Villa Wannsee — Melancholy Grandeur
On January 20, 1942, the beautiful Villa Wannsee mansion outside Berlin became the venue for the notorious meeting where the leaders of Hitler's Nazi regime discussed and planned the mass killing the Nazis themselves designated the final solution of the Jewish problem.
Today the Wannsee conference stands as a symbol of the most dreadful plot human beings have themselves perpetrated against civilisation ...
The photographic series Villa Wannsee — Melancholy Grandeur breaks with every explicit reference to the historical background that defines our interest in these pictures. Zellien shows us simply an abandoned house with empty rooms. It could be for all intents and purposes one of many villas in that area outside Berlin, if the owner had disappeared, and the house for various reasons had fallen into disrepair. The certainty of the Villa's wartime use and above all the notorious meeting on January 20, 1942, however, imbue the photographs with a particular horizon of meaning from which they can never be disassociated. Thus these photographs become a kind of projection screen for the atrocities the pictures do not depict.
The pictures of this uninhabited villa with its vacant rooms are charged with transcendent emptiness, as the ruins of atrocity, and as an imprint of an infinite absence.
Text by Audun Eckhoff. Excerpt from the book, Villa Wannsee — Melancholy Grandeur by Werner Zellien.
Villa Wannsee — Melancholy Grandeur
- Published by Werner Zellien, Oslo 2008
- 40 pictures of the Villa Wannsee taken in 1988
- 30cm x 30cm, 144 Pages
- Text in Norwegian & English by Audun Eckhoff & Dr. Iain MacKenzie
- Foreword by Werner Zellien
Published on the occasion of the exhibition Villa Wannsee — Melancholy Grandeur, Bergen Kunstmuseum, October 2008 and Gallery Riis, Oslo, March 2009
Price: NOK 350 / US $50 / € 40 (+ shipping)
To inquire about purchases, contact Werner Zellien.
Encountering Nazi Tourism Sites
Chapter 1: Profane splendour — The Wannsee House
Written by Derek Dalton, © 2020
(excerpt page 34)
Commenting on the photographs, Eckhoff notes: ‘Zellien shows us simply an abandoned house with empty rooms’ (2008, n.p.). In interior and exterior photographs, we behold empty rooms and neglected grounds charged with an aura that is both disquieting and meditative. Eckhoff observes ‘the partial lighting throughout Zellien’s interiors makes our inspection of the Villa seem furtive’ (2008, n.p.). Zellien’s photographs have a hidden menace that evokes comparisons with the aesthetics of crime scene photography. Eckhoff elaborates on the power of the images:
The Villa takes on the character of a ruin – out of use, without an element of social milieu, a place where time has stopped. The twilight and effects of the light, which mark Zellien’s pictures, underscore all these fatal aspects and contribute to the impression of a great melancholy. (2008, n.p.)
The grandeur of the villa’s façade dominates most of the exterior photographs. In a particularly beautiful image, a window envelops the grand staircase in dappled light. However, the images are far from neutral as Eckhoff (2008, n.p.) asserts:
The certainty of the Villa’s wartime use and above all the notorious meeting on January 20, 1942, however, imbue the photographs with a particular horizon of meaning from which they can never be disassociated. Thus these photographs become a kind of projection screen for the atrocities the pictures do not depict.
Eckhoff’s point about projection is profound. As I contemplated the book of photographs in the Wulf Mediothek, it occurred to me that the images are a powerful imaginative conduit to ponder both the history of the house, and – more particularly – the millions of lives obliterated in part by actions set in train by the Protocol that was formulated within the villa. If we look very carefully at these photographs, they transport us to other places: the extermination camps of Poland with their terror-inducing names: Sobibór, Treblinka, Bełżec and Auschwitz. Indeed, MacKenzie notes that photographs are imaginative conduits that summon the horrors of the Holocaust: ‘Yet for all the photographs evoke the whiff of celebratory cognacs, these rooms must also be superimposed, in the mind’s eye, with stark images of the medical examination huts and gas chambers of the Nazi concentration camps’ (2008, n.p.).