There will be much written and discussed about the Berlin Wall this weekend, as Germany and Europe commemorate the momentous events of November 9, 1989, when the barrier which had divided the city since 1961 was sensationally breached by its citizens.
The anniversary also coincides rather neatly with me marking 25 years as a professional photographer. The irony for me is that had I not secured paid employment as a photographer in Edinburgh at the beginning of November 1989, I would surely have been in Berlin on that dramatic and fateful night. But it wasn’t to be.
It’s September 1989. I am packing my bags and returning to Scotland after a couple of months in Berlin. I’d been to visit friends on the eastern side of the Wall, making trips to East Berlin and Leipzig, where all the talk was of GDR citizens trying to find ways of either getting out of their country or laying low before any crackdown by the authorities occurred. I left Berlin with plans for a quick return. The place had become my second home and as well as my fascination for Berlin and its history, my friend, uncle and mentor, the photographer Henning Langenheim was my other reason to find inspiration in the city. He was a constant source of information and knowledge, not only about photography, but on the current state-of-affairs in the fulcrum of Europe. I listened and learned from him, but the the only thing he – like everyone else – failed to predict, was that within two months of me leaving West Berlin, the Wall would fall.
It’s October 1989. I am back in Edinburgh and an advert in the local paper advertises the position of photographer at the Edinburgh Herald & Post, a weekly advertiser owned by the Scotsman newspaper. I was encouraged to apply, and for some reason or other, I beat off 94 other applicants to land the job. Full-time, starting immediately. So I put down my travelling bag and picked up my kit bag. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I remember watching in awe the spectacle of East Germans climbing on the Wall on that remarkable night and the scenes the following day of Trabants streaming through the checkpoints. I understood the territory, but like everyone else, couldn’t understand the bigger picture. In the days, weeks and months that followed, Henning Langenheim photographed the Die Wende. Eventually, when holidays permitted, I returned to Berlin and trained my camera on the city again.
My career has taken a long, varied and interesting path, it’s trajectory ever upwards from those days of local news around Edinburgh and West Lothian. I wouldn’t change it for anything. But there’s a tiny part of me which wonders to this day, what would have happened if I hadn’t returned to Scotland, instead staying on in Berlin until November 9, 1989. I have photographed Berlin, on and off, for over three decades (click here to see a gallery). But even now, 25 years after it fell, the Wall still fascinates and captivates me.