New York/Berlin

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Lichtgrenze (light border) along the Spree with the Reichtstag and other government buildings.

I’ve just started scanning my 4×5 negatives from Berlin. So, let’s begin with the last one — the last piece of film, in fact. The light border marking the course of the former Berlin Wall followed the Spree River in the heart of Berlin 25 years after the wall came down. The Reichstag in the background.

I began this project almost 30 years ago when I made my first trip along the Iron Curtain in 1985. It may end here. with this picture.

First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.
– Leonard Cohen

 

Berlin/New York

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Checkpoint Charlie — © Brian Rose

Wall hysteria at Checkpoint Charlie. Here we are 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, and the interest — the obsession — with the wall is stronger than ever. “The Berlin Wall, See it Here.” A large drum-like structure contains some sort of multi-media wall experience. I didn’t’ go in.

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The Brandenburg Gate — © Brian Rose

A blue sky scrim in front of the gate with the globes of the “light border” running across the stage. After several cloudy days, the real sky mimicked the artificial sky, or vice versa. TV cameras were in position, music stages prepared for bands and orchestras, grandstands were erected for VIPs.

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Niederkirchnerstrasse — © Brian Rose

Before the light globes were inflated, the stands were placed along the path of the former wall, with plastic bags over the LED lights that illuminated the balloons once they were mounted. A Dutch bike was parked against a street pole. An ad for a Walker Evans exhibition stood at right. On the billboard across the street, a thank you to world leaders, notably Mikhail Gorbachev, stood next to a McDonald’s ad.

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N
iederkirchnerstrasse (detail) — © Brian Rose

1-2-3 Cheese! Danke! Spasibo! Thank You! Gorbachev, a hero here in Germany, gets top billing. George Bush (the father) is off to the side.

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Arcadia shopping mall, Potsdamer Platz — © Brian Rose

An jarringly incongruous exhibition in the Arkade shopping mall at Potsdamer Platz featured freshly made border signs.

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Arcadia shopping mall — © Brian Rose

A kitschy mock-up of a guard tower stood in the center of the mall while very real, riveting, historic images of the Berlin wall being built played on a video screen.

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Potsdamer Platz rail station — © Brian Rose

A snow slide in Potsdamer Platz mounted directly along the former trace of the Berlin wall. Throughout my trip, moments of dignity and gravitas were offset by moments of commercial crassness. Potsdamer Platz is a business and shopping center, but it’s only two blocks from the Holocaust memorial, two blocks from the site of the Nazi Gestapo headquarters, and one block from Hitler’s bunker. Shopping is one thing — over the top Time Square style advertising is another.

 

Berlin/Bernauer Strasse

bernauersignsBernauerstrasse — © Brian Rose

Signs mounted along the path through the former no man’s land along Bernauer Strasse. When the wall first went up in 1961, it began as concrete blocks topped with barbed wire. Neighbors could still call out to one another over the wall. Here you can see them standing on ladders or climbing on street poles. The provisional nature of the wall gradually gave way to standardized system that was effective and deadly.

When I began photographing the wall in 1985, it seemed that it was forever. But I had my doubts. It wasn’t that I could see obvious changes on the borderline, but having traveled to the east side a number of times, I came to realize that East Germany — indeed the whole communist/soviet project was held together with brutal force and an inordinate amount of duct tape and chewing gum. I couldn’t understand why the American government couldn’t see that as well. And above all, as the 80s wore on, the push back from citizens of the East — from to shipbuilders of Poland to the students in East Berlin’s Prenzlauerberg (where this photo was taken) became more and more intense.

Nevertheless, in 1987 the New York Times editorial page insisted that the division of Germany was just “a part of the furniture” of the global balance of power. I took issue with that, and my letter to the editor was published with a wonderful accompanying cartoon from the illustrator Suter.

The wall came down two years later.

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Berlin/LIchtgrenze

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LIchtgrenze — © Brian Rose

Some 8,000 illuminated balloons mark the line of the former Berlin wall as it snaked through the center of the city. Here the “light border” passes over a foot bridge above train tracks heading toward the Fernsehturm (TV tower) in the distance. On the evening of November 9th, the balloons will be released into the air.

 

Berlin/Contradictions

iphone6Potsdamer Platz — © Brian Rose

The wall once ran directly through Potsdamer Platz, and now a double row of cobblestones marks the trace of the outer wall through the mostly paved square. A series of wall slabs with exhibition photos and text in between are placed directly on the former borderline.

The blue boxes have something to do with the 25th anniversary of the wall coming down. I’ve seen them in various locations. I suspect they’ll be stacked up and toppled.

After the wall came down Potsdamer Platz was recreated almost from scratch. Very few buildings had survived the war or the post war demolition in the border zone. Important planners and architects were brought in to make it, once again, a focal point of commercial and cultural life of the city. Commercial tawdriness has taken over to a great extent.

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Topography of Terror — © Brian Rose

A short distance from Potsdamer Platz is the Topography of Terror, the former site of the Nazi SS and Gestapo headquarters. A long stretch of the Berlin wall still stands just above the excavated cellar walls of the Gestapo building. In the rear is the former Luftwaffe (air force) building.

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Topography of Terror — © Brian Rose

The exhibition building, designed by Ursula Wilms, is a simple modern box with a steel mesh skin. At dusk, the lights inside can be seen through the mesh. Much of the site is covered in a grey gravel. To the left is the former Europahaus, one of the few buildings near Potsdamer Platz that survived Allied bombing, and one of the first modern high rise buildings in Berlin. To the right is Martin Gropius-Bau, a museum, that is currently exhibiting the photographs of Walker Evans.

 

Berlin/Wall

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Bornholmer Strasse, Berlin — © Brian Rose

My first day in Berlin in five years. I am here for the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin wall. I am adding to a project that began in 1985 when I traveled across Europe photographing the Iron Curtain including Berlin.

Much building has occurred in the open areas that comprised the no man’s land between the double walls that ran through the city dividing it and surrounding what was once known as West Berlin. But even now, over 60 years since World War II, and 25 years since the wall came down, Berlin still exhibits scars and wasteland. It is, however, a greatly transformed place.

The Berlin wall, physically, is mostly gone. There are strips of it here and there, now landmarked, after years of a greater desire to see it gone. But the wall exists more vividly than ever in the imagination and in history, which is always present in this city haunted by the past like no other.

I made my first photographic venture yesterday going to Bornholmer Strasse, a place I had never photographed before, the location of the first border checkpoint to open in the evening of November 9th 1989 when thousands flooded across, there and shortly after, at other crossing points.

There is a monument to that event just across the bridge that crosses the railroad tracks where the border checkpoint used to stand. Large black and white photographs show the crowds of East Germans rushing across into West Berlin. Some of the wall still stands here. Not the outer wall that faced West Berlin, but part of the inner wall on the east side next to the border checkpoint.

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Bernauer Strasse — © Brian Rose

From there I went two S-Bahn stops away to Bernauer Strasse, the location of the main Berlin wall monument. It extends for several blocks and includes sections of the original wall as well as visual interpretations such as the row of steel rods seen above. There are large images fixed to the plaster walls of apartment buildings — blank walls created when residents were evicted and buildings torn down to create a wider and more enforceable no man’s land. In the early days of the wall, Bernauer Strasse was the scene of many dramatic escapes as people leapt from windows that overlooked the west, and many were killed or injured.

There were many visitors to the memorial when I was there, and a motorcade of unidentified men in suits toured the grounds with police and bodyguards hovering around. Today, the S-Bahn drivers are going on strike for part of the day, and will operate fewer trains than normal throughout the week. This will potentially disrupt the festivities planned around the 25th anniversary of the wall coming down — a moment commemorating national unity and the ongoing fight for human rights — and I’m guessing their action will not be much appreciated by anyone.

 

New York/Dueling Portraits

My 15 year old son Brendan had a school photography assignment to do this weekend — to make pictures of his family. When given the option to take painting or drawing, or architectural rendering, Brendan thought it would be “easier” to take photography, given that’s what his father does. We had a little time Saturday afternoon to take pictures before guests came over for dinner. So, Brendan and I walked around the Williamsburg waterfront together taking turns shooting with my Sigma DP 1.

Here’s Brendan:

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North 3rd Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

Brendan wanted to take off the cuff pictures of me walking around, and we did some of those. But one of my favorites is something in between. Despite all the development in this part of Williamsburg, there are still desolate areas — some fenced in industrial sites — that will not be there long. I stopped along a chain link fence with the skyline behind me. The light was beautiful.

Here’s Brendan’s photo of me:

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River Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brendan Rose

And finally, a snapshot I did looking, more or less, in the other direction.

vespasNorth 3rd Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

 

New York/The High Line

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Metamorphosis is on sale at the Friends of the High Line shop, both online and at their outdoor kiosk. Today, I did a quick box count of my inventory, and determined that I have 475 books left out of 1,000 printed. Over 50% sold since the book was released at the beginning of June.

 

 

New York/CityLab

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The Atlantic’s CityLab, a web journal about urban issues. An article about Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013, and an interview. This is one is definitely worth clicking through to.

From the interview:
Manhattan is now about the nexus of money, technology, and the arts. In the old days, you could come here without a firm agenda—a dream was enough. Now you need a business plan.

 

 

New York/New Haven

In the middle of doing an exhibition at Dillon Gallery, and releasing my book about the Meatpacking District, I got a very special architectural photography assignment. The newly renovated Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University. It’s one of the most awe inspiring buildings in the Collegiate Gothic style. Designed by James Gamble Rogers, it was completed in 1930. It follows the basic form of a cathedral with central nave, side aisles, transept, and sanctuary.

From Wikipedia:  A mural in Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library depicts the Alma Mater as a bearer of light and truth standing in the midst of the personified arts and sciences, painted in 1932 by Eugene Savage. Throughout the building the various crafts of the period are celebrated — stained glass, stone carving, decorative painting, and cabinetry. Those elements, combined with the lightness and airiness of the architecture, make it a 1930s building. There are even hints of Art Deco in the tower housing the book stacks rising behind the nave.

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The nave — © Brian Rose

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The transept — © Brian Rose

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Alma Mater — © Brian Rose

sterling017The side aisle/lounge — © Brian Rose

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The side aisle/lounge — © Brian Rose

The building was restored mostly to its original appearance. The card files, which are no longer used, hide heating, air conditioning, and electronic systems. It’s essentially a modern building underneath. It was a two day shoot and a ton of post production Photoshop work. But what a privilege to get this kind of a job. The preservation architecture was done by Helpern Architects.