About the Shot: Berlin

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November 9, 2014: my first day back in Berlin. I wandered some 39km through the streets. It seemed most of the city was on the streets the day marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart’ otherwise known as the Berlin Wall. There were exhibitions and there were fireworks; public celebrations and private commemorations. No city has been so defined by division in recent memory as Berlin, thus it was rather fitting to witness literally millions of Berliners on the streets celebrating unity.

I made a commitment to see the city on foot. Only at street level can you begin to truly understand a city. Berlin by foot is an immeasurably better city than Berlin by car or even by train for as much as I love the U-Bahn and S-Bahn railways, the city disappears from view for large stretches of time. The visible and relatable metropolis rendered a abstract flickering blur, station name plates substituting time and place. 

Travelling by foot reconnects us to our surroundings. Our location no longer abstracted by a mark on a map or name on a sign, we are free to take everything in. This is particularly important in a city such as Berlin, where the passage of time and regimes conspire to render history less visible than elsewhere in the world. 

On my third day in Berlin, the day I took the above photograph, I began at the famous BARN Roastery on Schönhauser Allee. Their coffee is to die for, but it’s best visitors leave their laptops and children at home. Oh and empty your bladders prior to entry. 

I then traced a route that took me past the church where anti-Nazi theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached, then to the sombre Berlin Wall Memorial centre on Bernauer Straße. Finally to the former wasteland of the Park am Nordbahnhof, where the I followed the former Wall’s sharp turn north. 

After a walk to the next S-Bahn station at Humboldthain, I hopped on an S2 back to Oranienburger Str - the most important part about walking the city is knowing when to catch the train. From there it was only a short walk to the corner where the photograph was taken.

Why this photograph? Why this corner? Call it design. The streets of Mitte radiate out from Alexanderplatz, with the iconic Fernsehturm seemingly perpetually on the horizon. This Berlin skyline interested me: the tower, the construction work, the grey sky, all of it just screamed Berlin. So I pulled out my Leica and snapped. I also took a version in colour with my Hasselblad that lacked all the nuances and niceties of the Leica version.

As with every other day, I finished up the day walking, usually to the nearest coffee shop. But walking Berlin has taught me there is no other way to see the city and I can’t wait to go back and do it again.

As well as being a great city to walk, Berlin is a great city for film photography. A must-visit for any film photographer is Fotoimpex, a short walk from Alexanderplatz. They carry virtually every current film stock in almost every conceivable format. I spent far too much money there. Berlin is also home to a great number of pro labs with same day service on C-41, E-6 and Black & White. Photonews.de keep an up-to-date list.

Buy a print and make Richard happy.

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