Thursday, 14 June 2012

Berlin Wall

It's almost twenty-three years ago, on November 9th 1989, that I took this picture of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Despite it's grubby quality, it's one of the best shots I've ever taken I think. Shot on a manual Nikon F, I had to guess the exposure as my meter had just decided to die. Then, during processing something went very wrong and the film was cooked and this was the result. 

Just getting to Berlin had been an adventure. With an old friend, John, we jumped in my car and headed to Berlin only the day  before. At the East German border, we watched men push their tired and worn-out Trabants through customs to save petrol and realised we were heading into a different world altogether. 

All those cold-war films seemed to fill our imaginations as we were ordered to drive along the autobahn and not deviate off the road until we reached West Berlin. Some hours later, John woke me up to tell me we were lost. Somehow he had managed to exit the autobahn into East Germany. We soon realised we were in fact driving illegally along, surrounded by the morning rush hour traffic of East Berlin. 

The streets were full of smoking, steamed-up drably painted Trabants crammed with people looking curiously out at the very sleek, very white, Western Japanese Mazda next to them. We nodded and grinned a nervous hello and, expressionless, they solemnly stared back. 

It wasn't long before we found ourselves driving down the wrong side of the infamous Wall, which was guarded at intervals of fifty meters by serious-faced machine-gun toting border guards. I think these were the infamous Stasi Police, I'm not sure, but they looked the part anyhow. I was struck by how serious the ordinary people were, no one smiling and everyone with their heads down. The atmosphere was oppressive. 

Then we found ourselves at the (wrong side) of the Brandenburg Gate and the place was very empty of people. Astonishingly, no one challenged us at any point. We could see flags being waved over on the other side where the crowds were gathering, where we were supposed to be. I guess that even then, had we been stopped by the police we would have been in seriously deep trouble. We were a little nervous, especially as our fuel was running low and we had no idea how to get back into West Berlin, there being no directions to a place that didn't exist as far as East Berlin was concerned. 

By nightfall, having stumbled into and out of various places around East Berlin, we found ourselves back on the main autobahn and headed into West Berlin. The Border was astonishingly brightly lit and welcoming after the drabness of the East. I was  immediately reminded of the scene from Apocalypse Now when the entertainment show was given to the troops deep amongst the darkness of the jungle of Vietnam. 

West Berlin was incredibly vibrant. The crowds around the Brandenburg Gate astonishing as troops marched, bands played and people thronged in excitement. All in all, it was quite a time.

I wonder where John is today? I lost contact with him over fifteen years ago. i don't have many friends so losing one is a serious loss. It's probably my fault and the excuses of life getting in the way of contact don't really wash.

The Quadriga, the statue of the four horses, now faces East once again and I must go back and revisit the place. Here is a link to some interactive images that show before and after the wall came down.

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