Oberpfalz: “I wanted to show the whole damn thing” – Bavaria

“The typical Upper Palatinate grew up in the countryside. He’s with the volunteer fire brigade, maybe also with the rifle club. He’s trained and has a decent job. He marries his childhood friend and has children and stays at home,” says Simon Süss. He knows that because he is from the Upper Palatinate. However, one who dropped out of two courses, law in Bayreuth and history in Regensburg, is currently single and sometimes lives in a badly battered VW Polo, which could possibly explain the matter with the currently missing girlfriend. “If you look closely, I’m the exact opposite of a typical Upper Palatinate.” If it wasn’t for his Upper Palatinate opus.

Instead of completing his studies, the 29-year-old from Schwandorf spent three years exploring every corner of his homeland on his own and at his own expense. He drove 250,000 kilometers through the area. That alone cost him 26,000 euros in fuel. And he always took photos, initially with his cell phone. He later bought a real camera, earning the money for it by scrubbing metal parts for a large semiconductor manufacturer. He takes aerial photos with a drone. In the end, he had 177,000 photos on his computer. With that he went to the Pustet-Verlag in Regensburg and spent days looking for the best 230 pictures. They are supplemented with texts by the Upper Palatinate authors Manfred Knedlik and Alfred Wolfsteiner.

He just had this “inner burning, having to do it,” says Suess. “It won’t work,” said friends and relatives. It turned out to be something. A few weeks ago he presented “Die Oberpfalz”.

Simon Süss is grinning at the Hohenhard am Steinwald hiking car park in the Tirschenreuth district next to his worn-out VW Polo. Here he spent ten nights in the freezing cold in his converted trunk, waiting for a good view of the Milky Way. “When I see them, I know that the weather and light conditions are good enough to take photos.” The car is covered in scratches, the VW logo and parts of the radiator grille are missing on the rear, a deer once ran in front of the car. On the back seat are a mattress, a sleeping bag, an ax, a hammer. What you have with you when you drive out alone at night to wait for the right moment for the perfect photo.

The VW Polo is not necessarily known as a camper. Simon Süss stayed in it anyway.

(Photo: Deniz Aykanat)

Such ascension missions usually begin shortly after midnight, then he sleeps for two hours, and around three or four o’clock in the morning he begins the ascent. It was particularly hard here, in the Steinwald, part of the Fichtelgebirge. Sometimes he felt queasy – if, for example, a wild boar and his entourage suddenly ran across his path on a pitch-dark night. “Then I play loud marching music or Wagner on my cell phone.” Or hunting calls.

Süss sees himself as an artist, but also as a kind of chronicler. He approached the matter systematically, taking on district by district. The book covers the entire Upper Palatinate, starting with the most rural regions to the urban center, the seat of government in Regensburg. “I wanted to show the whole damn thing.” Even before the book project, he examined his homeland with some meticulousness. From the estate of an acquaintance he gets 3000 old books and notebooks. Travel guides, stories by folklorist Franz Xaver Schönwerth, local history essays, history books, old picture books from the Upper Palatinate to physics reports. “Basically everything that existed from 1871-2018.” He meticulously combed them for places that might be of interest. He marked each one with a dot on Google Maps, drove there and took photos. There are now 3500 points.

His trips to the ruins of Weißenstein Castle are particularly fond of his memories. Sometimes he was up to his buttocks in snow and had to stop. At the end of November it is still easy to get through the forest, there is still no snow, but an icy wind is already whistling. “I almost died on the stairs there,” says Suess and laughs out loud. “No really!” Now he looks serious, at least a bit. Sweet climbs the narrow wooden staircase that leads to the tower of the ruin. In the top third it is so steep that you can easily fall over the railing if you lose your balance.

Upper Palatinate Photo Book: Ascent to the Weißenstein Castle Ruins.  In winter this can be dangerous.

Ascent to the Weißenstein castle ruins. In winter this can be dangerous.

(Photo: Deniz Aykanat)

Especially if you have a hundred kilos of luggage with you. For such actions, Süss strapped on a backpack with all his camera equipment, the suitcase with the drone in one hand, construction spotlight and tripod in the other. “Packed like Rambo.” To the right and left of the wooden stairs it goes steeply downhill. If you’re lucky, you’ll land on gnarled roots, if you’re unlucky, in a crevice. When Suss was walking around here, it was about four o’clock at night, pitch black, minus ten degrees and the wooden stairs were covered with a layer of ice. “I fell down the stairs on my butt on the way back.” Sweet didn’t have to believe it, just his pants. But he had a dramatic sunrise in the can.

He knows the rough, rugged and dark sides of his homeland. “My great-grandfather used to drive the plow into the Upper Palatinate soil with his oxen.” His grandfather dug up lignite near Wackersdorf, when large parts of the Upper Palatinate were mining areas. “Work, work, work and then drop dead,” Süss describes the life and work ethic of the parents’ and grandparents’ generation. At first they weren’t so impressed by Süss’s passion. “I’m the first in the family to break out.” No training, no volunteer fire brigade. When the book was actually printed in front of them, they were somehow proud.

“Only potatoes, stones and cold winds. That’s the image that many people still have of the Upper Palatinate,” says Suess. The old Upper Palatinate of his parents and grandparents. In Süss’ photo book, every picture is a postcard motif, many dramatic sunrises and sunsets, cloud formations, green landscapes interspersed with mystical wafts of fog. “The old Upper Palatinate has been shown often enough. I wanted to show the lovely Upper Palatinate.” The Upper Palatinate in the lovely version gets along without any people – except for an Elvis doll in the museum at the US military training area in Grafenwöhr. Sweet wanted it that way. “Man is the most ephemeral.” Lonely landscapes and buildings, on the other hand, stimulate the imagination, he finds.

Upper Palatinate photo book: The Weißenstein castle ruins, a postcard beauty.

The Weißenstein castle ruins, a postcard beauty.

(Photo: Simon Suss)

Upper Palatinate photo book: The Regensburg Cathedral in the evening light.

The Regensburg Cathedral in the evening light.

(Photo: Simon Suss)

Süss was always out and about alone, no one knew which mountain or forest he was on, and he often didn’t have a cell phone network either. He hiked for hours along the border with the Czech Republic without meeting a single person. “You have to face yourself. What do I want to do with my life?” He wants to be remembered as the one who showed the Upper Palatinate from its best side.

If he did come across people in his work, it was bizarre. Like the time when a young couple broke up next to him on the Danube beach at the Eiserner Steg in Regensburg. Suss had buried his camera with a tripod in the sand and was waiting for the right light. The woman was crying. Suss thought: “Schod drum.” A wave swept in and took the camera with it. He just managed to grab her. He brought the mud-soaked camera to the photo shop Zacharias, a Regensburg institution, which rescued it in three weeks in complex procedures.

Or the other time when he boots through a forest and some guy snatches the suitcase with the drone, which costs 2700 euros, and takes it to the nearest police station. Süss has permission for all the places he photographs. Sometimes they cost him a few euros, sometimes a hundred, sometimes a few hours of life, sometimes half a year. “I have already distributed many packs of Merci in the Upper Palatinate.”

But sometimes he is also happy that the Upper Palatinate is populated here and there by the human species. Once his car got stuck in the mud in the district of Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz. He had no cell phone reception, no money on him, once again no one knew where he was. “So I just started running to the next sports club. Three guys from there then pulled my car out of the mud.” And then they gave him another beer.

Upper Palatinate photo book: The young photographer was out and about in these shoes - without an accident.

The young photographer was out and about in these shoes – accident-free.

(Photo: Deniz Aykanat)

The Upper Palatinate are actually considered reserved, taciturn. Don’t expect them to take the first step. But once you’ve cracked it, it’s not easy to break it again. “You just have to sit down and have a beer. But then you’re accepted.” Forever, says Suss.

In the future, he may want to let us know before he sets off for the Upper Palatinate Outback. And, on urgent advice, he has put on smart shoes. He completed the 250,000 kilometers through his homeland in one and the same pair of Adidas sneakers without profile.

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