It has taken a while to scan my Berlin negatives from last November. I was there on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the opening of the wall, November 9, 1989, to be exact. The first couple of days were dark and grey, typical for the season in that part of the world. And then I had two days of sun. The image above shows the installation of inflated balloons that formed the LIchtgrenze (border of light) that marked the trace of the former wall through the city. At night, LED lights mounted in the balloon bases, made them glow. During the day, they appeared like a string of pearls stretching across the cityscape.
I shot about 70 sheets of film in the four days leading up to the 25th anniversary, and scanned about 2/3 of them. I think there are about 15 images that are keepers. Working up the scans in Photoshop is time consuming. They are large files — about 500 MBs each — and the level of detail that I bring to coaxing the right look and feel out of the negatives is substantial. It’s relatively easy to color correct globally, but to get everything singing in an image can take hours. And something that looks great one day, can look drastically different the next. Such is the subjective nature of color.
These are the first of the 4×5 scans completed. You’ve seen some of these images before, but those were actually taken with my point and shoot, usually held on top of my view camera.
This was a carefully set up shot on a promenade along the Spree, the river that wanders through the center of Berlin. The domed building in the rear is the Reichstag. I felt that I needed something like this — a visual coda, a bit of photographic bravura, for my project that began almost 30 years ago.
The anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall was, of course, a moment both celebratory and reflective. Much damage was done by the division of the city and the Cold War division of Europe in general. People were killed attempting to escape the communist east. Life ambitions were curbed by repression. On the one hand, the reunification of the country meant that the democratic west with all its creative opportunities prevailed, but on the other hand, its crass excesses overwhelmed the more sober lifestyle of the east. And so here we are presented with the perfect dialectical complexity of contemporary Germany. An exhibition about the wall with fake artifacts, a kitschy reconstruction of a guard tower (a real one can be found 500 meters away), juxtaposed with riveting footage of the wall being built in 1961 and people making desperate dashes for freedom. All of it packaged and on display in the Arkade shopping mall in Potsdamer Platz.
A few blocks away from the commercialism of Potsdamer Platz one finds the Topography of Terror — the exposed foundations of the Nazi Gestapo/SS headquarters, a preserved strip of the Berlin wall, and the former headquarters of the Nazi air force. The visual compression of history here is profound.
There are only a few stretches of the inner wall that still exist — the easily recognized graffitied concrete slabs with the pipe along the top. People were eager to see it all hauled away after its opening in 1989. People now wish they had kept more of it. But there are many lengths of outer wall that can be found around the city especially along rail yards and abandoned industrial areas. Most people don’t even realize that these are remnants of the double walls that surrounded West Berlin.
Stay tuned for more photographs.