Berlin, July 2017

As an Artist at the Berlin Fire Brigade – A Report by Alona Rodeh

Alona Rodeh is part of the Artist Dis-Placement Project and spent the last ten months joining different teams of the Berlin Fire Brigade when they where on call. This is what she experienced, learned and produced during this time. (Text and pictures by Alona Rodeh).

The last 3 months at the fire brigade marked the end of my extended time with the firefighters, but also felt much of a beginning. During these months, I was mainly focused on spending as much time as I can with 3 different teams on their missions (Wedding, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg), realizing that my chances of seeing actual fires are low. As one team from Friedrichshain said once: “if you are here today, we know we will not witness any fires”. But at this point, it didn’t matter to me anymore. 

Since I am not the ordinary photographer that joins the team for documentation purposes, many of the firemen didn’t really understand what I am doing. Some were asking, but I could not provide them with simple answers, since I myself couldn’t put it in just a few words. Eventually, the project – quite spontaneously – led to different directions which I developed parallel to the video and the publication which will be produced later this year. I will describe them here. 

The Fire Devil (der Feuerteufel)

I realized I wanted to say thank you to these people for opening their doors to me; a small detail caught my attention. In every station, when there is an Einsatz (emergency call), an Einsatzlicht (alarm light) goes on, and goes off when the right emergency vehicle leaves the station. I gave each station a lightbox I build myself, I placed an image I took of a Feuerteufel , in this case a plastic figure at the Berliner Feuerwehr museum; the principle is, that it’s illuminated only when there is an emergency call; and instead of a regular light that goes on and exposes the image, this lightbox has flickering and playful red lights lighting up the devil.
This present was given right before I left, and I felt the appreciation and surprise on their faces when they saw this; It was meant for them, in their playground. And it will stay there till its technology dies, hopefully forever. I will have good documentations of all the devils installed and working after the summer. 


A new facade Feuerwache Kreuzberg

This idea came up already a while ago, and took some time to come into shape. Finally, we had an official meeting with BIM ( Berliner Immobilienmanagement, who own all the fire stations in the city ), and in September we will have more news on the finance of the project. It was a very good meeting, in which it was clear they appreciate the effort on my side, and the depth of involvement. 


A new sculpture Feuerwache Friedrichshain

The relationship with this fire station became the most interesting. The people, the location, also in particular in summer; it’s by far my most beloved station and team. They came to me with the idea of creating something new for a little old plinth they have in the entrance to the station. I was more flattered than when I get invited to a museum show! My idea was to present a gatekeeper, a fireman-sphinx. This worked out very well, we all agree on the idea as well as the design, and waiting to meet BIM after the summer. 


New T-shirt design Feuerwache Wedding

In May this year, there was a big rotation in all the fire brigade service. Many firefighters had to move from one station to another, as a part of some organization change. In Wedding in particular, many dear firemen had to leave and new ones came, in what created a very tense period at the station. I felt they needed something to re-unite them, and noticed that they don’t have their own T-shirts, which some other stations have. These are not official ones, but made spontaneously in different stations. I gave them 3 different designs, following the different units: The professional, the volunteers, and the youth.