A Night in Pyongyang

A Night In Pyongyang

Prototype and finished book

Travelling in the land of the great leader

Rehearsal session of the “Backdrop boys”. Video courtesy of Paul Tanner

If you want to watch the show with music, you can find a few North Korean hits here:

The world's first and only picture book about the Massgames in Pyongyang, North Korea

The greatest show on earth

Published by Nicolai-Verlag Berlin

out of print / Remaining copies throughme

Interview in the Welt

Article in the advertising blog Reklamehimmel

Part 2 of the project about the Massgames can be found here.

Making of

I first saw a picture of the North Korean Mass Games when I was at film school: thousands of dancers moving in perfect synchronicity on a huge playing field. The photo stuck in my mind, I had never seen anything like it before – but the idea of travelling to North Korea to see the show for myself seemed so far-fetched that I immediately abandoned the idea. It took me and my best friend a few years before I plucked up the courage to give it a go after all. With Koryo Tours, we found a travel agency in Beijing that specialised in North Korea tours and, according to their own statements, had brought thousands of tourists to the country and – most importantly – brought every one of them home safely.

We decided to take a chance, boarded a plane to Beijing and flew from there to Pyongyang with a small group of travellers. It was to be the most bizarre journey I have ever experienced.

Developing mass gymnastics is important in training schoolchildren to be fully developed communist people.

Kim Jong-il, April 1987

But the most bizarre thing of all was the experience of the Massgames themselves. The first impression of this gigantic show was so intense that on the first evening after leaving the stadium I couldn’t believe that I had just seen it with my own eyes. Fortunately, we were able to persuade our tour guide to see the show again, so that on the second evening I was able to make sure that I was actually here and really experienced it all. It was amazing.

I had already thought that the show would be great, after all I had flown halfway around the world just for it. So I had bought a reasonably fast, but above all very long lens for my small SLR in Beijing and used it to take a spectacular series of pictures.

For a long time I didn’t know what exactly to do with the pictures until I showed them to an agency boss with whom I was working and who had published an illustrated book with Nicolai Verlag at the time. He was so impressed by my pictures that he recommended me to Hans von Trotha, the publishing director at the time. Trotha liked my photos, but he was still hesitant because he was afraid to take the risk of publishing a book about a dance show in the world’s most bizarre military dictatorship by a completely unknown photographer.

It wasn’t until I produced a prototype of the book together with my friend and graphic designer Felix Kempf, which Trotha was able to show around at various book fairs, that things started to move. In autumn of the same year, I finally had the picture book in my hands – the first and still the only one about the North Korean Massgames.