The Memory of the City – Athenian Iron Doors

German artist Alexander Jaschik captures the iron doors of Athens that are quickly disappearing.


Alexander Jaschik’s Instagram account instantly captured my attention with its photographs of hundreds of ornate iron doors. I live behind such an iron door myself. It was, in fact, the first thing I fell in love with in my house and is admittedly its most striking structural element. In fact, it’s a feature of many early 20th-century Athenian residences, from the poorer districts to the affluent suburbs in the north.

When I moved into this house, I counted 20 similar iron doors along the street, each one unique. The ironsmith designs, each one with its own pattern, using a technique that protects the glass cover from break-ins, allows plenty of air into the building, and prevents animals and other unwanted guests from sneaking in. Now, six years later, only half of those doors are still there. The rest, along with the houses behind them, were swallowed up by the bulldozers. The more homes flattened to make way for apartment buildings, the fewer glimpses of a bygone era remain. This, however, was not what made German filmmaker and photographer Alexander Jaschik fall in love with the city’s entranceways.

 

“I have been photographing Athens’ doors since I came here for the first time in 2013. As a foreigner, you can see and appreciate things locals walk past every day. Only recently, I realized that these doors are disappearing much faster than one would expect and that what I had been doing spontaneously, like a game of discovery, was actually a historical record – an archive of an aspect of the city that is fading.”

Along the way

Alex describes his initial impression of Athens when he first came in 2013 to shoot a short film. “The city was in the abysm of the economic crisis. On my way from the airport, there were no ads on the billboards on the Attiki Odos ring road, and along Mesogeion Avenue, you saw shuttered businesses and yellow to-rent signs. It was instantly obvious that the city was in a crisis.”

Nevertheless, he soon got to know the best qualities of the greek people. Unexpected help and support from friends of friends defined his stay in Athens. “I became acquainted with the country and the city through the people I met along the way. I remember arriving just before the November 17th anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic [student uprising against the military dictatorship] that first time. We were staying at Amerikis Square, just a short distance from the heart of the celebrations. I had no idea about the junta, the students’ struggle, or the way that, even today, people take to the streets to make their claims heard. I remember how many avenues of knowledge were opened to me then.” He adopted the same attitude when later visiting other parts of Greece, taking a particular interest in Mani in the Peloponnese and Crete. “I’d read up on the history of every place I went to and then let the people I met take me on a learning journey.”

 

Meeting Mr. Loukas was an important milestone on that journey. “As a film crew, we had rented his house in Metaxourgeio. When he saw us eating toast and cereal every day, he offered to buy us fresh vegetables from the farmers’ market and cook for us for a small fee, and we agreed. We got closer and then became friends. Later we’d bring our friends to his house, and when I didn’t have something to do, I’d drop by his place just for a chat. He loaned me his daughter’s bicycle at some point, and that’s how I started exploring Athens. I was learning and getting to know things. I was really interested in street art. I’d stop all the time and take photographs.

The first door I shot was in the same frame as a piece of graffiti that had drawn my attention. When I logged into my computer later and looked closely at the shot, I focused more on the door. I went online feeling certain there’d be something similar out there, but no one seemed to have been stricken by the idea! Maybe the people here take these things for granted. That’s when I saw that this was something with potential, so in February 2015, I made my first post on Instagram, as Doors of Athens.”

A living collection

Today, his Instagram account boasts more than 600 posts of doors and 18,100 followers. His collection comprises neoclassical townhouses, modernist apartment buildings, and even eclectic and Bauhaus architecture residences. Alex doesn’t focus on their historical or architectural details, though. What defines his approach is the sense of discovery. “There are so many different designs, they’re almost impossible to count. Then I’m trying to understand the differences between neighborhoods. The style is not the same in Koukaki as in Kypseli.”

Many of his followers send him tips on where he can find beautiful doors to add to this collection, while his fan club has been joined by his four-year-old daughter, who loves looking out for doors on their walks. “I feel like we’ve become a small community in the past two years. I get quite a few messages from people sending me doors to check out. I love that more and more people keep their eyes open when they walk around.” At the same time, the project continued to be a solitary pursuit for the artist. “It deepens my relationship with Athens. It’s a motive to explore places I don’t know, and every new door I add further enriches my collection, which counts more than 30,000 shots right now.”

 

A bulldozer has been waking me up these days as it gets to work early in the morning. The old three-story house it’s demolishing belongs to the ones with the beautiful iron doors. My acquaintance with Alex and his archive prompted me to make further inquiries the other day. What a coincidence: the beautiful iron door had been left on the sidewalk across the street from the demolition site. I tried to get closer to it but was prevented from crossing the road by a pickup truck grinding to a halt. It was a scrap metal collector. The door was now his.



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