When the Soviet Union was founded, the first Five Year Plan from 1928 projected the rapid urbanisation and industialisation of Russia. Mount Magnita, in the foothills of the Ural, was known to consist of almost pure iron ore, and because of its strategic location in the middle of the new nation, a giant steel mill was built into the vast emptiness of the west-sibirian steppe that would become one of the biggest in the world. The city to house the thousands of newly arrived workers was named Magnitogorsk - the "village by the magnetic mountain".

It was a city built completely from scratch. Ernst May, progressive city planner from Germany, architect, and next to Le Corbusier one of the founding members of the CIAM, was commissioned to develop the plan. Magnitogorsk should become the blueprint of the ideal socialist city. (Russian: Sotsgorod) by being organized completely by the idea of productivism: the linearity of the conveyor belt should be continued into the kitchens and bedrooms of the workers and by that change the organization and structure of society as a whole. The principles of socialistic city planning, worked on by May and his team, were basically in line with the ones developed by western European urban Modernism: functional seperation between housing, work, and recreation with efficient transport connections. The high number and spacial distribution of theaters and cultural centers, where people could meet after work for leisure and education, but especially the multitude of kindergardens, schools, canteens and laundries made it clear, that Magnitogorsk was not only planned to be a mono-industrial city but rather a cultural, civilizing project. A majority of apartment houses had bedrooms and bathrooms, but no kitchens or living rooms. Behind this stood the idea to free the (working class) woman from domestic and reproductive labor and to dissolve the (bourgeoise) nuclear family in favor of a more flexible model of inter-personal relationships.

Today, Mount Magnita has been extracted completely - it was turned into steel and only an immense empty pit remains where it once stood. Although now privatized, the steel mill still operates and runs around the clock. According to the company's 2015 annual report, it has 18.500 employees - less than a third of the more than sixty thousand who worked there in 1990. Unemployment ranks at about 13 percent. Magnitogorsk's earth and air is polluted enough to rank on the United Nations' list of the world's "Most Altered Environments". Until today, thirty percent of the babies born here are sick. Tests of air and drinking water result in high residues of lead, sulfur dioxide and other heavy metals.
But can these facts be of help to get an idea of Magnitogorsk?

Since the beginning of Magnitogorsk, one, two, three, in some cases even four generations of people have lived in this city; who once came from somewhere else to build up a new, utopian society; who lived through one, two, three political systems; who have lived in a so-called Strategically Closed City, where the cinemas screened Big City Nights until The Scorpions' Wind of Change reached even behind the Urals.

 


"Magnitogorsk - where Europe and Asia meet" is the official slogan of the city. Geographically, the Ural river divides the city between the East with the original socialist city (russian: Sotsgorod) and the Magnitogorsk Metallurgic Kombinat and the newer, Western part to which the city extended since the end of the 1930's. In the foreground the so-called kazakh village - the only district with single family houses.

 


 


While official life takes place in the cities' West these days – the university, the opera houses, theaters and cinemas, the new mega-church, shopping areas and the city hall are located there – time seems to be standing still in the East. It comes down to the expectable clichees of urban periphery: Plaster peeling from the walls. The park areas between the houses overgrow. Old cars without engines between bushes. Children play on the compound of a demolished building, that no investor is interested to buy. Everyday commodities are offered in the little shops in the ground floors of apartment buildings and at the three, four market stalls by the big crossing where the tram lines meet. For everything else one has to cross one of the three bridges to the West of Magnitogorsk.

 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


One of the old blast furnaces and the giant galvanisation hall at the steel mill.

 


 


It's a spectacle, when the liquid iron is literally spit out of the blast furnace once the smelting process is finished. The procedure is repeated every two hours.

 


After the iron ore was completely extracted and the mountain turned into a vast empty pit in the beginning of the 1970s, one of the shovels was turned into a monument at the edge of the pit.

 


 


Today, the history of the Soviet Union and the programs of the heads of government can be read from the different stages of construction along the North-South axes Karl Marx Street and Lenin Street. From Stalin (representative „worker palaces“ with neo-classical stucco work), Chruschtschow (low-cost apartment buildings with three to five stories), Breschnew (more comfortable prefab concrete slabs buildings with better insulation and elevators), to Gorbatschow (high-rise apartment buildings surrounded by spacious park areas) and Putin (shopping malls).

 


Members of the department of pedagogy.

 


 


 


 


 


The local sauna village. Over time, the russian word "banya" changed it's meaning from public bathhouse to sauna.

 


 


The Holy Ascension Cathedral is one of the biggest new church constructions in Russia.

 


 


 


 






Info/Contact

Berlin-based photographer working in the fields of portraiture, theater, and still/product.
Received an MA in cultural studies and American literature from Humboldt University Berlin, then worked as
photographer's assistant for several years, and now has a studio located in Berlin's Wedding district.

Pictures have been commissioned by/published in:
Der Freitag, taz, Brigitte, Zuumeo, Börsenblatt des Deutschen Buchhandels, Buchmarkt, Verbrecher Verlag,
Die Zeit, Theater heute, Der Standard, Zitty, Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes, Antas Bindermann Listau,
Neues Deutschland, Frankfurter Rundschau, MusicBoard Berlin, Berliner Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau,
Die Wochenzeitung/WOZ, Brücke Museum Berlin, Zalando.

Get in touch for portfolio requests, commissioned work, or events!
FON 0157 - 5160 5217
EMAIL hello@nanediehl.com





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