Revisiting 13thFloor

18 years after its making I revisit the interactive documentary 13thFloor wearing the glasses I wear now.


In 2004, German writer Kolja Mensing and media artist Florian Thalhofer spent 31 days in Grohner Düne, a 1970s social housing complex on the outskirts of Bremen that is home to 1,600 people.

Media scientist Bernhard Dotzler called 13terStock an “interactive home movie”.
and attested “a convincing answer on how to show today’s reality has been found by the film”.

Technology and structure

13terStock was originally built with Korsakow 3, a version that only allowed one interface for the whole film. Later, 13terStock was rebuilt and different interface layouts were added. The keywords are thematic: There are five main topics “family”, “money”, “home”, “war”, “rules” and a number of subtopics for each of the main topics.

There is also a laypot (“birdseye view”) which serves to give a feeling of overview.

Pictorial description of the intro scene

It starts quite abruptly, when one looks out of a slight overhead view onto the desk of a roughly 50-year-old man, whom one observes making a short but complete telephone call, hanging up and saying quite noncharlant that he is a Social Democrat. Then a large white building complex can be seen from a distance. It is obviously the apartment complex that is the subject of this film.

The next shots are now closer to the object, you look from above into the courtyard of the building complex. The camera shakes, and where there were windows a moment ago, black areas now appear on the image, on which small and barely legible terms are written that could also be catchwords or headlines. The black tiles remain, while the image of the camera under the black rectangles shows impressions of the inside, of the life behind the scenery and no longer the view from the outside on the Grohner Düne. The black tiles are hyperlinks an serve as windows into the house and the lives of its inhabitants. While in the background the at that time hip Berlin band “Teans Team” sings also quite noncharlant “Jeder Tag wunderbar“ – “Every day wonderful”.

Disclaimer of the pictorial description

I designed the opening scene of the work described above 18 years ago. Today, I look at it through the perspective of pictorial description. The method of pictorial description was not accessible to me at that time, because I deeply despised this method, which I had become acquainted with in art classes at school, because I understood this technique to be cold and lacking in emotion, and in fact I still see it as such. The method of pictorial description is not about feeling, it is instead about describing how feeling is described.

“Every day wonderful” was my alsolute favorite song at the time and that’s the only reason I chose it. Not because, as I realize today, it precisely frames what the perspective of this work is about. To show the, one could say, beautiful, livable, special and thus interesting. Without making oneself mean with the protagonists of the film and without putting oneself above the protagonists. They are different from us and this is stated repeatedly in the work.

“Without making oneself mean with the protagonists and without putting oneself above them”

I suspect that we were only able to achieve this feat because we were not conscious in the making, because if we had been conscious, it would have put us above the protagonists, who apparently did not have this media consciousness either.

The author becomes visible as the point of perspective in a mediated reality

From the very beginning, we have interwoven the object of our investigation with the personal horizon of our experience. This starts already with one of the first diary entries, when Kolja Mensing describes 18 year ago Florian’s apartment and compares it with Grohner Düne:

“Florian’s Berlin apartment is in a discreet new building from the nineties, more or less next to the Ministry of Economics and Labor and thus not far from the so-called government district.” Kolja wonders if the same fortune as Grohner Düne could happen to Florian’s building complex. “After all, just like many other large housing estates, Grohner Düne was once a sought-after destination for the aspiring middle classes in the early seventies – and back then it didn’t even take ten years for the paradise for young families to become a temporary camp on the outskirts of the city for asylum seekers, guest workers and social losers with German passports.”

We have described Grohner Düne from our perspective. And by describing ourselves, the audience has the opportunity to understand the authors’ perspective and correct for it accordingly. Just like I can do now even as the former author when I calculate my younger self out of the perception process of mediated reality.

And whoosh, I look at myself from the outside. And this probably also happens to a viewer who is not also an author, although the effect is probably weaker.

Die Zeit wrote: “one of these tracks simply shows the images recorded by the video surveillance cameras in the Grohner Düne. Another uses a television reportage that reported on the project of the two filmmakers. So they become part of their own work, which in turn is part of other image systems.”