It’s unbelievable how the world can change in just one century. Can you imagine what life was like in the 1920s?
Luckily, we have photography and the internet today, and we can easily look up old photographs that date back as early as the 1820s, so we can compare the world of the past to our present.
The Geographical Society of Philadelphia’s 130th season continues with an Eastern Europe expert, a photographer from the Netherlands, Casper Molenaar.
During his studies, Casper bought a second-hand photo book of his beloved region featuring 192 photos by celebrated German photographer, Kurt Hielscher (1881-1948), of a country that no longer exists: Yugoslavia. Kurt Hielscher indeed was a celebrated photographer during the interbellum period, but he also fell into oblivion after WWII. For Casper, that became the starting point of a new adventure.
Then and Now: In the Footsteps of Kurt Hielscher, Casper travels to the locations of the original photographs and tries to recreate the photos of almost a century ago. He learns about the histories of the places in the photos and discovers just how much things have changed from the ravages of time or, in some cases, how much they’ve stayed the same. He dives into the person and life of Kurt Hielscher and meets others interested in his work both on and offline.
Casper also gained the remaining photo books by Kurt Hielscher from countries like Spain, Germany, and Italy. His hobby got out of hand and his journey is far from over.
To learn more about Casper’s projects please visit his following Facebook pages:
- In the Footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – Facebook Page
- Yugoslavia 1926 Present in the Footsteps of Kurt Hielscher
Kurt Hielscher was an interbellum period photographer who has managed to capture some of the most interesting objects in Europe before WWII
For 13 years Casper has been working as a relationship manager with volunteers within UNICEF The Netherlands. Together with his wife Kim (42) and sons Bouke (12) and Siebe (10) he travels around Europe, mainly in a campervan during summer and wintertime. They support him but sometimes they get enough of his quests, a project that over the years came to a standstill every now and then because of personal difficulties and currently due to a pandemic.
City Gate, Trogir, Croatia, 1926 vs. The 24th Of April 2019
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – What happened to the lion? Of course, that’s the key question here. I did not know the answer when I took this photo for the first time in 2003 when I had just received the photobook of Kurt Hielscher as a birthday gift. Now I do know. It happened on the 1st of December, 1932. The Venetian lions were seen as political symbols instead of monuments from the past. At the time, the Venetian lions’ presence was used for propaganda for territorial claims on Dalmatia. Eight stone Venetian lions on old public buildings and the Trogir City walls were damaged by a group of young Yugoslav nationalists that day. It had a strong impact on the public and aggravated the already bad Yugoslav-Italian relations at the time.
Bled, Slovenia, 1926 vs. 2018
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – Today’s Cerkev Marijinega Vnebovzetja, Church of the Assumption of Mary, has stood on Lake Bled since the 17th century after a fire destroyed the previous church in 1509. The 54-meter-high clock tower catches your eye most of the time wandering around the stunning 6-kilometer lake, next to the other eyecatcher: the 11th-century-built Bled castle on the 130-meter-high rocky hill from which Kurt Hielscher also took a photo. I have been here several times, even as a kid, but only tried to take this photo two years ago in wintertime. It was already getting dark, and my kids lost their patience when they decided to bomb me with snowballs when I was trying to find the right angle in the bushes. They had great fun!
Forum Romanum, Rome, Italy, 1925 vs. 2016
Ponte Dei Sospiri, The Bridge Of Sighs In Venice, Italy, 1925 vs. 2018
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – On the day of Carnival’s finale in Venice on the 13th of February 2018, there was a pleasant temperature, sunshine, and less crowdedness than I expected. I managed to get a moment to take this photo. At the time, I did not know I was in the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher because I bought his 1925 photobook from Italy later. So I call this a lucky shot of the 1600-1630-constructed Ponte Dei Sospiri taken from the Ponte Della Paglia just around the corner of Saint Marco square at the Canal Grande. The Bridge is a connection between the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) and the prison. Convicts had to walk across this bridge before being locked up in the dungeons, and its name refers to their sighing when they realized they had seen daylight for the last time crossing the bridge. Casanova and Galileo Galilei were held in this prison.
Perast, Montenegro, 1926 vs. 2018
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – Halfway the breathtaking Bay of Kotor, your eye will be caught by Perast and the tiny islands with its monasteries just offshore. The boulevard with its bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops is just a few hundred meters up to this church; the 17th-century-built Crkva Gospa od Ružarije. The summer heat will prevent most tourists from going up the steep stairs. Air conditioning and shade are a must here, but the views are rewarding, and Perast still gives a feeling of authenticity.
Puente Nuevo, Ronda, Andalucía, Spain, 1914-’16 vs. 2019
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – In April 2019, I was in Ronda in Andalucía to take this photo German photographer Kurt Hielscher (1881-1948) already took over a hundred years ago. These photos also tell the story of a dramatic event that happened in Ronda in July 1917. The houses with the watermills in the old photos vanished due to a huge rockslide killing 15 people. The Puente Nuevo, the New Bridge, is one of three bridges that span the deep Tajo de Ronda gorge with the river Guadalevín. The gorge is 120 meters deep in some places, but here, the bridge has a height of 98 meters. The bridge’s construction began in 1735, but five years later, the unfinished bridge collapsed, killing 50 workers. The construction resumed in 1751, and the bridge was completed in 1793.
Limburg An Der Lahn, Germany, 1924 vs. 2019
Dubrovnik And The Island Of Lokrum, 1926 vs. 2019
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – Dubrovnik is about the walls, the fortresses, but also about its roofs (and not about Game of Thrones, if you’d ask me). The roofs tell the stories of the last war in the ‘90s of the 20th century. Within the city walls, one can distinguish the new ones, the ones damaged during the war, and the old ones, the ones that remained undamaged. Within the walls, all the roofs are restored. In front of this photo, however, there’s one roof half-collapsed, which leaves the question of whether this one was damaged during the war or collapsed due to antiquity? The photo is taken from a viewpoint some 450 meters upstairs from Pile Gate, a calm place when I was there. I guess most tourists dive into the city on arrival and do not make the effort to go up for a steep walk to Gornji Kono street near the Jadranska Cesta, the main road passing Dubrovnik.
Quedlinburg, Germany, 1924 vs. 2020
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – Nowadays, the Tourist Information Office is housed here within this tiny house at Finkenherd. A tourist train is passing on the left. According to oral history, the area surrounding the house is considered to be the place where the Saxon Duke Heinrich learned that he had been elected German king while catching birds—finches, hence the name “Finkenherd.” When I showed the original photo from Kurt Hielscher, the tourist information employee told me that they had a postcard for sale of this photo, but that it was sold out at the moment. In the back, you’ll see the changes in the Quedlinburger Dom. Both towers were damaged due to artillery fire at the end of WWII. From 1947 to 1950, the spires were replaced by lower towers. In the photo, you can only see one tower from this standpoint. The new towers would suit the Romanesque style of the church better, the idea was.
Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic, (Published In) 1941 vs. 2020
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – What a great feeling to step out of the tram on Prague Castle hill, stroll around the complex, and then walk all the way down to the Charles Bridge and then look back up to the Castle again and take this photo. Though I had been here already almost 30 years ago, and again in 1999, I was still overwhelmed by all the beauty of this city and its views. It seems like one could take off and fly like a bird from spire to spire. The bridge originates from 1357, or, to be more exact, from the 9th of July at 5:31 am when King Charles IV laid the foundation stone. 30 statues embellish the 10-meter-wide and 516-meter-long iconic bridge over the Vltava river. Kurt Hielscher published this photo in a 1941 edition, but I do not know when exactly this photo was taken.
Ljubljana Castle, Slovenia, 1926 vs. 2018
The Castle Of Alcalá De Guadaíra, Spain, 1914-’19 vs. 2019
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – While wondering what it would have been like to live here in Alcalá de Guadaíra near Sevilla in Spain over a hundred years ago, I not only stepped into the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher, but also of these children. What were the conditions in which these children lived at the time? Today, a whole new neighborhood was built in front of the Castillo de Alcalá de Guadaíra. The houses are small and one-fold as if the children’s children of these children built plain houses here and started a living. The city’s population has increased nearly eightfold here in the past 100 years, and I could notice that the traffic was quite heavy here. In the 13th century, the castle used to act as a defense line for nearby Sevilla bordering the Kingdom of Granada. It must have been a quiet place with some 9,000 living souls when Kurt Hielscher was here.
San Sebastian, Spain, 1914-’19 vs. 2019
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – Besides the food, the famous pintxos, San Sebastián offers terrific beaches and impressive views from all sides. Descending Mount Ulía where we spent the night in the camper van, it was my last chance to take the photo Kurt Hielscher took here over a hundred years ago. I stopped the van at the side of the small road, grabbed my camera, jumped out of the van, and ran barefoot into an empty restaurant. Later, I learned it was Restaurante Mirador De Ulia, quite a luxurious restaurant, it seemed. The tables were neatly covered. I took the photos through the glass windows of the restaurant. The view was overwhelming. When I came back to reality, I quickly took 6 photos trying to avoid the reflection of myself in the window. The old arena was demolished in 1973. 25 years later, in 1998, a new bullfighting arena was opened at a different location in San Sebastián.
Kamerlengo Castle, Trogir, Croatia, 1926 vs. 2019
Litoměřice, Czech Republic, (Photo Published In) 1941 vs. 2020
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – Leaving Prague, Litoměřice was our last stop before entering Germany again when everything was still normal at the beginning of this year. It was a beautiful morning because everything was white here in the northern part of the Czech Republic due to the fog and the frost on the trees and the grass. The sun was fighting to come through, but did not win this battle this morning. It appeared that Litoměřice had a beautiful main square and a wider center to stroll around with shops, cafés, and restaurants, therefore a place with more to see and nicer to hang around for a while than I expected. In the photo, one can see the prominent Oblastní Muzeum v Litoměřicích; we did not visit, but just enjoyed the scenery of the square and the city. After we left Litoměřice, it was just three-quarters of an hour drive to Germany, where the world surrounding us suddenly turned green.
Grofčanski Most, Kratovo, Macedonia, 1926 vs. 2018
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – This place was not so hard to find in Kratovo since it is one of its characteristics, unlike the other 6 (!) beautiful photos Kurt Hielscher took here. Unfortunately, the time I could spend here was limited, and I did not manage to find all the places in the photos. I would love to come back one day and spend a whole week here because Kratovo has a pleasant, laid-back atmosphere, and its authenticity grabbed me at first sight. Built in the crater of the extinct volcano Kratovo, it is known for its towers and bridges. The Ottomans built the four stone bridges over the Tabačka river between the 17th and 19th centuries. Grofčanski Most is 30 m long, 4 m wide, and 8 m high.
Potes, Spain, 1914-’19 vs. 2018
Šibenik, Croatia, 1926 vs. 2019
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – Šibenik might be my favorite coastal city in Croatia. Next to the eye-catching UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral of St. James (1431-1535) here on the left and its narrow cobbled streets in the pedestrian zone, people live their lives here and it offers quite a relaxed atmosphere, maybe not as focused on tourism as other coastal towns in Croatia. The dome of the Cathedral was severely damaged by shellings in the war of the ‘90s, but has been reconstructed very well. Now, it seems like nothing happened here. Most visible changes are to be seen at the Riva, the boulevard, and these changes are mostly due to the bombings of the allied forces in WWII.
Sinan Pasha Mosque, Prizren, Kosovo, 1926 vs. 2018
Yugoslavia 1926 – Present – In the footsteps of Kurt Hielscher – Prizren is a small, authentic, but vivacious city in Kosovo. The walk uphill to the castle ruins is a must, especially at sunset, as the city view is very rewarding. There are plenty of historical and religious buildings and bars and restaurants, and not so many tourists yet. At least there weren’t when I was there in June 2018, and I believe a visit is worth it. More importantly: it is unforgettable! People are very hospitable. On its Bistrica or Lumbardhi river every late spring in June, there’s the Bunar Fest where you can show how brave you are by floating down the river using inner tubes of tractor tires. Don’t forget your helmet!