Category Archives: Berlin


Leninplatz, Berlin, 1990– © Brian Rose

Spiegel Online International:

In a sign of how time is healing Berlin’s wounds, the city plans to dig up the giant Lenin monument it famously buried in 1991 and place it in a new museum for disgraced statues. The works will span the communist and Nazi eras and date far back into Prussian times.

Full article here.

One of the things I’ve noticed in my recent trips to Berlin is a greater acknowledgment that visitors come to Berlin to see and feel history, however painful much of it may be. For years, Nazi sites were mostly unidentified, hidden. Then the Wall was hastily removed, communist monuments ripped down. Now, there is a greater openness along with regrets about what was lost. There are serious attempts to present and interpret history such as the Topography of Terror as well as kitschy Trabi rentals and fake G.I.s posing for pictures at Checkpoint Charlie. I still haven’t made up my mind about Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial, but it is irrevocably planted–a vast field of stones–in the heart of the German capitol.

New York/Berlin

The last–probably–of the 4×5 film scans of from my recent trip to Berlin. I shot about 60 sheets of film, so there’s lots to work with. Some of these are similar to digital pics posted earlier. When things get reduced to 72 dpi, the difference between the 4×5 scans and the images made with my pocket camera can seem minimal. But I think these have greater clarity, and more presence somehow. Obviously, when printed, the difference is huge.

Alexanderplatz (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Alexanderplatz (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

A fascinating exhibition about the political resistance that undermined the DDR regime–and other East European countries–and helped lead to the fall of the Wall in 1989. The American and western perspective, in general, is so oriented to Cold War geopolitics, that this side of the story is almost completely ignored. It is a profound misrepresentation of history, and exhibits like this, bit by bit, offer a much needed corrective.

Niederkirchnerstrasse (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Berlin Wall marker with push button audio commentary.

Vossstrasse (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

One of the many scaffold buildings around Berlin. Some of them depict buildings to be rebuilt or reimagined, and others are simply giant canvases for advertising. A Microsoft Windows ad was on the the front side of this one, which formed part of the former, and future, streetwall of Leipziger Platz.

Topography of Terror (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Brandenburg Gate (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Cameras in position on December 8th, for the following evening’s event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

New York/Berlin

Unter den Linden (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

This is a 4×5 scan of an image seen previously. The grassy field is the site of the former Palast der Republik, East German government/cultural center. And before that, it was the site of the 18th century Stadtschloss, seen printed on fabric in the rear. The idea is to rebuild the facades of the older palace.

DDR Museum (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

The East German palace is gone–but not forgotten–and its glass facade has also been printed on fabric, hung on the structure of the temporary DDR Museum. There are such printed scaffold buildings all over Berlin.

DDR mural, Leipziger Strasse (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Very real is this mural in the former air ministry building, which was dates back to the early days of the German Democratic Republic. Here’s some information from Wikipedia:

In 1950-52 an extraordinary 18 meter long mural was created at the north end along Leipziger Straße, set back behind pillars, made out of Meissen porcelain tiles. Created by the German painter and commercial artist Max Lingner together with 14 artisans, it depicts the Socialist ideal of contented East Germans facing a bright future as one big happy family. In fact the mural’s creation had been a somewhat messy affair. Commissioned by Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl, Lingner had had to revise it no fewer than five times, so that it ultimately bore little resemblance to the first draft. Originally based on family scenes, the final version had a more sinister look about it, a series of jovial set-pieces with an almost military undertone, people in marching poise and with fixed, uniform smiles on their faces. Lingner hated it (as well as Grotewohl’s interference) and refused to look at it when going past. With a degree of irony, the building became the focal point a year later of the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany.

East Side Gallery (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

I’ve only got a few more scans to work on from my recent trip to Berlin. The photograph above was the last piece of film I shot, and shows a bit of the remaining stretch of wall called the East Side Gallery near the Ost Bahnhof in former East Berlin. The Wall along here was painted on by various artists shortly after the Wall opened up in 1989. The image of Mstislav Rostropovich performing in front of the Wall at the center of the photograph is not one of the original paintings–but I like it.

New York/Berlin

Near the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Novevember 9, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. This was as close as I got to the ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate. I stood for an hour in a cold steady rain with my view camera, managing to take two photographs. I like the balloons. Everyone was just waiting for the dominoes to fall, which they did a couple of hours later, well behind schedule. By that time I had retreated to a warm dry place to watch on TV.

Still more 4×5 scans to come.

New York/Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Wilhelmstrasse (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Continuing with 4×5 film images from the week of the 50th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Both of these were seen earlier in digital camera versions. The two pictures above key on what has become the universal symbol of the old DDR (East Germany), the Trabant. The top one is from a PayPal commercial that ran repeatedly on the big screens between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate, and the bottom one is from the Trabi Safari where the now vintage cars are for rent.

Here the balloon appears slightly ominous, the world untethered, floating out of control.

New York/Berlin

Potsdamer Platz (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Three images not shown earlier when blogging from Berlin. This one made at Potsdamer Platz, a TV boom and control booth, an image of joyous Germans climbing on the Wall in 1989, and trompe l’oeil buildings and scaffolding ads behind on adjacent Leipziger Platz.

Checkpoint Charlie (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

A crude reconstruction of the 1961 checkpoint shed with sandbags and lights–never there in the historical photos I’ve seen. Tourists pose with fake American soldiers who wave the flag around cavalierly. Haus am Checkpoint Charlie museum is across the street and to the right. An image of a Soviet soldier on the left is an art piece by Frank Thiel. The other side shows an American soldier.

Watchtower/memorial (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Günter Litfin memorial, first victim of the newly erected Berlin Wall. A remaining guard tower surrounded by post 1989 housing.

New York/Berlin

Berlin Wall dominos, Ebertstrasse (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Continuing to scan and work on my recent Berlin images.

Similar to the digital view in an earlier post, this one features the man at right, who connects visually across the frame to the face of Stalin on the left. These cloudy sky pictures take a bit of work in Photoshop since the sky has to be lower in contrast than the rest of the image. Sometimes it can be done by selecting areas, but often I put the sky on a separate layer and flatten at the end.

New York/Berlin

Potsdamer Platz (4×5 film)– © Brian Rose

The first of the 4×5 film scanned. Compare to earlier digital snapshot below.

The day before the dominos were toppled thousands of people walked between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. I was excited to be there, but a bit put off by the commercial nature of things–including corporate logos on some of the domino stones. Freedom won in 1989, but coporatism reigns in 2009.

Berlin/Parting Shots

Neues Museum Colonnade — © Brian Rose

Neues Museum colonnade, 1987 (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Having run out of 4×5 film I took it easy on Friday. I hoped to see the Neues Museum, which has been restored with modern insertions by David Chipperfield, but the lines to purchase timed tickets for later in the afternoon were too long for me. Walking past the colonnade I photographed back in 1987, when this was East Berlin, I saw that the columns looked more or less as they did 22 years ago. Restoration was still taking place, and a part of the colonnade was under construction and would re-open soon. A black and white photograph set in the frame of the colonnade showed what lay behind it.

I was pleased to see that The Lost Border was on the shelf of the nearby Walter König bookstore, and later, I found it in Bücher Bogen as well. The latter is one of the best art/architecture/photograhy bookstores anywhere. The salesman said that they had sold seven of my books–not a lot of books–but better than average for a photography book.

Anhalter Bahnhof ruin — © Brian Rose

Heading back to my hotel I passed the nearby ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof, one of the stations employed in deporting Jews to concentration camps during the war years. The station facade once sat in vacant bombed out space, but new buildings and sports facilities have grown up around it, as well as in the open swath of former railroad tracks.

Stresemannstrasse — © Brian Rose

Between the station and my hotel there are still vacant lots–it’s surprising after all the rebuilding of Berlin how much empty space remains in the center of the city. A constant through all my travels here are small tent circuses set up in one vacant spot or another. In Wim Wender’s film Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire), one of the angels watching over the city falls in love with a trapeze artist from just such a circus located near the former Wall.

Next to my hotel was yet another circus standing in a muddy lot full of scruffy bushes and trees. I placed my point-and-shoot camera on the top of a gate, and used the self-timer to take the long exposure above. Music and crowd noises wafted from the tent off in the darkness.

Berlin/East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery — © Brian Rose

The East Side Gallery is the longest stretch of Berlin Wall still standing–its survival due to the murals that were done on it just after the Wall was opened. Over the years the paintings deteriorated, and there was talk of removing the whole thing. Fortunately, the murals are being restored, in many cases by the original artists.

On Thursday, the sun actually came out in Berlin, and I did a number of photographs of the East Side Gallery. Not the murals themselves–they’ve been documented adequately–but the scene in general. The mural side of the Wall faces northeast, and as a result, does not get much sunlight. A few painters were working on their segments of the Wall as seen above. There’s a gap in the Wall to the right because of a club/restaurant situated in an old building that stood in the former death strip between the inner and outer walls.

East Side Gallery — © Brian Rose

This was a pretty desolate industrial area before the Wall came down, and now there is a huge new music hall called O2 located nearby looking like an alien space ship. A number of large video screens like the one above advertising an upcoming André Rieu concert dot the landscape. To the right are the towers of the Oberbaumbrücke, which once stood within East Berlin.

East Side Gallery — © Brian Rose

East Side Gallery — © Brian Rose

East Side Gallery — © Brian Rose

It may seem strange to see such a clean white Berlin Wall, but this is what it looked like on the east side where people could not approach the Wall, much less paint on it. The last photograph I took–my last sheet of 4×5 film–was at the north end of the East Side Gallery across from the Ost Bahnhof where there is a messy collection of ad hoc graffiti and paintings including a depiction of Mstislav Rostropovich performing at the Berlin Wall just a few days after its opening.

Berlin/Topography of Terror

Topography of Terror — © Brian Rose

Topography of Terror — © Brian Rose

Topography of Terror — © Brian Rose

The raw provisional quality of the Topography of Terror exhibition remains after a seemingly endless effort to construct a documentation center, and a find a proper way to present and stabilize the foundation walls of the former SS/Gestapo headquarters. The new building is almost finished, a more utilitarian structure than the earlier Peter Zumthor design, which was abandoned half-built due to lack of funding.

Invalidenfriedhof and wall remains — © Brian Rose

Later in the afternoon I walked along the Spandauer Schifffahrtskanal and through the Invalidenfriedhof, a park that forms a memorial to Günter Litfin, “the first victim of shots fired at the border between East and West Berlin after the Wall went up on 13 August 1961.”

Spandauer Schifffahrtskanal — © Brian Rose


Curry 36, Berlin — © Brian Rose

Not much time for haute cuisine on this trip to Berlin. Mostly I’ve been picking up food on the fly. The two classic Berlin fast foods are currywurst and dönner kebab. I’ve had great dönner in the past, but this time I’ve been sampling currywurst–basically, grilled sausage drenched in ketchup and sprinkled with curry powder. Often served with fries.

Berliners (and tourists) argue about where you can get the best currywurst, but it’s like New Yorkers arguing about the best pizza by the slice (Ray’s on Prince Street). When it good, it’s perfect. Nothing more to do to it or take away from it. It is what it is. When in Berlin, go to Curry 36.


Formerly, Nazi air force ministry, now, German finance ministry
© Brian Rose

I made a shorter day of it confining my photos to a two or three block area between Checkpoint Charlie and Wilhelmstrasse. Many of the Nazi era government buildings were located along this street. The Berlin Wall ran just a short distance to the left of the photograph above.

Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin — © Brian Rose

Directly across the street from the severe, but imposing, Air Force Ministry, one of the many still vacant lots in this heavily bombed out area is occupied by a tethered balloon ride and the Trabi Safari, where you can rent a 20 year old East German Trabant to drive around the city–and hopefully your fiberglass body doesn’t end up shattered like an egg by a much more substantial Mercedes or Audi.

Berlin/Unter der Linden

Palace site on Unter der Linden — © Brian Rose

Walking from Alexanderplatz, I headed down Unter den Linden, the grand boulevard of the city, passing by the now vacant site of the Palast der Republik, the former East German government and cultural building. Many hated it for its tacky architecture and what it symbolized–and the fact that it replaced the war damaged historic palace dating back to the 18th century. Many wanted it saved, however, as a piece of history on its own terms.

Palace and Berliner Dom — © Brian Rose

It was not saved, of course, and a re-creation of the original palace–at least several facades of it–will eventually be built. Meanwhile, large photo montages of the projected building are hung from the steel frame of a viewing platform.

DDR Museum — © Brian Rose

Many such ephemeral buildings can be seen around the city, proposed structures, or hoped for construction, that await better times, printed on fabric and afixed to scaffolding. Directly next to the palace images, is another temporary structure with facades formed by a photo representation of the former Palast der Republik–in black rather than the bronze color of the original glass. It houses the DDR Museum.

The Brandenburg Gate on TV — © Brian Rose

Eventually I made my way to the Brandenburg Gate where the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was to take place. I took up a position next to the Holocaust Memorial in sight of one of a number of giant TV screens, and adjacent to the painted domino stones that were lined up between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. Instead of showing live views of the scene around the Brandenburg Gate, or even time-killing commentary, we got to see commercials played over and over, leading one to wonder whether the fall of the Berlin Wall was worth it. OK, I exaggerate.

It began raining harder, and the program was, apparently, well behind schedule. Finally, having been out in the street all day in the rain with my view camera, I bailed out and ended up watching the speeches and falling dominos on a laptop connected to live TV. It was a curious event. Sort of a celebration, sort of a serious reflection on the meaning of freedom, with lots of hokey elements thrown in. Ther were speeches by Sarkozy, Brown, Merkel , and Hilary Clinton, as well as a taped White House address from Obama. Some have criticized Obama for not attending the anniversary event, but having witnessed the semi-chaos of the evening, the crush of people–it would have been a security and logistical nightmare. After the speeches, a German TV game show presenter interviewed Lech Walesa and Mikhail Gorbachev, and then Bon Jovi performed We Weren’t Born to Follow.

We weren’t born to follow
You gotta stand up for what you believe
Let me hear you say
Yea, Yea, Yea, ooooohhh, Yea

Update: As I returned home on the train from the airport, I saw a poster for Bon Jovi promoting their new book and new album featuring the song We Weren’t Born to Follow. It was then I realized how nakedly commercial the 20th anniversary event of the Mauerfall actually was.


Exhibition, Alexanderplatz — © Brian Rose

I took the S-Bahn to Alexanderplatz to see the exhibit there about the events leading up to and surrounding the fall of the Wall. It is a large, comprehensive, exhibition that deserves some time digesting. I plan to go back for a less camera-centric visit.

Exhibition, Alexanderplatz — © Brian Rose

A steady drizzle through the afternoon made it slow going for me and my view camera. Fortunately, it was not as cold as the day before. I found the exhibition at Alexanderplatz visually compelling, and it was an opportunity to bring this historic location into my project at the same time. This was one of the most important centers of Berlin before the war, and became the heart of DDR Berlin when the city was divided. In most respects it looks like it did before the Wall came down. People still meet at the clock located in the square, an artifact of the East German era, as a young photographer who I spoke to was doing.

Exhibition pavilion, Alexanderplatz — © Brian Rose

The exhibit includes extensive documentation on the people and events leading up to November 9, 1989. The American view tends to favor the global political game–and American military power in particular–as the ultimate factor in the demise of communism. But this exhibit focuses on the many people behind the Iron Curtain–dissidents, labor leaders, artists, musicians–who struggled at huge personal risk to undermine the system from within. The film being shown above, however, does not leave out the big stage political events like Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech before the Brandenburg Gate.

Berlin/Berlin Wall

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin — © Brian Rose

Tomorrow will be the 20th anniversary of the fall–or opening–of the Berlin Wall. I am here in Berlin to do a last round of photographs of the subject I’ve come back to over and over since 1985. There are thousands of people milling the streets along the trace of the Wall in the center of the city, most there to see the 1000+ painted dominos that will fall symbolically tomorrow evening.

The crush of people makes it difficult for me with my 4×5 camera, but I jumped into the crowd today with some good results, I think. Tomorrow, I don’t expect to get anywhere near the main event, and will work the periphery of the crowd.

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin — © Brian Rose

The anniversary celebration is turning into a mega media event dominated by German TV, which will follow the fall of the dominos from moving cameras running along wires above the street. There will be celebrities galore, music performances, and various side events that I am just beginning to find out about. I believe Hilary Clinton is in town for a speech.

It is also an orgy of German kitsch and commercialism. Giant screens are mounted along the route of the dominos, and during the afternoon I viewed, among other things, an extended tribute to the carmaker Audi, and a video performance of an incredibly sappy ballad “One World, One Heart,” sung by Eleni. The last time I was in Berlin was during the run up to the World Cup soccer tournament, and there was a similar “we have arrived” vibe to things. I don’t begrudge Germans the opportunity to celebrate–but in so many ways this celebration goes beyond the reunification of Germany. The fall of the Wall signaled the end of communism, and was ultimately a triumph of freedom over tyranny. You may insert cynical comment here ___.

Stalin domino — © Brian Rose

Potsdamer Platz — © Brian Rose

Imagine, if you can, what it’s like using a 4×5 view camera in the midst of literally thousands of hand held digital cameras. I stand out. Lots of people make comments or stop to chat–always friendly of course. I butcher some German, they butcher some English, and it’s all great fun. It could be intimidating, so many cameras, and so many serious expensive ones. But I’ve been at this game for a long time now, and I trust my instincts.

Wall marker — © Brian Rose

Some tourists listen to audio commentary coming from the pylon marking a point along the path of the former Wall. Until a short time ago there was little help provided if you wanted to trace the Wall’s path. Now, the 20 year old vanished Wall seems more real than ever, an integral part of the historical palimpsest that draws visitors to the city.