of the cars and trains are, in the dip, only faintly heard, hence birds and rustling in the undergrowth. Following some fox or wild boar trail, crouching under blackberry tackles, I end up on an abandoned access road in front of a lone gate. The fence around it has disappeared, only concrete pilings every couple of meters attest to its previous existence. I drift, somewhere in »Dortmunder Environment Park«, which is more of an expansive industrial park than a city garden. The site is deserted. It is bound by tracks and the autobahn. I follow the flow of an all but dried up creek through a narrow tunnel.

House for the History of the Ruhr. At my favorite library, I research the past of all the places my walks take me, the sounds of whose names intrigue me. Coal Street was in fact once called Roar Street. The site of today’s Environment Park was one of over 100 subcamps of the Buchenwald concentration camp in the 1940s. Except for a rather inconspicuous 2019 memorial at one of the side entrances to the former Bochumer Verein premises (used today by the City of Bochum’s technical operations), on site I discover no trace of that time, no commemoration. But history, with all of its unendurable contradictions, remains present. It is literally undermining the area.

KGV Bergmannsheil (Miner’s Salve Allotment Club). At the other end of the tunnel I exit the creek at an idyllic allotment paradise. Vegetables and lettuce grow on sunny slopes. It is Saturday afternoon, the sounds of the stadium echoing through the little valley. Drumming and trilling, a roar. The VfL just scored. Behind me an intercity express train shoots across the horizon. I’m walking on solid ground again, towards the big modern hospital, which is also called Bergmannsheil. Berchmannsheil, as they say here. The almost uninterrupted connection to the history of mining and the regional pride in this heritage, in people oppressed by work, in nature battered by machines, was what first drove me to this area. Beyond the excellent mining museum, the whole region is a feast for nostalgics, romantics, and Novalis fans, which I admittedly am. Here, one cannot escape the symbols of overexploitation. Nor the respect shown the proletariat of the mines, the cult that extends to the football pitch, and the melancholy in the bars and pump rooms. This is a different way of scaring over or healing than I know from my stomping grounds of Bitterfeld, Leipzig, and Lausatia, where I’m from.

As I walk, my pace is just right for contemplating these matters. Sometimes I’ll write something down. When I don’t feel well, I walk to the point of exhaustion. Then back. Walking affects thinking, and thinking indeed exhausts itself – eventually. My circular thoughts come undone when I walk. They can’t get a hold of me, they’re just loops if I let them be. Which is why I’m on the move. When I walk, I read or I look into people’s eyes, the garbage in the gutter gathers itself into the first line of a poem. Or the conclusion, the body. Or everything comes undone and words again lose their meaning. What I don’t like are red lights. They throw me out of my rhythm.

STEFAN WARTENBERG lives in Leipzig and writes poems and other texts. He is a member of the artist groups Graffitimuseum and Jazzstylecorner, with whom he works installatively and performatively. In  2021, Wartenberg founded Nachtalb Verlag Engelsdorf, which focuses on poetry and friendly text genres and promotes young authors.