Film Photography

Captured: You are now leaving West Berlin

Sie verlassen jetzt West-Berlin

It was hard to go far in Berlin in 1984 without the Wall hemming you in or blocking your way. My tour group followed it across the heart of the city to the Brandenburg Gate, which in those days stood just inside East Berlin. The white railing was the actual border between east and west; the space between it and the wall was kind of a no-man’s land. The sign reads, ominously, “Attention: You are now leaving West Berlin.”

The wall was covered with graffiti no matter where I saw it, meaning many brave or crazy souls were willing to walk into no-man’s land to leave their mark. The graffiti is gone because the Wall is gone. Thank God.

I spent a week in Berlin; I was but 16. It left an indelible mark on me. Read about it.

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9 thoughts on “Captured: You are now leaving West Berlin

  1. yes, thank god. i like that your ’84 photo has such a stark, reduced ‘retro’ vibe. have you reworked/photoshopped the old image since, or is this the original print you took? either way, a picture tells a thousand words.

    • I’m glad you asked this question. I took this photo with an inexpensive 110 camera that, I’m sure, had a plastic lens. Because the Berlin trip was at the end of my stay in Germany, this was one of the film rolls I had processed after I returned to the States, and in those days I sent all my film off to a mail-order place because of low cost. The prints I got back from them were not very high quality and tended to fade over time. Also, this was a matte print, which tends not to scan well, and I scanned it with my all-in-one printer/scanner because I had not yet bought my photo scanner. From camera to processing to printing to scanning, this is how this image came to be here. I did no Photoshopping of it beyond cropping.

      • then it’s a credit to you that the image is so strong, well composed and captures the essence of the situation. it is simply – compelling.

  2. Great photo! I never saw the Berlin Wall, but my friend Kerstin has a little piece of it. You could buy them as souvenirs in Berlin.

    It is encouraging and a little scary to realize that most of our co-workers have never heard of the Berlin wall, or if they have, that they learned about it in history class. :-)

    I tried to find a YouTube clip of the East German National Anthem from “Top Secret!” but did not find one. It was a lot funnier than the reality.

    • I used to have a piece of the Wall too. It got lost in the shuffle when I divorced. Can’t say I miss it. There was quite an industry for a while selling Wall bits.

      You’ve quoted the bit from Top Secret! before. Sounds like a delightful film.

  3. Lone Primate says:

    What I can never understand is why the East Germans let the Gate become so shabby. It always looks awful in pre-1990 photos. Once Germany reunited they really spruced it up. Used to be, when I was a kid, shots of the Gate from before the war were strange; it looked so bright and impressive and there was no obstacle right in front of it… so it’s kind of odd to realize that’s how it is again, and it’s photos like yours from a few narrow decades that are the anomaly now.

    I nearly sent away for a chunk of the Berlin Wall back in heyday when it fell, but I realized the likelihood was it would just be whatever chunk of concrete came to hand, possibly sprayed with paint and left to dry for a couple of hours. How would a guy on the other side of the Atlantic possibly know the difference? I spent the money on more sensible things, like JFK’s hat from when he commanded PT-109! Now there’s some gen-yoo-wine hist’ry!

    • All of East Berlin was shabby. Seriously. Standing in the West and looking over to the East, you felt like life was in black and white on the other side of the Wall. Every building was in some state of dilapidation.

      You make a very interesting point about how the nearly four decades the Wall was up are an anomaly in history. It is hard for me to comprehend that, really, because it was so real when I stood before the Wall in 1984.

      • Lone Primate says:

        I think the fall of communism in Europe was so startling because it was so completely unexpected, and because it happened so nearly-bloodlessly. I started a class in September 1989 with an English professor from Czechoslovakia (how’s that for ironic?) who hadn’t been home since the Prague Spring, and before the academic year ended in 1990 he’d visited home again. It was jaw-dropping how fast it all happened that autumn. And yet your photo was taken only about 5 years earlier, but it might as well have been anytime at all after 1962. The Cold War we all grew up with seems almost like a dream to me now. It’s so different from the world we live in now.

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