Two years ago I interviewed Tatjana Bergius for the Cops Issue of Vice in Germany. She used to work for the Berlin police drawing rapists, murderers and other nasty people, as well as the scenes where these and other horrific crimes took place. Shortly after we met she quit her job because all the things she’d seen were making her not like doing it anymore. I called her up to find out what she was doing instead. The picture on this page and the following ones are her illustrations of crime scenes from her time working for the police.
Translation: “As a child he spent a lot of time applying bandages to his teddy bears. Everyone thought he would become a doctor some day. Nobody had any idea that these injuries were inflicted by him.”
Vice: Hi Tatjana, this is Tom from Vice. We met about two years ago.
Tatjana: Hi Tom, how have you been?
Good, thanks. So how come you stopped working for the police?
Well, I didn’t realise at the time, but in the contract it also said I had to draw the crime scenes of all major “incidents“. Murder, theft, arson, that sort of thing. I had to be on call 24 hours a day to draw all this stuff.
What did that involve?
You arrive at the scene of the crime, usually someone’s house or flat, and the commissioner quickly explains the case, but you have no idea what really happened. It’s like an evil mum, who just explains the horrific scenes from a twisted fairy tale.
Well, in the beginning it was totally exotic. But you have to suppress everything you’re feeling in order to work.
What’s the worst thing you ever saw?
I once saw the impression of a dead baby. Every tiny finger and toe. There was ash everywhere, which had fallen on the body, so when they removed the corpse you had this negative imprint. It might sound quite banal, but after seeing that I couldn’t work properly again.
And you had to draw it?
I had to measure and draw everything in the room. Chairs, tables, mirrors and the dead baby imprint. I don’t know why it was so bad. I’ve seen much worse things and plenty of corpses.
But that made you want to quit?
At first I carried on working, but a year later it all came back to me. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and was off work for a year. I moved to a cloister about an hour outside Berlin, and I drew a picture a day, every day, for a year.
How did you start these drawings?
I took photos from magazines. The first one was the entrance to the psychiatric wing of the hospital in Berlin where Hitler ordered these terrible experiments on humans. Every time I saw something disturbing, I drew it, and created a story around it. First the mental hospital, then Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, walking past a women’s shoe shop. Anything that came to mind.
It was really horrible. But it could be anything. I once did the Dalai Lama without glasses.
A fairly mixed bag then.
Yeah, but it was all apocalyptic to a lesser or greater degree. I spent a long time looking at the Nazis and drawing SS soldiers and their victims. It was basically about the abuse of power. It’s a huge problem that people ignore the existence of evil in the world and pretend everything’s fine. I saw this every day at the crime scenes. Evil is everywhere but people accept it. In fact, it’s already been accepted, so now they’re allowed to ignore it.
Do you feel your work will help people realise this?
I just don’t want to make any of these nice, pretty pictures, which are all abstract and beautiful. I paint everything black, as if it’s hiding in the shadows.
What first inspired you to start scribbling?
When I was 12 I found my dad’s Robert Crumb comics. I thought, “Wow, this stuff’s amazing, and weird, and funny”. Then I started reading Moebius. I was happy things like that existed.
Can you remember the first thing you drew?
When I was about five I did a picture of a skeleton bride and her husband. It was a present for my mum. She was really into Dada and curated the first ever Dada exhibition in the 70s. I was this five-year-old girl staring for hours at Dada and [Otto] Dix. War victims, cripples, whores... there were prostitutes everywhere. It made me want to be an artist too.
How did you end up drawing for the police?
I only really worked there to get more practice. I found it interesting to create a face from words. But it’s tough, psychologically. You get these girls that have just been raped and you have no idea what will happen to them when they leave. You start to worry about them. At least I did.
So your pictures were a kind of therapy?
Of course. They’re based on actual events and the stories I’d develop from things I saw or heard. When you hear little details and information you start filling in the gaps. Ultimately the stories are fictional but the atmosphere and feeling is completely authentic.
And you were in the middle of this world?
Completely. Although I was born in Berlin, I’d never been to the outskirts or really poor areas, like Ahrensfelde or Lichtenberg. But through my job I was submerged in this underworld. You can look right into the heart of society and it’s just like Nietzsche said: Man is evil, woman is mean.
Translation: “Open Case: Each one is a unique challenge for him. Final leadership. Temptation Nr. 1 (the backwards bit).”
Translation: “Basement: He wished he could bring the children to the same place every time. He often returned here. A beacon of hope (the upside down text).”
These four illustrations were all drawn in a cloister in the countryside outside Berlin while Tatjana was being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
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