This photographer made a journey to find out what it means to be German

Dominik Froschle and Sophia Hagenlocher, winners of the “shepherd run” in Markgröningen, Baden-Württemberg. In the race, which dates to 1651, men and women run barefoot across a field. The winners each get a sheep. (Arne Piepke)
Dominik Froschle and Sophia Hagenlocher, winners of the “shepherd run” in Markgröningen, Baden-Württemberg. In the race, which dates to 1651, men and women run barefoot across a field. The winners each get a sheep. (Arne Piepke)
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Photographer Arne Piepke grew up in rural Germany. Once he was old enough, he set out for the bright lights of the big city. What he found there was something a bit foreign, and he has been grappling with it ever since.

Growing up away from the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan area, Piepke was surrounded by people whose identities were forged through eons of tradition and history. He found that these traditions were far less important to people living in crowded concrete jungles.

With this knowledge, the foundation of Piepke’s life seemed to teeter a bit. And this led him to wonder whether he knew his country at all. He began to question what “being German” even meant.

Along with that bedrock question, Piepke started asking himself things like “How do we interpret our history?” “How do we identify with it?” “What speaks for or against the idea of collective identity?”

Armed with these questions, Piepke set out on a journey through rural Germany, looking for answers. His investigations led to the project “Anecdotes from an unfamiliar land,” a wry, probing attempt to wrestle with issues of identity.

Piepke’s photos combine a sense of the surreal with a heavy dose of deadpan humor. There’s also an undeniable beauty in the care evident in his crafting of the images. They attempt to find answers, but there’s always that tugging sensation from the back of the brain: What does it mean to be German?

Life rarely gives us neat answers to our questions. You can see this in Piepke’s journey. Sometimes the act of questioning is enough. And as Piepke told In Sight:

“I want to rediscover this country, examine the unnoticed and the overlooked, let myself be surprised — to find my own Germany. I look for occasions where people escape from their everyday life, identify with traditions and history and thus take on roles, dress up or stage themselves. Moments that we, as outsiders to these communities, hardly notice, are lined up to form a tragicomic narrative of Germany. The provocative question remains: What does it mean to be ‘German’?”

You can see more of Piepke’s work on his website, here.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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