Monday, 27 October 2008

Notes from a Berlin walk

Spent today walking the streets of Berlin, doing the whole tourist thing. These are a bunch of thoughts that came to mind while I was doing so. I'll try and keep the content largely linked to photography.

The first decision I had to make was just how much photography I was going to do. I'm staying somewhat out of the centre, so plenty of distance to cover. I could have stopped every 50yds but then I'd get nowhere. Instead I decided to be a bit more focused, we have to get out from behind the lens once in a while. This also gives me room to think a bit wider.

The first impression I get of Berlin is that it is a city that seems to have lost a sense of its past self. I'm not talking recent history. The town has been here for centuries yet for the most part you'd wonder if it ever existed prior to the 1930s. Of course ignoring "12 years of war that ended in catastrophic defeat" (from the Brandenburg Gate information panel) would be ignoring the elephant in the room but there was more before that. Walking the Wall route, one wonders if the city even existed before 1961.

Dimantling the Wall has led to a huge redevelopment. All along its trajectory there is fresh construction in shining glass and steel. Bold new architecture. The old East Berlin has been reborn. Sometimes great good comes from the worst of circumstances. I actually had to go some way to find a sense of history and everywhere east of the wall there exists wierd juxtaposition between ancient, Communist and modern architecture.

Photography has a large part to play in our understanding of recent events in the city. At the Topography of Terror exhibit, photography gives a chilling insight into the activites directed from Prinz Albrecht Strasse and Wilhelm Strasse. The rhetoric is rather similar to today's "War on Terror" except then it was "War of Terror". The view of these activities rather depends on which direction one faces. This should be a required visit for the Department of Homeland Security and all similar organisations.

It was the speed, ease, portability and low cost of then modern cameras that extended the range of documentation. Prior to the '30s war was pictured glorious. It has not been since. This was a fact brought home by an interview on CNN from the Barbican war photography exhibition (here, here, here: ignore the annoying ads), mentioned here a couple of days ago. This really looks like one of the best current exhibitions, worth a visit if you're in London.

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