Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

Posts tagged ‘GDR’

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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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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Up Against the Berlin Wall

My first sighting of the Berlin Wall was from the East German Reichsbahn train as it crept towards the city through the former German Democratic Republic. It was 1982 and I was 17-years-old.

I was in transit through the GDR from Holland and as we stopped at the border crossing, I thumbed my passport nervously. Getting from West Germany to East Germany required passes, visas and stamps, followed by questions and examination of luggage and personal belongings. From the time the Wall was built in 1961 until it was torn down by the citizens of both sides of the divided city, getting into West Berlin was not easy.

Over the following three decades I became fascinated by the structure which came to symbolise the Cold War division of post-World War II Europe. I made successive trips to the city, often crossing over from the western sector to the east. When the Wall finally came down, I became equally fascinated by its legacy: the destruction of the barrier and what sprang up in its place. In some locations, development was almost instantaneous. In other, outlying areas of the city, it took years before almost every trace of the course of the Wall was eradicated. Today, the Wall is represented by the Mauerweg, a tarmacked trail which brings the visitor into collision with the city’s turbulent past.

These photographs represent some of the images I made along the Berlin Wall during a decade from 1985. I wasn’t present in the city during the dramatic and well-documented events of November 1989. But my interest in the city and the Wall has continued long after the chisels and bulldozers fell silent and the city was re-united.

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