Archive Days: Marbach

After Gütersloh, I had another trip planned pretty much immediately. It was off to Marbach am Neckar, near Stuttgart. While Stuttgart is industrial, bustling, and often gray, Marbach has a distinctly rural and homey feel to it. And it is the home of an institution to which I was now traveling.

The Deutsches Literaturachiv resides in Marbach. It is tasked to collect works by German authors (and quite a few others as well) and make them usable by the public. This is where I was headed after alighting a regional train at the quaint Marbach train station one sunny day in late summer. Dragging behind me a carry-on sized rolling suitcase, I decided to walk up the hill where the archive is situated. Passing by a small park, I saw a sign out for a photo studio that wasn’t open every day – small town antics – and that offered passport photos on special. Since I had an appointment back in Cologne to get a new passport issued, I followed the sign to a small door in a backyard building.

Two photographers, one female, one male, were at work there in a small studio that reminded me of the one that had existed at the screenplay agency and film production company I had worked at for a year in Munich a decade and a half ago. It was a bit dark, it was cozy, and it appeared to make use of repurposed furniture that once had lived in a more machine-shop-like setting. After getting my passport pictures taken (on a battle-scarred Canon 5D with a 70–200 1:4L zoom lens, if you must know), I meandered on and soon found the archive. It is perched atop the Schillerhöhe, a bluff that houses a park with Friedrich Schiller’s statue. It is surrounded by museums and Marbach’s Stadthalle, where there is an event space and a restaurant for hungry tourists coming off a long day in the museums, or for locals from the neighborhood who just want a drink and a meal.

I checked in at both the archive and the Kollegienhaus. The Kollegienhaus is a purpose-built modernist Bauhaus-y building with small apartments for researchers. That done, I put only the most necessary tools – laptop, phone, a notepad and some pens – in my backpack tote and began work at the archives. When I came back after a long day of staring at archival materials and note-taking, I dropped off my laptop, grabbed my camera, and went exploring. I repeated this on every day when the weather was agreeable to my doing so, and walked away with half a dozen or so exposed rolls of Fuji Superia 200, my preferred film for 2016 on account of the fact that I’d gotten a good deal on about six recently expired bricks of it at the end of 2015.

Though not my favorite, Superia 200 is definitely not a bad film. It has colors that to me say “1990s.” This is perhaps because Fuji Press 800, a preferred photojournalist’s film stock from the decade stems from the same Superia family, and therefore I remember those years that way. It is grainy, but not unpleasantly so, at least when exposed correctly. It doesn’t have the punch of Fuji Velvia, Provia or Kodak Ektar, but it is also not as subdued as the Kodak Portra and Fuji Pro ranges of portrait film. It is clearly a summer film or a film to be used with flash. In low light, you’ll often miss that one stop of extra wiggle room that a 400 film would offer. Then again, if the light is there, why not go for even less grain and ISO 100 slide or negative film? It’s an in-between film, and while that makes it lack in versatility, it certainly worked well for the task at hand.

The first two days found me wandering about Marbach, buying groceries, listening to podcasts on my phone, and documenting my surroundings with the Nikon 24–50 1:3.3–4.5 zoom that I had forced myself to bring as my only lens for the week. I had brought my then newly-bought used Nikon F80 (known as the N80 in North America because, well, I have no earthly idea why) with its extra battery holder attached. While light, this was a nicely grippable setup. The F80 certainly feels cheaper and less durable than the F100 or my standby Nikon AF SLR, the F801S, but it has all the features I could possibly need for a travel camera, including a custom function that will let you display LCD frame lines for composition in the viewfinder. No other serious film Nikon has this handy feature. My only gripe with the camera was that I kept losing the little rubber eyecup, and eventually couldn’t find it again after walking around a grocery store looking for food that came in small portions, as I was only going to be there for a week.

My week in Marbach was pleasantly lonely: it was summer, I had a task, I was in a picturesque place, and I could enjoy evenings off exploring with a camera in hand. It had to end eventually, but afterward, new travels awaited.

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