Countershade Community Interest Company

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What is a Zeltbahn?

Essentially a zeltbahn is a piece of waterproof cloth that was designed as a shelter for soldiers. As a basic grey cotton poplin square, it was first used in the late 1890s.

The triangular Zeltbahn‘muster31’-( patented as the ‘warei’ zeltbahn) was a multi purpose piece of equipment, -simple but ingenious, it could be used as a waterproof poncho, a stretcher, flotation device, camouflage covering for equipment and tracks and when joined to other zeltbahns,- configured into three different size tents for 4, 8 or 16 men as a ‘hauszelt’. It was issued to every German soldier at the start of basic training and was in 1932 the first mass distributed printed camouflage clothing; (the Italians however had produced a printed camouflage for elite troops in the late 1920’s and other countries had shelter sections). Camouflage prints were designed around the dimensions of the zeltbahn and by the end of the Second World War German artists and technicians had developed over 20 patterns.

Since the Second World War, countries all over Europe have developed their own zeltbahns and camouflage patterns often influenced by the original ‘Warei’ and the careful research and resulting camouflage patterns of the originals.

image of manaquin using a zeltbahn as a tent Now at the end of the ‘Cold War’ there are 1000s of zeltbahns lying unused in warehouses across Europe. It is the hope of the ‘Wo ist meine Zeltbahn?' project to recycle these items as an environmental- artist’s canvas. We cannot change our history but we can reappropriate materials and technologies and change perceptions to achieve a better future. Camouflage is an invention of nature, and artists created the human technology of disruptive pattern material- we want it back.