It was no more than eight years after the surrender of the Nazi government when Josef Heinrich Darchinger set out on his photographic journey through the West of a divided Germany. The bombs of World War II had reduced the country’s major cities to deserts of rubble. Yet his pictures show scarcely any signs of the downfall of a civilization. Not that the photographer was manipulating the evidence: he simply recorded what he saw.
The photographs portray a country caught between the opposite poles of technological modernism and cultural restoration, between affluence and penury, between German Gemütlichkeit and the constant threat of the Cold War. They show the winners and losers of the “economic miracle,” people from all social classes, at home, at work, in their very limited free time and as consumers. But they also show a country that looks, in retrospect, like a film from the middle of the last century. Of his color photographs, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote, “they are exceptional contemporary documents indicating how swiftly the grayness of everyday life became infused with color again.”