Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

Posts tagged ‘Berlin’

Silver jubilee time

Cardiac surgery on a newborn baby, London, 2013. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

On the 14th August 1993, I emerged blinking (and slightly worse for wear) into a brave new world. Little did I imagine that 25 years later I’d be celebrating a quarter of a century of being an independent, freelance photographer.

But that day will always be etched in my memory as the start of an incredible journey. I had taken the decision to leave the security of a staff photographer’s job at the Edinburgh Evening News and now it was up to me to make a go of it. With the help of innumerable people (fellow photographers, journalists, picture editors, friends, family and the thousands of people whom I have encountered along the way), I have managed to survive, somehow, in an industry which has changed beyond recognition in the two-and-a-half decades since I loaded a roll of monochrome film into my Nikon FM2 and began my first freelance assignment – to photograph the beginning of the construction of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Alloa, Scotland.

If someone back then had said to me the words social media, smartphone, digital camera, low-cost airline, Holyrood, AppleMac, autofocus, Brexit, Dolly the sheep or English Premier League, I wouldn’t have had a clue what they were talking about. So much has changed, not just in the world around us, but in the way photographers work. But so much has stayed the same, too. The stories, characters and issues which populate our everyday lives are largely cyclical. The way we choose to illustrate them is still very familiar (many would say too much so) to the way it was back then. Men in suits still rule the world and the old enmities and adversaries have been replaced by new ones. That is not to say there haven’t been amazing strides forward and progress too. I have been lucky enough to see changes in science, technology and medicine through the lens. I have witnessed the ebb-and-flow of politics and the achievements of many sporting heroes and cultural icons too. And shared in the pain and pleasure of everyday life.

When I began my freelance career I was solely a newspaper photographer: that kept me busy all the days of the week I needed to make a good living. The intervening years has seen that industry wither and decline. But with that situation, new possibilities have opened up. Photography is a creative practice, but I didn’t realise how many times I would have to adapt my ways of working to survive and thrive. From moving location to working collectively, it has never been a straight road. All the time, however, I have tried to derive as much fun and enjoyment from making a living from what I love doing. There have been ups-and-downs, good years and bad and countless mistakes and missed opportunities. Some of the assignments I have covered I wished had never happened: bad news sells, unfortunately. But over all, it has been a pleasure and a privilege. To work on all five continents of the world, to travel to some of the planet’s most sparsely-populated and beautiful places and to meet people of all different races, religions and backgrounds – and to photograph them. It’s a dream come true. That’s what has kept me going over the last 25 years, and will hopefully do the same over the next!

In no particular oder of preference or relevance, below here are just a tiny – and random – selection of images culled from the hundreds of thousands of clicks of my shutter. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for everyone’s help, encouragement and love down the years. Finally, if you want to purchase a compendium of my work, I still  have a few of commemorative books left, marking my 20 years working for the Independent newspaper.

Salmon netsman, Scotland, 1998. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

The Queen’s Baton Relay, Lesotho, 2017. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Politician Jacob Rees-Mogg, Scotland, 1997. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Dolly the Sheep, Scotland, 1997. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne in rehabilitation, England, 2016. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nottingham Forest football fans, England, 2015. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Sculptor Andy Scott, Scotland, 2014. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Morning exercise, Beijing, 2012. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Writer Douglas Coupland, Scotland, 2009. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Comedian Ken Dodd, England, 2008. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Foot-and-mouth crisis, England, 2001. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

The remnants of East Germany, 1992. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

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News and reviews

Newly graduated students, St. Andrews. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

It’s been a breathless year, with many changes and new challenges. I’ve made a gallery of some of my favourite images from 2016 and while we’re at it, here’s a quick round-up of what’s happening right here, right now:

Catching the light in the darkroom…

The University of St. Andrews is the home to one of the world’s most important photography archives. I was delighted when the august institution approached me about acquiring a set of images from Catching the Tide, my long-term project documenting Scotland’s last salmon net fishermen. This allowed me to go back into my darkroom after many years and hand print the photographs, which I have called the St. Andrew’s Day Edition, as they were made on 30th November, 2016. I can now offer additional prints of the iconic image Hailstones, Kinnaber, 2000 for sale. Please get in touch if you are interested in buying one of the prints, which I explain about in more detail in this short film I have just released: https://vimeo.com/196027845

The taste of Nutmeg…

December 2016 blog

Exhibiting photographs in public can be nerve-wracking, not knowing what the audience reaction is likely to be. After many years staging solo and group shows, I have become used to taking criticism and praise when it comes. The new edition of the Scottish football periodical Nutmeg takes my output in a new direction with the publication of my first-ever short story. This work of fiction centres around the nefarious goings-on at an amateur football club in central Scotland. Grab a copy before it sells out!

Football on the BBC…

Clyde versus Edinburgh City. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

Clyde versus Edinburgh City. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

I am continuing to document Edinburgh City FC’s inaugural season as members of the Scottish League, with the BBC Sport website showcasing a gallery of images from selected matches throughout the season. Whilst City started life as a League 2 club with a string of defeats, a first win at Montrose in November heralded a run which has propelled them towards safely avoiding relegation, although there is a long, long way to go. The most recent match I covered was my first-ever trip to Broadwood to see ‘the Citizens’ secure another point in a 0-0 draw against Clyde.

The fifth Beatle…

Document Scotland are delighted to be able to announce Glasgow-based photographer Sarah Amy Fishlock is to join our collective with immediate effect. We have long been admirers of Sarah’s work and have already collaborated with her on a couple of projects. My colleague Sophie Gerrard interviewed Sarah about her work and we look forward to Sarah being an integral part of the Document Scotland team.

Document Scotland are currently working on exciting new initiatives and plans for 2017 and beyond and you can keep in touch with us – or purchase our work – through the website.

Licence to roam…

Anti-AfD demonstrators, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Anti-AfD demonstrators, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Finally, after a long and sometimes painful hiatus, I have resolved all the contract issues with Getty Images regarding their buy-out of Corbis, who represented me for the best part of two decades. I am delighted to say that my collection of over 11,000 photographs is now available to licence worldwide through Getty Images and I look forward to adding to the archive in the coming years.

Beyond the Border…

In the run up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Document Scotland staged an exhibition entitled Beyond the Border at Impressions Gallery, Bradford, our first high-profile national show. Curated by the gallery’s director Anne McNeill, the exhibition was an overwhelming success with record audience numbers. Now it travels a bit further north and will be staged by Berwick Visual Arts from 11th February until 14th May, 2017.

Final score…

City of Liverpool FC. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

City of Liverpool FC. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

As always, my photography appears in print and online regularly in the monthly football magazine When Saturday Comes. Even if you are not a football fan, I hope you can still enjoy the cultural commentary which I try to communicate through these images, taken at grounds and stadiums across Scotland and beyond.

All that remains…

Finally, thank you to everyone who continues to support me and my work. I love taking photographs for my own and other peoples’ enjoyment. Keep in touch, have a great festive season and all the best to everyone for 2017.

 

 

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The Year in Pictures

A look back at 2016, some of the faces and places I’ve encountered in a momentous year of choice, change and contradiction, through the lens of my camera.

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It’s arrived…

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Copies of my new book with images from various assignments at home and abroad for the Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers, have arrived! This limited edition compendium is available exclusively through my website for just £7.50 plus p&p and is being brought out to coincide with the papers ceasing publication. Get your here copy whilst stocks last….

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An Independent Eye

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To commemorate the final publication of the Independent, I have brought out a small compendium of images taken on assignment or published by the newspaper from over 20 years of working for the title and its Sunday sister. Order your copy here.

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Helping hands

Refugees at the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales (LaGeSo), Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Refugees at the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales (LaGeSo), Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

This is a period of political and social change in Germany. Voices from the Right have been loud in denouncing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door refugee policy. There have been violent attacks on individual asylum seekers and the places where they are living. Away from cosmopolitan and multiracial cities such as Berlin, local peoples’ fear of immigration polarises opinion and causes concern. On the other side, there is a pride that Germany is leading the world in its response to the refugee crisis and allowing people from war zones such as Syria, Iraq and north Africa a place of safety and the opportunity to rebuild shattered lives.

The volunteer army which assembled spontaneously last summer and has continued its work throughout the long, bleak winter months came together largely through social media. Without a developed charity sector in Germany, it was left to people to collaborate, share ideas, pool resources and skills and set to work organising collections of clothes and other essentials, provide frontline medical care and develop networks of social care which afford refugees the chance to participate in everyday activities, such as trips to the cinema, playing sport or having access to German language courses and other education.

Refugees queue for toiletries, LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Refugees queue for toiletries, LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

There is still a need for help with the basics, especially during the freezing German winter. Whilst there has been a drop off in numbers volunteering to help, their activities have become more organised and professional, which in turn is taking some of the pressure off. And as the German government announces a toughening and tightening of the rules allowing people into the country, the focus will slowly turn towards integrating those who have arrived over during 2015.

In the meantime, the volunteers continue their work, unheralded. It’s hard to know numbers involved, but one website talks of 36,000 volunteers who have contributed 112,000 working hours across Germany. And that’s likely to be just a snapshot, as a trawl through Facebook reveals individuals, friends, groups and organisations offering all types of help and support. What is in no doubt is that it is people of all ages and backgrounds who are involved, across the length and breadth of Germany.

As Germany comes to terms with the consequences of its government’s policy of welcoming and accommodating almost one million refugees who have found sanctuary in the country over the last year, I met and talked to a number of volunteers whose mission has been to help and assist those fleeing war and persecution and who have found themselves in Berlin.

Each volunteer spoke about their determination to “do the right thing” and how they felt it was a moral obligation for people across the Western world to offer a safe haven and support to men, women and children many of whom have arrived in Germany following traumatic and harrowing journeys from their native lands.

A refugee waiting for his number to be called at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

A refugee waiting for his number to be called at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Here, five young, creative Berliners talk about their experiences of those remarkable months when the face of Germany began to change forever.

Monique Fritzsche, 28, a textile designer from Berlin started volunteering in summer 2015 as the first wave of refugees came to the city. She is currently involved with a group called We Picknick, cooking and handing out food for newly-arrived refugees who have not yet registered with the authorities and therefore have no entitlement to state assistance.

Refugees in Berlin“Getting involved was all my own initiative. In August I was at home ill, lying on the sofa and watching all the television footage of the refugees arriving in Germany. I thought to myself: ‘It’s time to do something.’ You cannot just be a spectator.

I put some clothes into an IKEA bag and went to LaGeSo, the administration facility for health and social welfare here in Berlin, where thousands of refugees were arriving to be registered. The place was full of asylum seekers and volunteers. As it was the holidays, there were students and even school pupils all helping out. I started by sorting out clothes and other items which had been donated. But that felt insufficient. So I began to work more directly helping in a more hands-on way. I was really scared to start with. The fear came from not knowing what to expect. And from the language barrier too. I soon realised that I could communicate using sign language and that the refugees were really thankful.

I remember the first time I saw refugees coming off the buses which brought them to Berlin. What made an impression on me was that here they were arriving without any possessions. No luggage, no suitcases or rucksacks or anything. I saw young kids on their own and thought: ‘where is your mama?’

Later, through Facebook, I got involved with We Picknick, a volunteer group established to feed newly-arrived refugees who have not yet been registered and so don’t qualify for any food or meals. We meet at the weekends in the park opposite LaGeSo and helping there feels like being part of a little family. You are never asked: ‘how often do you do this?’ or: ‘what job do you do?’ It’s all irrelevant because in that moment you are helping so everyone is equal. People are so supportive and tell you how cool it is that you are helping out. Then there’s the atmosphere with the refugees. You should not expect too much. You don’t go there to get some kind of award or official recognition – that’s certainly not what I want. I mean, many refugees are so ashamed to be in this situation, taking handouts of food. But the reward for me is just to hear them say: ‘thank you’ or: ‘that’s great’ to you – that’s the greatest compliment you can get from these people.

I believe Germany can cope with this influx of refugees. They will integrate into society. Yes, it will take time and it will be difficult but it will happen. So it’s important that we carry on volunteering.”

Monique Fritzsche volunteering at We Picknick, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Monique Fritzsche volunteering at We Picknick, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Finn Pelke, 33, an assistant film director from Berlin works up to three days per week as a volunteer sorting boxes of clothes and other items donated to Kreuzberg Hilft, established in the summer of 2015 by a group of citizens to help alleviate the refugee crisis in the city.

Refugees in Berlin“I think Germans, given our history, like to see ourselves as open to the world. After the 2006 World Cup here there was a lot of talk about how welcome the world felt coming here and how well it all went. Even seeing the German flag being waved in a friendly manner was a good thing.

Kreuzberg is a particularly mixed area of Berlin. There’s more openness to outsiders and refugees here. If you live in more rural places or somewhere which has a population of a couple of thousand then I totally get it if people are worried about the impact of 500 refugees suddenly coming into that community. The impact is going to be far greater than 50,000 coming to Berlin with its population of 3.5 million. But there are examples of small villages where refugees are now contributing by, for example, opening new businesses. Germany’s population is getting older and older and many people are saying it’s a good thing that new people are coming in. There’s always two sides to it and of course there’s fears that it could all be too much to cope with.

If you want to see problems then there are problems, but if you want to see the possibilities and chances then they are also there. And I prefer to stick to the positive side.”

Volunteer Finn Pelke sorting boxes at Kreuzberg Hilft, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Volunteer Finn Pelke sorting boxes at Kreuzberg Hilft, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Tobias Muhlbacher, 35, a volunteer doctor working with newly arrived refugees at LaGeSo, the Berlin administration facility for health and social welfare. A trained children’s doctor, he has been working as a volunteer two to three days per week since October 2015.

Refugees in Berlin

“I am here because I believe that these refugees, many of whom have undertaken such difficult and dangerous journeys have a right to good care, especially good medical care.

Many people have had to wait for weeks, months even to complete their registration and are therefore only entitled to the emergency treatment we give here at LaGeSo. As a paediatrician I am particularly concerned that the children are looked after, although if there are no children to examine at a particular time, I’ll see anyone who needs a diagnoses.

One problem we have at the moment is that refugees have to re-register again after three months in order that we can continue to provide care for them. This often means sick or injured people queueing up overnight in freezing conditions in order to be first to register the following morning. That’s not a nice picture.

The atmosphere amongst the medical team is good. There is now a mix of volunteers and permanent staff from a local hospital but we all cooperate as we are all here because we want to be. There’s no sense of competition.

I will continue working with the refugees alongside my regular hospital job and will make myself available when the need arises for as long as necessary.”

Tobias Muehlbacher, 35, examining an injured refugee at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Tobias Muehlbacher, 35, examining an injured refugee at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Berlin-based professional storyteller Britta Wilmsmeier, 37, helped establish the Phoenix-Gruppe of volunteers with fellow artists, teachers and other people in the creative industries to utilise art, therapy and cultural connections to reach out to refugees.

Refugees in Berlin“I heard about all these refugees and thought that no-one would ever choose as a family to do such a journey without a good reason. I was thinking about these women, these mothers, sitting in there with hundreds of other people, with no privacy. I thought one way of keeping them sane and keeping them entertained – which is also important – is by telling them stories.

A colleague and I developed a story which we tell to audiences in German but have objects and use gestures and sounds to communicate. It’s not only about them learning German. We want to learn their language too. It’s a dialogue we want, so that they feel we are interested in them too. Storytelling is a very good way to give people stability because the story always comes back to something good in the end.

People are happy to have a concrete reason to help. We are safe and secure here and have enough generally, so we are happy to share what we have. Through my storytelling, I can help them in my own way. I can give them some sort of release. It’s what these people need: some hope, a spark of hope.”

 

Britta Wilmsmeier giving a performance to children in a bookshop in Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Britta Wilmsmeier giving a performance to children in a bookshop in Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Born in Mexico, Hector Marroquin, 32, is a music composer and volunteers at Kreuzberg Hilft, where he acts as the group’s press officer. In addition, he helps out at a home for asylum seekers and accompanies groups of young Syrians on trips and outings such as to concerts and rock climbing.

Refugees in Berlin“I contacted Kreuzberg Hilft and said I just want to be part of the team. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I just wanted to help.

It got really big, really quickly. Within one month from September 2015 we had around 40 refugee houses and homes where we would drive to every day to deliver things like clothes and other essential items.

I could see I was really helping but at the same time it wasn’t enough for me. When we were helping the refugees I was only spending something like 10 minutes with these people and then not seeing them again until the next time we turned up. I wanted to know who they were as they just seemed like normal, cool people to me. Of course they needed our things, our money, but most of all they just needed time with people like me, rather than with the authorities, or officials or the police. So I started to work at a refugee house and now I divide my time one-third composing, one-third at Kreuzberg Hilft and one-third at the refugee home.

In the home there are 54 boys, all here without parents, or family or friends. So they are here alone, just waiting for their government interviews which will decide if they can stay in Germany. This might take anything up to six months. In the meantime, by taking them to concerts or sporting events – normal free-time activities for young people – it will help them integrate into German life if they are allowed to stay here.

People have come here because they want to start a new life. They want to be part of Germany. They want to integrate.”

 

Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

 

A litter bin decorated with names of volunteers working LaGeSo), Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

A litter bin decorated with names of volunteers working LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees queueing at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees queueing at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees showing footage of their accommodation at Tempelhof airport, Berlin. Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees showing footage of their accommodation at Tempelhof airport, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

A sign taped to a lamppost at LaGeSo, Berlin. Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

A sign taped to a lamppost at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees choosing clothes donated by the public, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees choosing clothes donated by the public, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

An official struggles to cope with the demand for services, Berlin Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

An official struggles to cope with the demand for services, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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Where the Berlin Wall once stood

'Warschauer Strasse, 2015.' Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

‘Warschauer Strasse, 2015.’ Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Last week saw the 26th anniversary of the historic events of November 1989 when a popular uprising by citizens of the German Democratic Republic led to the opening of the Berlin Wall, which had stood and divided friends, families, a city, Germany and Europe since it was constructed in 1961.

I started photographing the Wall in 1985 during a visit to the city and have returned at regular intervals over those 30 years to look at the changing natural and built environment along the course of the Wall. No-one could have dreamed 30 years ago that the Berlin Wall would fall in such dramatic and sudden circumstances. But rather than looking at those momentous events, my photographs show how the Wall occupied the physical space between two halves of the city and now, years after it fell, where the traces and scars can still be seen on the landscape.

Berlin Now and Then is an ongoing project and has been exhibited and published down the years. I am currently in Berlin and once again have set out to capture the the continuing changes which make much of the Berlin Wall nothing more than a distant and barely visible memory.

 

 

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Germany divided again?

AfD supporters listening to speeches in Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

AfD supporters listening to speeches in Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

One of the immediate consequences of the gathering refugee crisis engulfing Europe is the effect it is having on the reunified Berlin.

Echos of 1989 permeate the city. For those, like myself, with an intimate knowledge of the modern topography of the city, the slowly-healing scars of division are still visible. After the fall of Berlin Wall, the city came together. But that sense of reunification didn’t immediately translate to a mass movement of the population from East to West, or vice versa. Indeed, as they say here, there are many people who still haven’t visited the other side since those fateful days of November 1989.

Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

AfD supporters on the march. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Into this comes the question of the refugees. Arriving in their hundreds every day, they are dispersed to around 90 locations city-wide which accommodate them in varying degrees of comfort and security. The whole question of how Germany integrates some one million additional people is starting to be raised. There are answers, but not enough to satisfy some.

And into this mix comes politics. And on Saturday, November 7, a march by 5000 supporters of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) took place through the Berlin streets. Whilst not massive in number, it was another symbol of the concerns some have about the process, and a chance to wrestle German patriotism from the political centre. Opposing this odd assortment of activists was a coalition of anti-fascist campaigners determined to expose the rhetoric of the right as dangerous and xenophobic.

An AfD supporter gestures to protesters. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

An AfD supporter gestures to protesters. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

A protester gestures towards AfD supporters. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

A protester gestures towards AfD supporters. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Trading on the notion that Germany is being re-divided for the first time since the Wall came down, these flag waving nationalists had one target in their sights: Chancellor Angela Merkel. Speeches and chants all laid the blame on Germany’s response to the current situation at her door. And whilst they talked of one, united Germany, like so many – both left and right – the rhetoric was of chaos and division.

An AfD supporter listening to speeches. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

An AfD supporter listening to speeches. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Twenty-four hours later a stroll through central Berlin reveals no trace of the marchers and their slogans. On a bright and cheerful winter’s afternoon, Berliners of all races, creeds and faiths go about the city with no outward signs of division. Some even may have made it across the line of the former Berlin Wall!

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Destination Berlin

Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

The disused Tempelhof airport, destination for hundreds of refugees fleeing to Germany. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

The young Iranian refugees excitedly show me footage on their mobile phones of the accommodation they have got used to since arriving in Germany.

With barely a word of English, let alone German, between them they show me a large hall, bedecked with tents, mats and blankets. People shuffle possessions about, men and women share the mixed facility and it’s hard not to escape the impression that these are typical young people on an exciting camping trip. But this is no holiday adventure. This is Berlin, at the chilly beginning of November. The winter may be drawing in, but still they come: from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and north Africa. A seemingly ceasless tide of humanity, washed up by conflict at Europe’s door.

Now their homes are in the cavernous expanses of former hangars at the now-defunct Tempelhof Airport in the heart of the German capital. The famous airfield, constructed in 1923, then expanded and renovated by the Nazis and subsequently used for a million-strong rally, came to prominence after World War II as the site of the American airlift during the Soviet siege of Berlin.

Now partially occupied by a private university and a venue for various cultural events, the city’s administration has begun converting the empty hangars into tented shelter for almost 1000 new arrivals. And it won’t stop there: plans are already afoot to expand capacity at the airfield.

The accommodation is off-limits to the prying eyes of the media. I was given my marching orders by several hefty security guards, but I will return, permission slip in hand and look at the role played by a legion of German volunteers who are keeping the whole refugee situation under control at present.

In the meantime, I spent the day roaming the outskirts of Tempelhof, looking for the signs that the refugee crisis is still very much with us here in Berlin.

Refugees wandering around outside their shelter. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Refugees at Tempelhof airport. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

The exterior of one of the hangars. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

The exterior of one of the hangars. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Young Iranian refugees showing footage. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Young Iranian refugees showing footage. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Graffiti outside the disused airfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Graffiti outside the disused airfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

A Berlin residents chats to a Syrian refugee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

A Berlin resident chats to a Syrian refugee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

A head scarf dropped by a refugee woman. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

A head scarf dropped by a refugee woman. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Today's Tagesspiegel shows the hangars. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Today’s Tagesspiegel shows the hangars. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

 

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Ich bin ein Berliner

Brandenburg Gate, West Berlin, 1985. © Colin McPherson.

Brandenburg Gate, West Berlin, 1985. © Colin McPherson.

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.

 

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