Remember, remember the 9th of November ….

During this year’s #filmfeb I professed that my projects for the year were to shoot more 4×5 and revisit some old negatives. Shooting 4×5 in a lockdown is a bit of a challenge, but it seems to be the ideal time for digging into old negatives. I shall start by going some 30 years back.

In front of Schöneberg Townhall, 10 November 1989. Schöneberg is a district of Berlin; during the cold war, West-Berlin’s regional parliament met in this district’s townhall.

One of the side effects of growing up in Berlin during the cold war, was being there when the whole affair ended. I was in that position and so have some photos from the opening of the wall and its gradual demolition.

For this post, I dug out some of the negatives of the first couple of days in November. The initial opening on the 9th of November caught just about everybody off-guard –everybody including the border guards themselves and including the east German official who apparently announced it by mistake.

I took my first shots on the 10 November and took a Baldessa RF/LK, a rangefinder with an f 1:2.8 45mm lens and leaf shutter, which I paired with some primitive flash. This camera is light, has a bright viewfinder and worked reliably. It was dark, it was 1989, so I shot TMax 400, which then was a reasonably fast film.

Never let an end of history go to waste. Selling cans of coke for 1 Deutschmark with the line ‘also east German mark’ added in chalk.

The first shots were taken in front of West Berlin’s city hall, where some west German politicians were due to give speeches. Things were fairly chaotic and the kind of vantage points that would normally widely cordoned off were readily available to lowly amateur photographers.

10 November 1989, in front of Schöneberg Townhall. The poster in front, reading ‘Berlin is Freedom’ had been used by the social democratic party in their election campaign that year.

After a while, this rally settled into its usual routine, and once the audience started booing Helmut Kohl, I decided to move on to the wall itself.

Another shot from Checkpoint Charlie. The sign in the background reads ‘free passage for Allied Forces’.

The one border crossing I knew to reach by public transport was Checkpoint Charlie – a border crossing normally reserved for foreigners and soldiers of the allied forces, but in the prevailing chaos everyone started using it.

American military police and a West-Berlin customs officer at Checkpoint Charlie.

East Germans arrived in their distinctive Trabant and Wartburg cars. West Berliners welcomed them (at least I assume that was the intention) by banging on their cars’ bonnets. Getting useful output in darkness and with a low powered flash wasn’t too easy, but I got some usable frames.

Checkpoint Charlie 10 November 1989; I think that’s a Wartburg driving through …
10 November 1989 Checkpoint Charlie

The subsequent photographs were taken in the inner city with a B-series Practika and still on TMY. Using a Practika promptly got me mistaken for an Easterner and made me the recipient of some culturally sophisticated comments. (‘Now boy, are you happy they let you out?’ is the one I recall.)

Just shopping … one of the pedestrianised shopping streets filling up on the 11 November.

By and large, these daytime shots are not very interesting. Once people reached Berlin, they went shopping. They had shops in East Berlin too of course, but the ones in West Berlin were actually stocked. The contrast must have been quite an experience for those visiting the west for the first time, but it makes for dull photos so I included just a few of them here.

A crowd in front of a small shop, selling minor household items -the kind of place where you wonder how and why they stay in business. To those used to the economic efficiency of real existing socialism it seems to have been fascinating.

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